May 17, 2013
“Nature” is probably the last word that comes to mind when most people think about urban design. That’s not the case for landscape designer Margie Ruddick, though. For the past 25 years, she has created parks, gardens and waterfronts that blend ecology with city planning.
In New York City, home to many of her works, Ruddick has transformed Queens Plaza by merging plants, water, wind and sun with the city’s infrastructure, and designed a 2.5-acre park along the Hudson River in Battery Park City out of materials recycled from other parks in the area. Her most recent project took nature indoors at Manhattan’s Bank of America Tower, where she created a winter garden with four tall sculptures made of thousands of ferns, mosses and vines. This “Urban Garden Room” was the first ever permanent installation of a living sculpture.
Last week, Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum announced that Ruddick would be one of this year’s ten recipients of a 2013 National Design Award, hers for landscape architecture. We caught up with her via e-mail after the announcement to ask her about her work. Below, she tells us more about her award-winning “green” approach to design, why it is important and what it will mean for the future of architecture.
What is the idea behind living sculptures in urban design? What effect do they have?
The idea for this space was to allow visitors to feel immersed in nature in a small interior space with severe natural light limitations. A traditional atrium planting (like the bamboo in the 590 Madison Ave Atrium, formerly the IBM building) would have had little impact, given the small space, plus traditional plantings would have leaned toward the light. (Keep in mind that a fascination with over-sized, topiary sculptures has emerged in the past decade. Jeff Koons‘ “Puppy” is one of his most popular pieces, constantly traveling to enliven public spaces around the world.) The effect I wanted to have in the Urban Garden Room was to feel as if you have stepped out of the city and into a fern canyon. Visitors report that there is something about the air quality—the humidity and the smell of earth—that automatically makes them feel more relaxed and able to breathe deeply and calmly.
Why are urban green environments important in a city?
OMG! From ancient Chinese gardens to Vitruvius to Olmsted (and to the present era of urban greening) people have recognized the health impact of green spaces—cleaning air, cooling the earth, etc.—but also the psychological impact. There are numerous studies finding that parks and green spaces improve mood, focus, and even intelligence. I think a city without green environments can hardly survive .
How did you get involved in creating these types of environments?
I joined the horticulture work crew of Central Park in 1983 and two years later went to graduate school in landscape architecture. I was bitten by the bug!
What role do you see green projects playing in architecture in the next 10 years?
More and more architectural proposals integrate “a green element” into buildings and built environments. Green roofs, wild green terraces – the vision in a lot of architecture journals these days is of nature completely integrated as part of the city and part of architecture, rather than distinguishing between nature and building. But, a lot of the images look like the architecture has been colonized by wild plantings, and not conceived from the same idea or the same pen. I do think right now it is something of a fad, and that in ten years the reality of how you actually do this and keep buildings standing up and water-tight will have led to an architecture that doesn’t look as much like something that was left to go to seed, but a tighter and more rigorous integration of green into structure.
What obstacles do you have to overcome when creating a living sculpture or an “urban green machine” in the middle of New York City?
The obstacles are huge, for both public streetscapes and private buildings. At Queens Plaza [where "Urban Green Machine" was installed], the design team and client had to navigate between numerous city and state agencies. Bureaucratic coordination is probably the biggest challenge, as well as staging construction in order never to close streets, and then the question of who is going to maintain the landscape and with what funds. In the case of the Urban Garden Room, the construction and maintenance costs were and are prohibitive, but The Durst Organization decided that they would invest in a signature green space in the city’s first LEED platinum building. The structural issues, staging issues (to get the sculpture in 13 pieces shipped to New York from Montreal and installed in the building over one weekend), and maintenance issues were enormous. There were also a lot of plant losses. The bulk of the sculpture planting is now the two or three most vigorous plants, as a number of plant species did not adjust through a chaotic first season.
What projects are you working on now?
I never know very far ahead what is coming down the pike—I work on a small number of projects at a time, collaborating closely with architects, artists and landscape architects on everything from concept through details. I am currently working on a housing project in Taiwan, a marine ecology project on Long Island and a water garden for a private residence in Miami—he gamut from planning to finely honed design. I also have written a book, Wild By Design [forthcoming] that I hope will raise consciousness about landscape, how important it is and how we actually go about working in the field.
What does it mean to you to win a National Design Award?
It has a professional meaning as well as a profound personal relevance. Professionally, I am really gratified to see that this year’s winners are mostly individuals, doing work that is very particular, in addition to being pioneering. I think it reflects the rising value the culture gives to creativity, and the art of what we do. Personally, I grew up visiting the Cooper-Hewitt often, to the galleries and lectures, and there is no telling what I would be without these visits. There is no institution in America that has done more for designers and design education, so receiving this award is seriously humbling.
