Synthesized Contrasts

After a lot of contemplation– and several late nights– my Garden of Contrasts model is finally a complete synthesis of our three vocabularies.  From the previous studies, I’ve integrated structural geometry, sensual landform, and textural vegetation into the original two-dimensional design.  I’ve also placed the garden into its larger context: A road runs along the south edge of the site (at top of the above photograph) and an agricultural field is planted on the other three sides.

This plan drawing is strongly reminiscent of the original 2-D design extracted from One-half House and the Salk Institute as described in my previous post.  It is one of many sketches that manifest the transition from the three studies as a way to work into my final model.  Some of the intended contrast that can be seen in the plan include the various straight lines that create a dialogue with the curves and circles.  Another contrast is the busy, almost chaotic nature of the rain gardens on the east side of the site in opposition to the ordered and formal nature of the architectonics on the west part.

The section elevation drawing demonstrates another contrast: In this garden, visitors are invited to move between the ground and the sky.  The lowest parts of the site are the natural basins that serve as rain gardens.  These are planted with vegetation that can survive periods of drought as well as saturation while capturing pollutants that might be carried in storm water run-off from nearby pavement before they can enter the water table and the surrounding fields.  The highest point of the garden, by contrast, is the roof of the shelter which offers the visitor long vistas of the surroundings.

The structure is a wooden one meant to be occupied either within to escape the elements and to convene with other park visitors or on the rooftop where one has prospect over the entire space.  As the only access point is the long bridge that originates in the vegetated landscape, one must engage the rest of the site in order to transition from the interior to the roof.  One needn’t climb to the top of the structure though to engage with it thanks to the large circular openings that emit light.  These might be very dramatic as the sun travels across the sky and the light that enters the three openings would change from moment to moment.  During the juried review of this model, it was suggested that the bridge isn’t necessary.  It might break-up the rhythm of the garden and be a cumbersome addition.  The jury included not just my professors and classmates but also several working landscape architects from the Twin Cities.  One pointed out that a contrast would still be present even if the visitor herself didn’t go to the top of the structure simply in the fact that by staying below it, the elements are deflected as opposed to the other parts of the site.  Also, there is a sort of understated knowledge about the vegetation there that, unlike the rain gardens, isn’t about a direct experience. Green roofs are rarely places that are visitable but are meant to be functional ways to offset heat island effects of exposed rooftops.  If the rain garden is to manage storm water, the green roof then, by contrast, is to cope with the solar impacts.   In short, the jury suggested that contrast is still present even if the physical transition from low to high place isn’t exploited and that the bridge seems like an afterthought placed there to deal with getting visitors up to the roof.

For me though, even though the ramp to the roof came late in the design, it seemed an integral part of the functional garden.  I felt that, in designing this space, vistas were important.  If one were to place a garden in the middle of a field or orchard (as our professors insisted that we do) then doesn’t it follow that some acknowledgement of that context should be made?  Sure, the place is in the larger context.  An attempt to construct sight-lines beyond the garden allows the visitor to feel his or her place in the larger world. Besides, the bridge ties the site together.  One could easily critique the design if the bridge were absent as being more like two separate spaces– one hard and one soft.

I designed this model with the thought that the space beneath the radiating fins could be a multi-use place suitable for light to medium occupancy in either programmed or less formal visitations.  The sun would throw playful shadows across the ground plane of crushed aggregate.  There is an interesting contrast on the ground where the circles of light are floating in squares of dark beneath the fins.  They themselves create a strong contrast as being stark white and flexible against the earthy and flat field of brown gravel. To further contrast the curving lines of those radiating elements, I designed straight and narrow runnels into the ground.  These function not only to convey water to the rain gardens but also to direct pedestrian circulation from the hardscape to the lawn.  A curvilinear line separates the flat open landscape from the rolling vegetated one and creates a gradual transition.  Tall grasses maintain that edge while creating a semi-transparent wall between one space and the other.

One juror mentioned that the garden I modeled seemed well suited for the public display of art-works.  I easily envisioned framed art hung on the walls inside the structure and on the radiating fins while sculptural works could be placed on the rooftop and throughout the remaining grounds. We also discussed the contrasts between my treatment of mesic and xeric conditions in the designing of this space.  Ultimately, the elements of this garden have both functional and aesthetic purposes.  Is that then the major contrast that can be found here?  Not really since, as I’m learning, landscape architecture has to serve both ends of that spectrum.  I’m studying every day– and late into most nights– that we have to be mindful of form as well as function with every design.


About matthewtraucht

Graduate school student at the University of Minnesota's College of Design pursuing a Master's of Landscape Architecture, class of 2013.
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