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The Keller and Lovejoy Fountains

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‘Finally these places were for the first time designed to be used to be participatory – NOT just to look at – they say COME IN, not stay off.’ Lawrence Halprin

It’s probably become apparent over the years on this blog that I am a big fan of Lawrence Halprin’s work. So along with the Portland Japanese Garden, Halprin’s famous Portland fountains were at the top of my list of things to see in Portland.

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I loved the Keller Fountain, a tremendous space with the unmistakeable character of a Halprin landscape. My first impression was, ‘wow, how did they let this get built?’ It seems shockingly unsafe that the city lets people wade into the pools, wander along the top edge, and generally treat it like the world’s quirkiest public pool; at one point there were two dozen people scattered throughout the pools, including kids who had showed up with swimming suits and towels. I give Halprin credit: it’s hard to imagine this was ever approved by the city’s lawyers, but I’ve heard that it actually has a pretty good safety record. Like an adventure playground, it looks so obviously dangerous that people treat it with the proper respect and avoid hurting themselves. I saw one woman absolutely traumatized by the sight of her young daughter venturing close to the edge, but, after screaming at her kid to get back, she didn’t actually make the girl get out, just stay away from the danger zone. It’s too bad that things like this are so rare in our built landscapes.

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One of Halprin’s design sketches (the actual forms were designed by an architect on his staff, Angela Danadjieva, working with clay) shows a granite cliff, though the forms remind me much more of a city skyline, like a bunch of high rises pushed up against each other. But even though the forms feel human-built and urban, the overall effect is impressively evocative of a natural waterfall. Pumping 13,000 gallons of water per minute, with the resulting roar of water and spray of mist, will obviously go a long way towards creating the feel of a waterfall, but the effect was also created by the way people were scattered throughout the space, sitting at the edge of the water and wading around in the pools above the cascade.

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In the post for the Japanese Garden, I said I sometimes felt as if I were an actor hitting my marks, feeling that all of my movements had been designed or choreographed; the Keller Fountain has a few places that feel like that, such as the plinth in the photo above, clearly designed as a place for people to pose in photos (a lot like the row of statues designed for visitors at Halprin’s Roosevelt Memorial in Washington DC to pose as the next statue in line, a nice participatory element in that memorial). But most of the fountain felt like a ‘choose your own adventure’ kind of space, and if you look on google images, it’s amazing the way everyone is doing something different in every photo. There’s an impressive variety of poses and images for such a small urban space.

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I’ve heard this can look rather brutalist on an overcast winter day with the fountain turned off, but actually it looks pretty good in photos and the bare articulation of the masses really appeals to the stone guy in me.

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I also walked Halprin’s Open Space Sequence to the nearby Lovejoy Fountain and to Pettygrove Park. Both of them are nice enough, but I wasn’t as impressed as with the Keller. A couple of images for the Lovejoy are below. Read the rest of this entry »

Portland Japanese Garden

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Before I set off on my bicycle, I hit up some of the landscape sites of Portland. The Japanese garden was at the top of my agenda, and it’s every bit as great as I had heard. Of all the Japanese gardens I’ve visited, Portland’s is the exemplar, filled with the carefully composed naturalism that Japanese gardens are famous for, plants carefully layered, views carefully framed, everything harmonious, suffused with careful deliberate subtlety. After a while, sitting on the benches, strolling the paths, pausing at the pausing spots, I did begin to feel somewhat like an actor hitting my marks, that everywhere I paused had been predetermined by the garden’s designers and that every view I looked at had been carefully composed to take my eye to a predetermined focal point. But the effect was genuine; I felt calm and harmonious. It’s the most expansive Japanese garden I’ve ever been to, the most subtle, and the most discretely meticulous.

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The above Japanese Maple might be one of the most photographed specimens in the country. It’s perfectly pruned and sited on a slight rise so that you feel yourself invited to look up into its canopy.

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All the paths were great. I like the way these contrasting stones are combined, with the larger, brighter granite pieces like stepping stones within the overall path. This path led into a tea garden with all of the classic elements, but it was closed to the public while I was there, so I wasn’t able to do the tea garden journey.

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A wonderfully austere bench vignette.

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Another nice pathway. A warmer piece of stone subtly marks the threshold.

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Everything in the garden felt distinctly un-coincidental, like the way the herringbone pattern of the bamboo fencing echoed the herringbone of the bamboo leaves growing in front of it.

