Thursday, December 30, 2010

"Found" Art

I love water, and growing up, I would always visit the water, be it the Potomac River, or the streams behind our house in Newburyport, MA. No matter what I learn about water academically be it flow regimes, or hydrologic cycle, there is an ancient quality that Langobards and Celts incorporated into their art work that I feel deeply and profoundly - which can not be quantified. Understanding the essence of water is a challenge, you can’t hold it really, it either reflects or is transparent – becoming it’s surrounding, and then moves on. It is in the air around us and most of our bodies are water. I reckon that the quantity of water, as in the Potomac or the ocean causes the water in ourselves to realign with the pervasive currents that surround us. In my professional practice as well as my two and three dimensional art work, I attempt to honor that flux and dynamism I experience in the world, and to create a language to translate it to those around me. But there are times when that language is inadequate and it is best to let the images (moving and still) or the moment speak for itself as these "found" pieces do.
Ice block
Foam Swirls

Thursday, December 16, 2010


We recently installed a curtain drain on the north side of our barn to catch the surface flow that had been running under the barn and then erupting in our front yard in at times picturesque fountains during major rain storms that are becoming the norm for climate pattern around here – if you can say there is one. As a result, we created a new area of wetlands to replace the portion we filled to divert the water flow from under the barn.

I created a conceptual planting plan for the area to supplement the wetland seed mix to suit the wet meadow ecological context and ensure that the replication is successful. The mix of plants Rose Mallow, Joe Pye Weed, Blue Flag Iris and Turtle head are all in the surrounding wetlands with the possible exception of the Mallow. These plants have important habitat value for all manner of creatures, and I am glad to have been able with this drainage project to have saved the barn from settling (or worse) and to have created another section of wetlands that can support the incredible diversity of wildlife that surrounds us through the wetland’s nutritive, water storage and aesthetic functions. 

Planting Plan
Plantings in the ground
Another view of plantings in the ground

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hardscape Terracing

The stone is in – walkways, raised beds, cribstone benches and an installation by Daniel. While just finished Friday evening, it looks like it has been here for a long time. Before the snow comes, the plan is to install the steel raised beds and soil so that planting can happen in the spring.

Daniel’s installation is beautiful. It integrates well with the terraces and the surrounding context of fields – with meaningful resonances to this place and beyond. The form draws you in from afar – and helps to define the area in which it resides. The inspiration for the form is from Etruscan tombs where the corner corbelling supports the dome of the structure. I appreciate that inspirational provenance given my love of Italy and the classical period. The piece is also intended to evolve and grow over time – through the addition of stones that we pull from our gardens – as the stone pile just to the east of this piece did when the Graves brothers lived here a decade ago.

Throughout the project, I’ve tried to stay true to the character of this place.
That’s part of the power of living in a spot where memory is so ingrained. There
is an inherent responsibility that comes with living here to maintain the poetry of the Graves brother’s legacy and interweave our own story with this place and not run a museum, where we are only the care takers. This land is continually unfolding as is history, and an interesting thing to me is what the history of the landscape tells me about the Graves and how they lived here. I am eager to integrate our stories with the recollections of our neighbors and the continuing narrative of the landscape we inhabit here.


Cribstone Seating and Daniel's Installation

View from above


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Design Evolution

The terrace hardscape is close to completion – laying the flagstone has been quick in comparison to the wall building. This project has taught me much about communication, humility, and flexibility - all elements essential to design. More than anything else, I’ve learned that a plan represents the best possible outcome of informed decisions made with the inspiration of the site coupled with solid analysis. That said, moving into the reality of materials, earth, people and three dimensions ensures that design is an evolutionary process. Good design does not mean holding on to rendered ideas, but means moving past those ideas if they undermine or are incongruous with the initial intent of the project or the realities of the ground as the project is being built.

It takes additional measures of creativity and humility to devise an alternative solution that is more true to the context of the site and the intent of the project. Specifically, I was challenged by the stone ramp I had designed – that in the plan and model appeared to be appropriate and beautiful. Indeed, the built ramp was beautiful and reminiscent for me of parts of Ollantaytambo, a magical Incan Fortress near Cusco. However, as the entry to the garden, it was too steep and forbidding to invite people in to garden and welcome them to the space. The ramp evolved into a staircase. Instantly it became more inviting, and more coherent to the order already established throughout the installation. The change truly ties the space together and to a degree softens the entrance even with out the presence of plants.

Out there this morning, I am pleased with the evolution of this project so far. The stairs are elegant and welcoming. I appreciate them for the physical access they grant and for the developmental access they gave me to push beyond the limits of my previous experiences.

I would like to thank Dan and Jared for their hard work and artistry in helping me realize this part of the wall installation. Their dedication and professionalism are truly inspiring. 


Ramp Before
Stairs After

Monday, October 25, 2010

Site Vist

Walking. Listening. Making connections between patterns. Initiating conversations – wood to stone, water to earth, evergreen to ephemeral. This is how I begin.