May 9, 2013
Recognizing everything from landscape architecture to fashion, the 2013 Cooper-Hewitt Design Awards recognize the best in design. Some names, like this year’s winner for Corporate and Institutional Achievement, TED, are familiar, while others may be new to most.
Within academic circles, for example, Michael Sorkin is a well-known architecture and planning critic and professional whose texts show up on college syllabuses across the country. His 2011 All Over the Map: Writing on Buildings and Cities takes on his own New York City, including the controversial Ground Zero Memorial and proves why his is a bold and valued voice in the field. For this and other works, Sorkin is being honored with the Design Mind award.
For the other honorees, we’ll let their posters, gardens, restaurants and clothing speak for themselves:
Landscape Architecture, Margie Ruddick
When asked to create a “winter garden” for the Bank of America Tower in New York City, Ruddick created this living sculpture. She says, “we created an immersive green environment that is designed to make you feel like you have stepped into the natural world of the city.”
Communication Design, Paula Scher
Known for her rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic–she’s designed posters for Elvis Costello–Paula Scher is a clear voice in communication design. Her advice to aspiring designers? “Find out what the next thing is that you can push, that you can invent, that you can be ignorant about, that you can be arrogant about, that you can fail with, and that you can be a fool with. Because in the end, that’s how you grow.”
Interior Design, Aidlin Darling Design
Aidlin Darling’s design for this ultra-hip San Francisco bar and hangout got almost as much attention as the food. Generous with the wood, the design also employed billowing glass curtains.
Architectural Design, Studio Gang Architects
Designed for the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, this structure takes its inspiration from a tortoise shell. The archway was part of a larger boardwalk that transformed an urban pond into “an ecological habitat buzzing with life.”
Fashion Design, Behnaz Sarafpour
Sarafpour began her career in New York in 1989 when she attended the Parsons School of Design. Since then, her work has found its way into special lines for Target and several museums, including the Victoria and Albert in London.
Interaction Design, Local Projects
To gather the stories of a mining community for an area museum, Local Projects built a recording studio from ”a trailer clad entirely in copper…in homage to the single metal that the Southwest is famous for supplying.”
Product Design, NewDealDesign
Based in San Francisco, NewDealDesign combines graphic, interaction and industrial design to create products that also serve as solutions.
Lifetime Achievement, James Wines
Wines has long integrated green design principles into his work, such as this Las Vegas Denny’s that also includes a wedding chapel.
March 5, 2013
Cindy Chao knew, with more than 2,300 gems of diamonds, rubies and tsavorite garnets, her butterfly brooch was masterpiece of craftsmanship. Made in 2009, the brooch found its way to the cover of Women’s Wear Daily–the first piece of jewelry ever to do so in 100 years. Known for her wearable works of art, Chao had made a name for herself as the first Taiwanese jeweler included at a Christie’s auction in 2007, and her work even debuted on the Hollywood red carpet.
Now her butterfly brooch comes to the Natural History Museum’s Gems and Minerals collection as the first piece designed by a Taiwanese artist. Small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, and brilliant enough to illuminate a room. The brooch packs a punch. But it also packs a surprise.
Curator Jeffrey Post says he was compelled by his ongoing interest in the optical behaviors of diamonds to put the piece under ultraviolet light, and the ensuing light show was nothing short of spectacular. The diamonds and sapphires fluoresced, glowing neon in the dark. “When we saw all these fluorescing diamonds, all these different colors, it was just the whipped cream on top of the cake,” says Post, “It was just the most wonderful surprise.”
Chao, meanwhile, had never seen this phenomenon. “When Dr. Post showed it to me under the ultraviolet light, I was shocked because he thought I did it on purpose.” An artist influenced by her father’s career as both an architect and sculptor, Chao cares about the craft of jewelry-making and working with unique materials. She calls the fluorescent reaction a natural miracle. Now, she says, “I check everything under the ultraviolet light.”
A symbol of metamorphosis, the butterfly speaks to Chao’s own transformation from jeweler to artist. While she’s had great success in the market (her pieces command any where from $15,000 for a ring and nearly $1 million for a brooch), she says earning a spot in the Smithsonian was a great honor as an artist. She hopes to pass on her lessons to students who share her passion for the craft of jewelry-making.
The brooch also speaks to the natural metamorphosis each gemstone undergoes. “Every gemstone,” says Post, “including this butterfly, starts out as a mineral crystal that forms, and only the best and most perfect of those mineral crystals are transformed into gemstones.” Post says that the incredibly detailed design of the brooch, which mimics the microstructure and scale of a living butterfly’s wings, speaks to the piece’s rarified quality. “The other side of the butterfly is just as beautiful as the front and that’s how you know, this is really a masterpiece creation,” he says.
Joining the recent Dom Pedro donation, as well as the famed Hope Diamond, the piece will brooch in the Hall of Gems and Minerals. Its donation also marks the fifth anniversary of the museum’s Butterfly Pavilion.