Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Meadow Within

An iconic image from the sixties: Two lovers, hair long and billowing in the breeze, running in slow motion across a field waist high in flowering grass. The scene ends with them both leaping into the arms of the other. And what was the backdrop for this fevered embrace? A meadow, of course.

Imagine the same lovers meeting in a similarly hungered embrace beneath the canopy of a tropical jungle or on the sands of a white hot desert (or heaven forbid, along the trafficky streets of an urban square or the manicured yards of suburbia even): This would never do.

The meadow is the archetype of our dreamscapes. After the archetypal white sandy beach it might be our second choice for a hypnotic mental retreat. Unlike the faraway beach it's not exotic; it represents the possible.

And now it appears to have followed us inside.

The meadow may be a chair, a dress, or the floor. It holds us as we break bread together and warms us in the cold.

A backdrop for making plans, making conversation, or making love. (The bed may be just down the hall but the rug is so inviting.)

A meadow motif in the bathroom to elevate the spirit and inspire retreat.

The Meadow Returns

As the age of the commonwealth comes to an end (so it appears), the survival of greenspace in our cities and towns will depend on reinterpretation.

green space onto new and existing development seems like an idea so fundamental you could almost believe it thought itself up.

Creating buildings to resemble a more natural environment only seems the next logical step.

Beyond the sheer emotional impact of such meadowy visions, there's a long list of economic and environmental incentives as well. (That is, but one: The initial cost.) Green roofing and walls can function as insulation from noise and climate, soil provides excellent water retention and runoff control (even water from drizzles can be recycled) as well as absorption of carbon emissions and ultra violet light; the list goes on and on.

Images from Architetture d'Interni.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Psychedelic Gardens of James Hitchmough

Looking to create landscapes with the quality and vitality of wild meadows, James Hitchmough — professor of horticultural ecology at Sheffield University — began creating "synthetic" meadows from seeds.

Hitchmough found inspiration in the woodlands and meadows he experienced as a child. The trimmed hedgerows and manicured flower beds of the suburbs were no match for the deeper emotional resonance he felt in the wilderness.

Hitchmough's interest in
ecology, design and management of herbaceous vegetation began as a graduate student in the 80s. More recently, he and his colleagues at Sheffield are discovering ways of creating landscapes that are compatible, more sustainable, require less maintenance, and are more resource efficient. The context for much of this work is public greenspaces in towns and cities as well as restoration ecology in prairies and grasslands. Hitchmough's work often re-interprets the natural environment through the use of semi-natural vegetation and the introduction of exotics. In a time when consensus is otherwise trending toward a return to natural plantings and native species, Hitchmough's work is not without controversy.

Sowing seed in situ creates a spontaneous and rhythmic interplay in the planting "design".
In the high summer blooms can be spectacular. Throughout the growing process Hitchmough may still experiment by "tweaking" and "rejiggering" the plantings. The result: Previously undiscovered new forms of planting design.

But even design has its limits. Meadows, like any natural environment, are subject to the dynamics of natural selection and competition. When meadow and prairie gardening began as a trend in the 80s it soon foundered as no one at the time fully understood the competitive ecology of such landscapes. Through Hitchmough's and the work of others, breakthroughs have been made in meadow ecology and understanding which plants make the optimum alliances. As a result of these successes, Hitchmough's seed mixes are now being marketed for institutional use through Sheffield University.

Meadows can function as a natural weed management systems through the self-seeding and spreading of the plants. Hitchmough's creations tend to be denser and more diverse than their natural ancestors. Aesthetically, though, there are limits: "Visual impact is much more dramatic with 20 rather than 60 species" he says. “Seed allows you to plant far more species per square metre and then let natural selection do the rest.”

Above, a Hitchmough prairie near Chicago.

"[Meadows can be] a bit like a soap opera... It's good to think of the plant species as actors in a play... who's coming, who's going, who's dying, who's still there in the end... That's what ecology is about."

Perhaps in the end, nature, through natural process, may be the best final arbiter of how the garden should be. No matter: However the journey unfolds, the spoils are always for the eye.

Above, an ecological restoration project in Rhodes, South Africa.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Meadowlarking pt 1

Could it be the meadow has served as an archetype for all human-made gardens to follow?

In every meadow there's a possibility of color, texture, layers, contrast, and interplay: All things which every intentional designer aspires to, whether inside or out.

The meadow isn't the dark giant of the forest or jungle, it's not the shrouded recesses of the mountain, cliff, or ravine. It's open, bright, with a promise to bend to the touch.

It offers welcoming space and visual softness. It shares the sky.

With color it is a garden of royal lineage.

It's formal and wild. It's traditional and modern.

It is a carpet, a window, and an embrace.

It's the cathedral without walls. It's an idyll befitting a home.

And it keeps the dark forest at bay.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Mulch Sexy

A composition with decompostion: The O Horizon

Earth laughs in flowers. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Through tattered clothes small vices do appear; Robes and fur'd gowns hide them all.
- Shakespeare

"I kiss the soil as if I placed a kiss on the hands of a mother..."
- Pope John Paul II

The original sources of all wealth: The soil and the laborer. - Karl Marx

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Theater of Carlo Mollino

A theater chair (ca.1951) by Turinese designer Carlo Mollino (1905 - 1973) from the RAI Auditorium.

In the tradition of Italian artists with outsized characters, Mollino's life was the stuff of early-century matinees: As well as a designer of furniture, architecture, and race cars, he was also a skilled pilot, skier, racing driver, and occult enthusiast. And then there were those racy Polaroids.

The chairs in their natural environment. Interested buyers may go here.

Mollino's take on modernism may be embodied in his signature quote: "Everything is permissible as long as it is fantastic."

A table with a hint of Enzo Mari.

"I am convinced that the best explanation of one's work is its silent exhibition," spoke the Maestro.

'Nuff said.