By Chelsea Mistretta
As a part of the annual Edward D. Stone, Jr. Lecture Series, Marc Treib, an Architecture Emeritus professor at the University of California, Berkeley, as well as a historian and critic of landscape and architecture, spoke about the famous sculptor, Isamu Noguchi.
Treib, who received his Bachelor’s degree in Architecture from the University of Florida, is an honorary member of the American Society of Landscape Architecture (ASLA). Selected by ASLA’s Board of Trustees, the honor represents the highest awards ASLA presents each year.
While Noguchi was known for his work in stone inspired from his Japanese heritage, his skills were expansive. Noguchi’s designs were always “beyond art making alone,” Treib explained. His work was influential, but also ambiguous. He worked with form, space, water and different materials to enhance your feelings when experiencing his art.
Noguchi’s first designs were never fully made, always living as models and tests. This includes the Monument of the Plough, a pyramid with mast dimensions and triangular sides to help increase the wheat crop in the West Prairie.
A modern dance company was the first to realize Noguchi’s potential. He used his sculptures to accommodate to the movement of dance and to enhance the space the dancers were to fill.
After working for the dance company, the Garden of the Silver Pavilion captured his attention. This new garden was to be built for the new Reader’s Digest building. The Garden of the Silver Pavilion was born from the ideas of the traditional Japanese garden and his previous work with earth and stone. Noguchi’s worked to make the space practical with a sense of imagination. He used the earth from the building site to make unified streams with the rest of the garden. This was the first instance he had to work and use large amounts of mud. The space also contained raw iron sculptures.
Treib’s favorite work of Noguchi is the California Scenario. He was invited to design a plaza within a group of office blocks and a L shaped parking garage. As this was a rather industrial place to work with, he wanted to use the spiritual expression of mountains, river sources and the environment. His inspiration was to combine the Shinto beliefs that nature exists as a continuum and it should dwell with us rather than love above us.
Noguchi built the California Scenario as a landscape to view and ponder rather than to view and relax. It contains a magnificent composition of space and objects that makes the space about intrigue and pleasure of mind. This space became a commentary of natural use in the human world.
Treib continued to explain how perception of California Scenario changes throughout the day. In the morning, the scene seems dramatic. During the afternoon, the ambiance seems harsh. But in the evening, the space looks and feels mystical.
Noguchi’s last and biggest work was a park on the side of a dumpster in Japan. The mayor wanted a work of art, which is why he hired Noguchi. He sadly passed away at the age of 83 before the park began construction. He left sketches and models for workers to follow. People debate who deserves the credit for the park, as a lot of Noguchi’s designs were not executed correctly. It is said that credit should be given to him with creating the park, but collaborators for designing it.
While creating the park in Japan, Noguchi was also preparing for the afterlife. He made himself an urn from a rock separated and chiseled out. Once his ashes were placed inside, the rock was put back together.
After telling the story of Noguchi, Professor Treib asked the question, “Why look at landscapes intended as art?”
He explains that, “We need to know our craft. You do not have to believe that is landscape artistically conceived. But if you do, you need to address not only how to solve the pragmatic, but also to elevate the pragmatic to the level of art.”