Book Review: Three Books About Architecture and Its Relationship to Landscape

Contemporary Follies by Keith Moskow and Robert Linn
The Monacelli Press, 2012
Hardcover, 240 pages

White Cube, Green Maze: New Art Landscapes by Raymund Ryan
University of California Press, 2012
Hardcover, 120 pages

Wine and Architecture by Heinz-Gert Woschek, Denis Duhme, Katrin Friederichs
EDITION Detail, 2012
Paperback, 144 pages

Each of these three books collects a number of architecture projects—from a half dozen to over 50—that fit into particular typologies. One looks at follies, which one can argue are bound together through a certain purposelessness; another examines arts institutions; and the third presents wineries. While these three types don't have an immediate relationship to each other in terms of architectural program or function, they share an emphasis on how buildings fit into landscapes, be they relatively wild, designed, or cultivated. It would be difficult to consider follies that do not have a particular relationship to nature, for example, or near impossible to design a winery that does not have both a functional and aesthetic relationship to the acres of grapes feeding the process.

What is also shared in these three books is a dependance on tourism. It is most explicit in White Cube, Green Maze, given that many of the arts institutions featured in the book are intended to be cultural magnets for people from around the world and to therefore help bring money to rural populaces. Many of the projects in Contemporary Follies, as well, stem from a desire to provide adequate services for visitors in areas that lack them (Norway's National Tourist Routes are probably the most famous example these days). And then there's enotourism, which taps into the popularity of wine and a desire to get to its source; providing comfortable and architecturally significant appointments aids in raising a winery's stature. Yet even if we examine the commonality of tourism, the focus is still on architecture and landscape, as each uses the unique qualities of the surrounding nature to bring people to places well outside cities.

In Contemporary Follies Keith Moskow and Robert Linn (of Boston's Moskow Linn Architects) collect 51 recent projects that they consider follies. In his introduction Marc Kristal describes the term historically as "an ornamental structure intended to decorate or enhance a garden or landscape...typically fanciful or exotic in design." This last trait is pretty much intact centuries later, especially since follies offer architects a small canvas for exploring form, in some cases through some pretty innovative technologies. In most cases formal exploration responds directly to nature, be it the immediate slope of a site, distant views, or metaphorical qualities of a place.

Moskow and Linn launch into the projects directly after Kristal's introduction (no preface or general explanatory text by the authors), so they basically let each project stand on its own through their brief descriptions and photographs. The projects are partitioned into six chapters—observation, art, meditation, shelter, working, dwelling—that assign broad functions to each, but it's easy to imagine the almost full-deck of projects being tossed in the air and each one fitting comfortably into another chapter. One thing that the chapters do is to give the book a certain flow, even as the projects jump from forests to deserts to mountains, back and forth. It is ultimately a book made for browsing, witnessed by the fact the projects are not listed in the table of contents or the chapters, nor are they indexed. They exist within the book and on the page as calls to get out and get face to face with nature's drama.

White Cube, Green Maze is an exhibition at the Carnegie Museum of Art's Heinz Architectural Center (September 22, 2012–January 13, 2013) curated by Raymund Ryan. As the subtitle of the exhibition and the companion book attests, the six "new art landscapes" examine the relationship between art, architecture, and landscape. Only one of the six projects (Seattle Art Museum's Olympic Sculpture Park) is in a dense urban context. The rest of the projects (Stiftung Insel Hombroich in Germany, Benesse Art Site in Japan, Inhotim in Brazil, Jardin Botanico de Culiacan in Mexio, and Grand Traiano Art Complex in Italy) are located in fairly remote sites, both in terms of proximity to large cities and in the global paths of art lovers—though often these are one and the same. These locations not only offer opportunities for curators, architects, and landscape architects to consider relationships between the various areas of focus, they give artists unconventional venues for creating and displaying art. Yes, the proverbial white cube exists many miles from the cities and its institutions, but so does the "green maze," as Ryan calls it.

Three essays preface the visual and textual exploration of the six projects: Brian "White Cube" O'Doherty discovers "a new museum ecology" in the projects; Ryan lays out broader contexts and discusses how the six projects fit into them; and Marc Treib theorizes on some of the blurring between the realms of art, architecture, and landscape. The presentations of the six projects (color coded and keyed from Ryan's introductory essay) are very solid, with words from Ryan, Iwan Baan's aerial and on-the-ground photographs, and two-page spreads with credits, site plans, and a historical photo or two. While the color-coded backgrounds don't work readability-wise in all cases and Baan's full-bleed photos compete with them on the page edge (making the keying less than ideal), the overall design is a benefit to the presentations and the arguments that Ryan sets forth. Yes, something new is happening, even as these and other new art landscapes have been taking shape for a while. A combination of abandoned industrial landscapes, art tourism, and the desire to break outside of the white cube is helping to create places where the experience of art is strengthened through architecture and nature.

Of the three titles Wine and Architecture is the least interested in taking a hard look at the relationship between architecture and landscape, even though the link is stronger with wineries than with follies or arts institutions. This stems from a desire on the part of the publisher and authors (who work in the world of wine rather than architecture) to create a practical guide to wine and architecture in Europe. Yet the unique relationships between building and landscape are still evident in photographs, drawings, and descriptions of how climate and topography inform grape growing, for example.

Two introductory essays look at the long history of wine architecture (most of it before the 20th century) and "winemaking and facility design." Twenty-two projects follow, spread across six countries—Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, and Spain—Europe's biggest wine producers. It's a solid selection with a few notable omissions, but this fact is addressed in the "country guide to wine and architecture in Europe," which includes briefer descriptions of another 40 projects. While the ideal target audience—those designing and building a winery in continental Europe—is a small one, the book's appeal is broader, thanks to an emphasis on wine production. It's a book for architects and wine lovers, and when the two meet the book is a great invitation to Europe and its wonders of wine.