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It was nice to get a bird’s eye view of the obligatory zen garden. There’s a much more interesting gravel and moss garden in another part of the garden but shadows made it not worth photographing.

It was great to see everything after years of knowing this garden only from photos. I’d love to see the garden at another time of year with better light, and I’m pretty sure I’ll manage another visit within the next couple of years. To see the garden in foggy, fall-color glory, check out this post from RhoneStreetGardens last October.

Coast Cycling Thumbnails

These are my sketches from the coast. They were all done very quickly at the end of the day, sitting at a picnic table at camp or sometimes in my tent with a headlamp, recording some of the images that stayed in my head. A couple represent specific places such as the view of the bridge across Coos Bay or the sand dunes at Honeyman Memorial State Park, but most of them are the kind of half-remembered amalgam views that make up the bike-touring experience.

Cycling the Coast

Somewhere off Highway 101 in Oregon

I just spent the last twelve days cycling down the coast from Portland to San Francisco, my first bicycle tour since Baja four years ago. I’m not much of a recreational cyclist and had only done about 50 miles of biking all year before setting out from Portland, but I do love touring. It’s such a great way to see the landscape. There’s been about a four year gap each time before my next tour, but I already have a few tours in mind that I want to do and I had a great time on this one, so hopefully it won’t be so long before my next one.

On 101 North of Gold Beach

The Oregon coast was great; I’d never been there before, so it was all new to me. The section of coast between Port Orford and Brookings was my favorite section of riding. Hiking in the evening in the sand dunes of the Oregon Dunes Rec Area was a highlight off the bike. California was more familiar to me. The route was entirely on roads that I had driven before, but it was great to do them on a bicycle. The ten miles through the redwood trees of the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway in the Prairie Creek Redwoods and the thirty miles of the Avenue of the Giants further south in the Humboldt Redwoods were probably the overall highlight of the trip. I’ve wanted to ride a bike through the redwoods for years.

North of Westport off Highway 1 in California

I took very few photos on the road. I did some drawings, but they were quick thumbnails for myself and probably not worth posting. For proper posts and photos about bicycle touring the coast, you can check out the blog of one of the tourers I met on the road. My rear wheel makes a cameo appearance in a photo of a temporary spoke repair he performed for me.

On the Golden Gate Bridge back home

For my own sake, to help me remember the trip in the future, the campsites are listed below the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Drystack-Look Seatwall

It’s been a while since I last posted due to an unofficial blogging break to watch the world cup. I’m a big world cup fan; I kept working, but I made sure to fit my schedule around the important games. What’s the point of being your own boss if you’re not going organize your schedule around the world’s biggest sporting event? Despite watching a lot of soccer, I finished a few projects, including a new path, patio, and seat wall for this Berkeley backyard.

Before

The garden is intended to be an eclectic Berkeley-style garden. The owner has lived here for a couple of years and he had already created a lovely little planting in the front yard, but his backyard needed large-scale changes. The previous owner had left behind a few interesting plants, but the layout of the space — with a pink concrete patio, narrow concrete paths, cramped planting beds, and a weird turquoise trellis structure cutting the space in half — was severely limiting. The garden improved as soon as we took out the concrete and moved the existing plants around, even before adding the flagstone and the seatwall.

After

The paths and patios are built with a sandstone called Mahogany Red. The seatwall is a slate-y stone called Cabernet. I’ve built with it a number of times, but this batch turned out to be trickier than usual, with few right angles and a lot of cracked pieces. Only one stoneyard in the Bay Area carries it, so I had to just do the best with what I could find. The client didn’t want a conventional capstone or a visible mortar joint. Personally, I don’t have anything against a visible mortar joint, but our clients never seem to want one. He took it as a compliment when a neighbor asked if the wall was dry-stacked.

The View towards the House Before

The View towards the House After

Before

After

The owner is doing all of the plantings himself. He’s very enthusiastic, with an eclectic taste in plants, and he started adding things before I even finished the stonework. I’d never heard of a couple of the plants he bought and I liked all the ones I did know, so it’s going to be fun to go back to see how it all fills in.

The Oldest Living Things

A few years back, after a visit to the Bristlecone Pines in the White Mountains, I included a link to a collection of photos by Rachel Sussman, a photographer whose project is photographing living things more than 2,000 years old. She has a book out now, The Oldest Living Things on Earth. Some amazing plants. I like to think that stonework should be designed to last 100 years, but 2,000 year old plants make that seem like short-term thinking. There’s a TEDTalk on her website, also worth watching.