Tag Archives: POTOMAC

ARCHITECTURE NOT THERE

February 10, 2023

Leca Swimming Pools, Leça de Palmeira, Portugal, by Alvaro Siza (photo by Nancy Steiber)

Looking at a building of subtlety, I sometimes say, “I don’t get it. Nothing to see here.” Then I realize that this might be the point. My next thought revolves around the art movement of the 60s and 70s known as Earthworks. I have always been fascinated by these elemental compositions, less the ecological agendas and more the drama in their abstraction and mystery. Over the decades, Earthworks influenced contemporary architecture, resulting in structures looking more like Minimalist sculptures and less like buildings.

The City, Garden Valley, Lincoln County, Nevada, by Michael Heizer (photo by Eric Piasecki, Triple Aught Foundation)

The International Style of the 20s and 30s severed design from traditional canons—i.e., classical column, pediment, and arch—resulting in an abstract architecture driven by function over form. Going further, architects influenced by Earthworks sought an even more drastic abstraction. Often, an Earthwork employed the immediate materials of its setting, placing itself in quiet conversation with the earth and revealing itself elusively. The projects were heroically quiet and simplistically grand. Architectural design found this premise seductive.

Schunnemunk Fork, Storm King Art Center, New Windsor, New York, by Richard Serra (photo from nickkahler.tumblr.com)

Akin to Richard Serra’s weathering steel plates inserted into a slope, architect Jim Jennings (my past employer) created a structure partially buried with its only visible identity as concrete walls rising enigmatically out of the earth.

Visiting Artists House, Geyserville, California, by Jim Jennings (photo from jimjenningsarchitecture.com)

No recognizable doors and windows are explicitly apparent. This guest house for artists utilizes one of the most rudimentary devices in architecture, the wall, and does so with tremendous surety of skill.

Storm King Wall, Storm King Art Center, New Windsor, New York, by Andy Goldsworthy (photo from rosemarywashington.wordpress.com)

Building upon the remains of an existing farm wall, artist Andy Goldsworthy employed stones from the nearby environment to also explore the meaning of a wall in the landscape.

House, Moledo, Portugal, by Eduardo Souto De Moura (photo by Luis Ferreira Alves)

As Goldsworthy honored the ingredients of the property, architect Eduardo Souto De Moura similarly envisioned this house being not just on the site, but of the site. Local stone form the property’s retaining walls as well as walls within the home, offering the visitor a work of the earth, an architectural Earthwork.

Compression Line, Potomac, Maryland, by Michael Heizer (photo by Jerry Thompson)

Sculptor Michael Heizer and architect Alvaro Siza both explore expressions of excavation, though not literal excavating. Both projects are not specifically archaeological since the structures are not forms discovered through digging.

Leca Swimming Pools, Leça de Palmeira, Portugal, by Alvaro Siza (photo from archdaily.com)

Rather, the projects are newly created, inserted into the land, and explore the relationship of being of the earth and in the earth. Observers ponder the correlation between man, nature, and constructing deeply within and symbiotically with the environment.

Storm King Wavefield, Storm King Art Center, New Windsor, New York, by Maya Lin (photo by Jerry Thompson, Storm King Art Center)

Celebrated artist, Maya Lin, created a fascinating work of mere dirt and grass, displaying surreal forms—contrived rhythms that would not exist in nature. Yes, grass landscapes do often contain slopes and berms, but in the natural world, never as such a patterned composition.

Boa Nova Tea House, Leça De Palmeira, Portugal, by Alvaro Siza (photo by João Morgado)

Architect Alvaro Siza sees his design as one with the rock formations. The building itself an outcropping, blurring the line between man and nature, between work and earth. Siza’s design delivers a structure that is less a restaurant and more a work of art as it embraces the beach, ocean, sky, and horizon. Like Lin, Siza blends what is typically expected with what is not.