There’s a nervous anticipation I feel on my way to a site visit – questions – what is the narrative of this place? What is the client’s intention? How does that intention manifest now and where do narrative and intention overlap? How can I foster a dialog between people, places and systems? Exploring human imperative towards order (ectropy) and systems tendency towards chaos (entropy) and their interwoven natures fascinates me. With any installation, I ask what life it will have upon completion as well as what life it will have 5, 10 & 20 years from now.

On site, I can immerse myself in the reality of what is there and begin to understand its relationship to a broader context. Noting details that include existing plantings, how people use the space, infrastructure, and building footprints, I begin to learn the narrative of the place. Every time I visit a place I relearn how to observe and am always amazed by the myriad of ways people and landscape effect each other.

As important as getting to know the site is grasping the context it resides in. All around are indications of systems processes, too many to list, a whole organism within which the site nests. I always feel like I know a place better by walking as much as I can - physically observing how the landscape functions or doesn't as a dynamic system.

Inevitably, over the course of the project, I learn more, and my relationship with the place evolves. There is something invigorating though about that initial nervousness, and the process of being in a new place – which I thoroughly enjoy.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Farm to Pharmacy

Last week I finished the third installment of Goldthread Apothecary’s Farm to Pharmacy program at their farm in Conway, MA. Empowering people to maintain and boost their health through plant-based medicine is an inspired call to action. While the focus of the program was on the healing properties of about 30 plants and how to make teas, tinctures, salves and oils from them, the implications of taking the time to grow, nurture and harvest these plants reach beyond physical health.

I think a lot about these words from Georgia O’Keefe –

Nobody sees a flower
- really - it is so small it takes time -
we haven't time - and to see takes time,
like to have a friend takes time.

As a landscape designer, I am familiar with the plants I encountered at Farm to Pharmacy for their habitat value, what they tell me about the soils and bedrock, and the beauty of their forms – globes, umbrellas, spikes and sprays. Learning about their healing properties and how they have nourished communities deepened my already profound wonder and respect for plants and their critical role in our lives and ecology we all share. Like O’Keefe observes, seeing involves more than the eyes. It involves intention, and moving past facile connections to experience the reality of what is there, where only then, in that moment, might you see.

There is already a tremendous movement to interweave the rewards of producing one's own food into people’s lives – through edible landscapes, permaculture and urban gardens and farming. The next progression is the re-introduction of simple folk medicine. I am inspired to incorporate my experiences from Farm to Pharmacy into my design practice. In addition to creating systems to support landscape ecological function, I hope to also nurture people's health through providing edibles, herbs and opportunities for gardening, meditation or running around playing tag. 

I am grateful to have shared the experience with so many dedicated, inspired and courageous people. 



Thursday, September 9, 2010

Foundation Terraces

Three terraces nestle into a precipitous slope within the footprint of an old carriage barn. A curved walking path ascends the levels with steps and a ramp that references an existing ramp on site. The edge of the top terrace recreates the original line of the barn and contains the curvilinear terraces reflecting the stepped topography of the surrounding fields. An informal granite slab stair case accesses the apple orchards beyond.

The artfully composed spaces accommodate small family gatherings, provide ample gardening beds and recall the history of the site. South east sun exposure and generous northwest wind buffer make this an ideal place for raising food and medicine. Heat gain from the stone walls, raised beds and removable hoop houses will help to extend the often capricious New England growing season.

Cribstone benches define the gathering area. The porosity of the forms gives a light feeling to the gravity of stone benches. Tall grasses and meadow plants will enclose the space and add sensual contrast to the linearity of the cut stone caps and help to place the foundation terraces within their meadow context.

Installation of pathways, raised beds and plants remain. It has been great to work with Daniel Snow and watch these walls emerge. I am eager to see the next phase of the project completed and to begin planting. 


Monday, August 30, 2010


I am inspired by ecological systems and the interdependency that human well being shares with the health of those systems. My design passion lies in seeking connections that improve system function, enhance social benefit and establish habitat in order to support nested communities within a region, a town or a site. Creating systems that can be resilient enough to sustain themselves when exposed to excess fluxes of water, people, nutrients and toxins is critical with climate change and population growth pressuring ecosystem function.

Micro and macro systems dynamics reveal a narrative that eloquently describes existing site conditions. By revealing processes like wetland formation or stormwater flow, I place those processes into the consciousness of others. Giving people a basic language and nuanced appreciation of ecological systems integrates those processes into a community's connection to where they live and, optimistically, might positively effect their daily choices.

My deep love of language and art informs my process and vision. Art engenders connection and care for place and the systems and processes within that place. The intention of my creative work has been to use paintings and writing, as well as found materials, to narrate my process of understanding a place or situation. By expressing personal interpretations of relationships I see in a watershed, site or culvert, I initiate a dialog that can engage the community with the ecosystems processes around them. It is my intention with my professional life to explore and interweave my love for ecology, art and language into design and art that brings health and resilience to the nested ecologies of a given site, community or region. In so doing, I know that the result will be a reflection of authenticity true to the eco-region, the culture and the voice of the place.

 Todd Lynch - Tire Maze - 1500'x1500' - Baltimore - 2000

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Ectropy is the measure of the tendency for dynamic systems to do work and become more organized. Ecotropy as I define it is the measure of the tendency for dynamic systems to do work and become more organized and resilient from the ground up