01 June 2008

bewilderment garden project

My midterm project has been graded and returned. My professor seemed impressed in the comments he returned to me that it was a design that could actually work, which was not a requirement of the project.

Along with the shoebox model, we were required to write an explanation of our site. Here's what I said.... and my greatest thanks to those who contributed!

Noun. Confusion resulting from failure to understand [1].

Since I believe that it would be difficult for a visitor to this relatively small space in an urban setting to become truly lost, or even disoriented really, I was forced to consider other senses of bewilderment. I consulted family, friends, colleagues, and total strangers on what made them feel bewildered. I received answers ranging from “a maze” to “a newborn baby”. Most people however, seemed to agree that a bewildering thing or experience would be something that makes them raise an eyebrow, cock their head and say “huh?”

My intention for this design is twofold: the etymology of the word bewilder is be- + wilder, or at or near wilderness, a setting that lends itself easily to a plant-based depiction. But an urban forest would not, in and of itself, be bewildering to a passerby—interesting, perhaps, to one inclined to such things, but not bewildering. Which brings us to my second intention, that of an unexpected juxtaposition of settings or spaces. The “wild” forest is dense, dark and itself not visually stimulating, but a few narrow paths create visual connectivity or “windows” from the surrounding sidewalk to the brightly and bizarrely planted interior space, drawing the eye and the attention of the passerby. A glimpse of what lies beyond the “wilderness” would draw the passerby into the space, though they might be apprehensive about entering the space—another example of bewilderment.

The forest element consists of trees and shrubs, planted as densely as possible in order to screen the interior space from most of the possible viewing locations surrounding the site. The trees are mature and medium-tall (20 to 50 feet), with limbs growing as low as possible to allow for a person to walk among them without stooping over. The shrubs are of various sizes—small and bushy to about ten feet and columnar. The purpose of the shrubs are to fill the space and visually screen the interior space where the trees cannot.

Once the passerby enters the space (and becomes a visitor), their movement is simple: walk towards the light. Due to lack of options, the visitor will follow the same path as the eye, though the trail is not marked or otherwise delineated. The omitting of defined trails or paths was intentional. Kaplan, Kaplan and Ryan point out that “trails invite one to proceed, thus enhancing a sense of security,” [2]and in my experience, insecurity is a prerequisite for a sense of bewilderment. The forest floor then, serves as the path and is allowed to overgrow and take part in the natural processes of forest substrate. Egress of the space would simply be the reverse of the entrance.

Foremost defined by a carefully planted and maintained circle of bright green groundcover, suitable for pedestrian traffic, the center of the space is intended to be the complete opposite of the dark and dense forest. A break in the canopy allows for a well-lit space that features a surreal variety of colorful plants, selected for their bright colors (either while in bloom or not) and/or their unusual form (I had in mind Japanese azaleas, euphorbias, forsythia and crimson tulips, with the circle being planted in Irish moss). These plants do not exceed a height of six feet—they should not overtake the forest in size, but the more garish the colors and the more bizarre the botanical forms the better. This space is highly maintained, heightening the sense of disparity in comparison to the surrounding “wilderness”. Even now, I am not sure that a visitor would want to linger in such a space, but incase they do, a pair of large rocks, conducive to sitting--but not necessarily comfortable--are positioned in the space.

[1] WordNet® 3.0, © 2006 by Princeton University.
[2] With People in Mind: Design and Management of Everyday Nature. Island Press, 1998. Page 89.

Some photos of the project...

plan view

a path, creating a "window" from the adjacent sidewalk

The central space, an uncomfortable seating rock, and garishly colored plants. Wire person for scale (required).

I made all of the plants out of fabric, wire, and some beads. The shrubs were stiffened with watered down Elmer's White Glue. The scale person is silver wire. The whole project was quite fun, and I am very pleased with the finished piece. Much better than the diorama I made of the book The Twits in the second grade....

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