Stonehenge, Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, England (photo by David Goddard/Getty Images)

The line between art and architecture should be fuzzy. In the acts of creativity, why have silos? Great works of architecture are considered artistic, and Earthworks are experienced through time and space, as architecture is. Whether the author is an artist or architect, such works herein stand against the limits of categorization.

GLENSTONE: A CONVERSATION BETWEEN ART, LANDSCAPE AND ARCHITECTURE

September 13, 2019

Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland (photo from thomasphifer.com)

To call Glenstone a mere museum is to misrepresent the power of how a visitor can experience art. The museum’s website posits, “Glenstone is a place that seamlessly integrates art, architecture, and landscape into a serene and contemplative environment.” And boy, it’s successful.

Glenstone blurs the lines between the three mediums. Know this: “Art” is not just a simple framed painting hanging on a gallery wall. At Glenstone, art is a relationship between several forces experienced as an enchanted journey through time and space.

The “Pavilions” forming the “Water Court” (photo by Anthony Poon)

For my soon to be published second book, I scribed, “Do I like playing a Beethoven piano sonata more than writing a position article on the design industry? Do I enjoy working on a large mixed-media art piece more than designing a Buddhist temple? I don’t see any such exercises as separate, or in any way, independent from each other. Artistic endeavors are not discrete. All my investigations, experiments, tests and failures fall under the shelter of a single umbrella, a simultaneous effort—that of a creative voyage with no starting point and excitingly, no end in sight . . . Music, painting, writing, architecture, and so on. For me, it is all one artistic gesture—interconnected, intertwined, inseparable.”

Compression Line, by Michael Heizer,1968/2016 (photo by Anthony Poon)

Over the years, Glenstone’s founders, Emily and Mitchell Rales, billionaire business leader and philanthropist, amassed an incredible private art collection of approximately 1,300 works from the 20th and 21st century: Twombly, Kelly, Heizer, Basquiat, Rothko, Koons, Serra, just to name a few—the Usual (but incredible) Suspects. In Potomac, Maryland, Glenstone opened in 2006 with safe and somewhat predictable Modern buildings by New York architect, Gwathmey Siegel & Associates. The museum’s name is a mash-up of the nearby Glen Road and the indigenous Carderock stone.

Design drawing by Thomas Phifer and Partners

In late 2018, the museum entered the transcendental world stage with architect Thomas Phifer and Partners’ powerful composition of the “Pavilions” and “Water Court,” with landscape collaboratively designed by Peter Walker of Berkeley, California. Glenstone’s 230 acres transformed into a state of mind that balances art, sculpture, installations, design, nature, water, light and all good things. Glenstone challenges one of my favorite places on Earth, the 500-acre Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, New York.

The Therme Vals by Peter Zumthor, Braubunden, Switzerland Zumthor (photo from vals.ch)

Akin to the Minimalism of architect Peter Zumthor’s  Therme Vals Spa in Switzerland, Glenstone is dramatic and theatrical, despite its mute Pavilions. A dozen of them, each a single art experience, center around a sunken water garden. Who knew that saying nothing and being silent can say so much?  Here, an engaging and direct conversation occurs when a massive vertical wall of Cardderock stone meets the peaceful horizontal surface of reflecting water, while above is the infinity of a blue sky. Nothing more, nothing less, and yet, so much more.

Massive and poetic vertical surfaces of Carderrock stone-clad “Pavilions” (photo by Anthony Poon)

Even the museum staff are Minimalistic. Accompanying their drab grey cotton garb with pants cropped at the ankles, they each have a small name tag of slim horizontal chrome stainless steel. But the name tags remain blank!

The approach through broad landscape, the “Pavilions” in the distance like an enigmatic modern day Stonehenge (photo from glenstone.org)
Buried in nature, one comes upon the mystery Clay Houses (Boulder-Room-Holes), by Andy Goldsworthy 2007 (photo by Anthony Poon)

The overall result of Glenstone is a must-see, near-religious experience of Modern art, elemental architecture and the pastoral outdoors. Make a reservation; the museum only lets in a limited number of people per day.  And sorry, no photography allowed within the galleries.

© Poon Design Inc.