Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Archive for December, 2010

El Cerrito Then and Now

View of El Cerrito

El Cerrito before it was El Cerrito, from A State of Change by Laura Cunningham

In the course of holiday shopping, I stumbled on A State of Change, a book of paintings of the California landscape as it would have looked before it was filled with towns and cities. Paleo artist Laura Cunningham researches the historic ecology of a site and then paints the specific landscapes as they might have looked like thousands of years ago. I was most interested in the ones with before-and-after views, a painting of the past contrasted with a photo of the same location in the present. They give an interesting perspective on the landscaping job Californians have collectively done for the state.

Halfway up Moeser Street, El Cerrito, December 30, 2010

One painting from the Berkeley hills is fairly close to the view I get on my way home after work, so I took my own photos to compare, one with daylight, the other as I usually see it this time of year, with the sun going down. Albany Hill, prominent on the left side of the painting, is just outside of the frame in the daylight version and at the edge of the frame in the twilight version taken higher from up on Moeser.

Near the top of Moeser Street, El Cerrito December 30, 2010

There is a review of the book at Berkeleyside. Cunningham has a website with some other paintings and before-and-after views of the state.

Andrea Cochran

Around the time I went to Stern Grove, Andrea Cochran gave a talk at UC Berkeley. She’s another one of the west coast landscape architects with interesting stonework in her projects. She mostly spoke about the projects in the recent book Andrea Cochran: Landscapes, but with a lot more photos, including construction photos and some before photos of the projects. I was most interested in the stonework at two of her projects up in the Napa area.

I smile every time I look at photos of the riprap at the base of the wall in this landscape. It’s as if the stonemasons never cleaned up after the project or as if they were building a breakwater for a flood that has yet happen. It’s landscape humor, whether or not the designer actually meant it to be. But it also works visually; breakwaters and seawalls are always striking, and most mountain headwalls have talus heaped at their base, so it’s a familiar form to have the clean face of the wall above the jumble of the riprap. She said that she added the riprap because the walls were too strong visually, that their line was dominating the landscape and she needed something to soften the effect. It’s not often that adding stone will soften a landscape.

The other interesting stone element from her book and presentation is a pyramid made from construction rubble. After excavating for a building on the site, they had literally tons of rock to get rid of and the landscape needed something to fill the view across the reflecting pool, so she channeled Michael Heizer and had the rubble stacked into a pyramid. She said everyone was skeptical until it was built. Like the riprap, a bold design move.

Both projects won ASLA awards, with more photos and info about the projects, titled Walden Studios and Stone Edge Farms, at the ASLA website. There’s also a recent interview with her on the ASLA blog, covering a lot of the other topics she talked about at the slideshow.

There’s a video about her here.

Stern Grove

Stern Grove

View from the Stage, click to enlarge

‘I wanted it to have the feeling of being in one of the great Greek amphitheaters,’ Lawrence Halprin

Last month I went to Stern Grove and took some photos. I’d been there during concerts, but I wanted to check it out without all the crowds. It didn’t disappoint. It’s a great space, with awesome stonework, and worth visiting even when there isn’t a concert happening. I wasn’t expecting to see anyone there, but an impressive number of people passed through the space, even though it was a rainy Sunday morning. I’d always thought of it as a theatre, but it also works quite nicely as a park.

View from the West

The Grove has been a park and concert space since the 1930’s, but the stonework is all from about 5 years ago when Lawrence Halprin led a big renovation. Before the renovation it was just a natural amphitheater, and everyone would slowly slide downhill while they listened to music. Halprin terraced the slope and turned it into a proper Greek theater. My first impression of him when I started to learn about his work was that he tended to just make things up, but the design at the Grove is actually quite true to the style of the Greeks, with appropriate stonework and other detailing. Even the plan, which is rather free-form, is in keeping with the old Greeks’ appreciation for natural topography. From what I can tell, amphitheaters close to the center of the Greek empire tended to have a more regular form, while the ones built towards the fringes tended to be more irregular. Which makes the irregular form of this Greek amphitheater in San Francisco, 6500 miles from Greece, perfectly aligned with that tradition. One theater in particular, Thorikos, has a plan that reminds me of Stern Grove. (more…)

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