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Art, relative to the design of spaces, has always been something dear to my heart since the earliest days of my landscape architecture career. I remember my earliest influences were environmental artists like Isamu Noguchi, Robert Irwin (before he formally dappled into landscape design), Nancy Holt, Richard Long, and our fellow landscape architect, Peter Walker. Peter, in particular felt landscape design was an art, and treated the making of landscapes as such. In fact, I went to Harvard GSD in the early 1980’s specifically to study under Peter, who was the Department Chair at the time.

Thinking about landscape design from an art perspective gave me the freedom to approach design from other non-formal points of view. It expanded the limits of landscape materiality, form and space. It also created opportunities to discover meaning and the narrative of places that would otherwise be hidden or obscured. Clients and users have always felt more connected with the design process and the physical place when they understand their project has some larger connection to the world, our culture, and the human experience.

Imagined to work within the parameters of the  Japanese American Cultural & Community Center Plaza, designed by world-famous sculptor and designer Isamu Noguchi, No Name Garden was an installation projecting both the ideas of connection and divide.

Designed to work within the parameters of the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center Plaza, a public space designed by world-famous sculptor and designer Isamu Noguchi, the No Name Garden was an installation projecting both the ideas of connection and divide.

No Name Garden - Photo: Calvin Abe

No Name Garden – All photos: Calvin Abe

One of my early art installations was called, No Name Garden. It started with the question: How do you create a garden that isn’t defined by a formal prescribed language or constructs, like Italian or English Gardens? No Name Garden was an exploration of something more basic than a cultural garden narrative. The temporary 80′ diameter grass circle was laid on the existing brick plaza that was designed by Noguchi.

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In the center of the installation stood a 5 foot high Rainbird sprinkler head, representing America’s subconscious connection to the lawn, and symbolizing the amount of water it took to maintain green lawns across the Southern California climate. I used blue carpet to symbolize water, but also as a visual “life line” that connected the interior gallery to the plaza. I placed a cubic yard of fresh compost in the gallery to represent decomposition and the idea of regenerations.

Thinking back to the project, No Name Garden is still one of my favorite landscape installations…one that I still reference.

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