Summer is the season for architectural installations, what with the MoMA PS1 Young Architects Program in place in New York City and for the first time this year in Rome. Another popular annual installation is the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London's Hyde Park. This year's pavilion, the 11th for the gallery, is designed by Peter Zumthor, the Pritzker Prize-winning Swiss architect known for taking his time and creating poetic architecture with a quiet beauty. His design is basically a rectangular black box with a central garden designed by Piet Oudolf. What follows are the words of Zumthor in regards to the installation, Hortus conclusus.
[All photographs: Walter Herfst]
"We come from nature and we return to nature; we are conceived and born; we live and die; we rot or burn and vanish into the earth. I rarely thought about such things when I was young. Now I do. I see a great cycle and I am part of it. For a little while, I am here. I did not exist before my time and I will no longer exist after my time. But in my time, I belong to the process of life on this planet; for a little while I am part of the organism of human beings, animals and plants that exists on this planet and that passes life on.
Looking back I realize that I have always taken plants for granted; they were part of my surroundings; they were self-evident and I enjoyed them as meadows, gardens or woods. That has changed. I have become more attentive to the plant world even though I never studied it and know only a few plants by name. But I like being with them. To me, their presence is quieting.
"Plants embody everything that I like to have around me: presence, personality, character. They are supple and therefore strong, yet softly-spoken and gentle; they are fragrant and delicate; they have movement, colour, structure, scale and proportion. Plants are large in form, tiny in detail and always a single whole. Plants are beautiful in sun and rain, in tropical heat, fighting immortal cold, dancing in the wind, buffeted by storms.
Plants have long been part of the earth’s history. They come from afar. Their beauty is deep and beyond question. It can be overwhelming; their fragrance beguiling. I look at my garden and I see vibrancy, opulence, serenity; I see dignity, playfulness, infinite tenderness, the nodding kindness of Herb Roberti, and in the larger, beautiful picture, I discover small, modest dots of colour that enhance the luxuriant whole.
"Landscapes mark the surface of the earth. Billions of plants react to sun, wind and weather, to heat and humidity, to drought and cold, to the nature of the soil in which they grow; they ceaselessly converge to form new plant societies and landscape ensembles. They are infinite in number and variety; they grow naturally and are influenced by us: oases, steppes, forests, wetlands, meadows, moors, landscaped parks. And there are gardens: herb gardens, kitchen gardens, vegetable gardens, flower gardens, rose gardens, pleasure gardens. Every name listed here evokes a distinct image; with each of them I associate specific lighting, smells and sounds, many kinds of rest, and a deep awareness of the earth and its flora.
"A garden is the most intimate landscape ensemble I know of. It is close to us. In it we cultivate the plants we need. A garden requires care and protection. And so we encircle it, we defend it and fend for it. We give it shelter. The garden turns into a place.
Enclosed gardens fascinate me. A forerunner of this fascination is my love of the fenced vegetable gardens on farms in the Alps, where farmers’ wives often planted flowers as well. I love the image of these small rectangles cut out of vast alpine meadows, the fence keeping the animals out. There is something else that strikes me in this image of a garden fenced off within the larger landscape around it: something small has found sanctuary within something big.
"The hortus conclusus that I dream of is enclosed all around and open to the sky. Every time I imagine a garden in an architectural setting, it turns into a magical place. I think of gardens that I have seen, that I believe I have seen, that I long to see, surrounded by simple walls, columns, arcades or the façades of buildings – sheltered places of great intimacy where I want to stay for a long time.
The center of my pavilion is a garden; it invites us to gather around. We will meet in the garden. I am looking forward to the natural energy and beauty of the tableau vivant of grasses, flowers and shrubs that Piet Oudolf has created and will plant for our hortus conclusus. I am looking forward to the colors and shapes, the smell of the soil, the movement of the leaves, the scent of the Bugbane and Joe Pye Weed. Piet tells me that butterflies and bees love their smell."
- Peter Zumthor, Haldenstein, May 2011