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Book Review: Landprints: The Landscape Designs of Bernard Trainor

Landscape Architect Bernard Trainor designs pastoral and coastal projects on the California coast and countryside. His projects use native plant palettes, recycled materials, and a ever-so delicate touch that almost makes you think that a stunning view of a rocky coastal bay had been that way all along. His appropriately titled book, LANDPRINTS, takes us on a tour of Trainor’s ten most ambitious projects. The landscapes are indeed beautiful and reflect how working with nature, instead of imposing a strict design, can ultimately yield a wonderful result.

Growing up in Australia, Bernard Trainor was influenced in a way that has carried throughout his work. The wilderness, with its innate honesty reflected in texture and pattern, resonated with him and thus Trainor, “made it his life’s work to honor California’s spirit in gardens across the state.”

His projects read like picturesque postcards you might see from California. A scenic bay flanked by jagged cliffs with an modern home sitting blissfully amongst the rocks. These are the projects Trainor is attracted to. And who wouldn’t be? When a designer is given a masterpiece to work with often the greatest challenge is not to mess it up. Like any good museum housing priceless pieces of art, a poor presentation can ruin it for the viewer.  Trainor uses a delicate hand to make living amongst these natural wonders feel seamless.

“I want my gardens to connect seemlessly with the surrounding plant communities; to look as they were meant to be,” says Trainor: “Nature is not a place to visit – it is home.” – Gary Snyder, poet

Trainor believes that it is a losing proposition to impose strict geometries on irregular, naturalistic sites. “My designs,” he notes, “are not based on any simple point or perspective. They respond to the complexity onsite and work with it to make landscapes harmonize with the bigger picture.”

While there are many lessons that can be gleaned from his work, finding the right situation to apply them takes some consideration and talent which Trainor himself has mastered and is clearly showcased in his book, LANDPRINTS: The Landscape Designs of Bernard Trainor.

All images by author.  Please do not use without permission.

Revised Gehry Design Approved by Eisenhower Commission

After years of congressional bickering and Eisenhower family protests, the latest revision of the hotly debated Eisenhower Memorial in Washington D.C. has been approved by the commission set up to manage it. The new design was unveiled Tuesday in order to help quell months of of criticism regarding architect, Frank Gehry’s original design. 
The metal tapestries that surround the urban park areas are to remain to the dismay of many. However, the new design gives more prominence to the Eisenhower statue as a centerpiece. Gehry submitted a statement that endorsed the amount of negative feedback he was receiving – dubbing it “collaboration.” According to the architect, “It is a process that I think is vital to the success of any endeavor and one that was necessary to make sense of sometimes contradictory characterizations of President Eisenhower.”

Some background per the Washington Post:

The Eisenhower family criticized the original design as invoking images of Soviet mythmaking and Nazi-era barbarism. The family did not attend the Tuesday meeting but is expected to weigh in on the new design before the commission meets again, possibly within a week. At that meeting, the commission is expected to decide whether to send the plan forward to the National Capital Planning Commission.

Planners hope to break ground on the four-acre memorial this year. Projected to cost an estimated $110 million, the memorial would be bisected by Maryland Avenue SW, just south of the Mall and would be situated in front of the Education Department and across from the National Air and Space Museum — buildings that tie in with Eisenhower’s legacy.
It remains to be seen how the family and other members of Congress will react to the design. However, this is a step in the right direction for a memorial that has only seen conflict and criticism for as long as it has been on the drawing board.

Book Review: Tree Gardens: Architecture and the Forest

Tree Gardens: Architecture and the Forest, written by Gina Crandell, is a sweeping exploration of projects that changed the way we think about trees in the landscape. Beginning with the wooded defense embankments of Renaissance Lucca, Italy and reaching to the powerful Memorial Forest of New York’s 9/11 Memorial, Tree Gardens examines not only the experience of each garden, but also the hidden story of care and nurturing that they have endured. The gardens of the book tell a story of an artistic statement whose success is measured not by the fashion of the day, but by the ever changing effects of time.

Tree Gardens outlines 15 projects that exemplify the idea that trees and their arrangements can become the architecture of a garden. Crandell explores the different impetuses for the gardens construction – defensive fortifications in Lucca, vanity in the case of Versailles, and the adaptive reuse of a airport in Munich.


Maintenance and Longevity

As an idea, trees in groves and tight arrangements are some of the most difficult designs to pull off. Trees when planted are often not as big as reflected in the original design and it takes years to grow to maturity. On top of this, as the trees age the growth becomes more dense and interior space makes sustaining growth year after year difficult. The book explores the many ways that designers have addressed maintenance and how the sites have been altered over time to react to the obstacles of growth.

Versailles is an interesting case study because of its polarized historical significance. To many, cutting down a 100 year old tree seems like a crime against nature. However, many trees are reaching the end of their life cycle at about that age and it benefits the rest of a design to sometimes remove and replant. Versailles has done an exemplary job of this and subsequently the towering walls of growth keep their original intention.

One instance where a proper maintenance schedule was not maintained is Dan Kiley’s Gateway Memorial Park. According to Crandell, “Kiley employed various spacing schemes for the massing of particular species to draw attention to the tree’s character. These sculptural masses then perform spacial functions within his landscapes, such as compression and expansion.” Due to budget cuts and changes made by the National Park Service – some species and spacing of trees were changed. These and other problems negatively affect the design envisioned by Kiley – an issue that will hopefully be resolved in the new design by Michael Van Valkenburg and Associates.

Tree Gardens - Gina Crandell

Modern Tree Gardens

While Tree Gardens explores a few historical precedents, the meat of the book is about more modern projects. Crandell aims to show how contemporary landscape architects are utilizing the impact of tree form to create spaces for the next generation of open spaces. One of the themes of many of these projects is a large swath of space that is dominated by a monoculture tree grid. The 9/11 Memorial, Reimer Park, Oerliker Park, Parc de l’Ancien Palais, and Novartis Headquarters all utilize this convention with varying degrees of success. And while the impact of these bosques is immense, one cant help but wonder if designers are evoking the same generational design trend. The advantage of such design is that the rest of a scheme’s elements seem to be emphasized in their derivation from the grid. However, trees can also make a similar architectural impact in a more curved scheme such as Van Valkenburg’s Brooklyn Bridge Park. It seems that a grid can be the solution when immersion is the goal whereas forms that flank a space can give importance to a view.

Gina Crandell currently practices landscape architecture in Brookline, MA. She has previously taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, the University of California at Berkeley, Iowa State University and the Rhode Island School of Design. The American Society of Landscape Architects honored Crandell with the Award of Excellence in 2006 and the Bradford Williams Medal in 1984.

Originally posted at Landscape Invocation

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