Art and design projects. With stories about the people, places and experiences that have shaped my

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Outdoor Seating, Utilities Structures & Landscape Art

Mountain Waves    

I designed and built a number of art works and structures for a high-end commercial project in Kent, CT. Called Kent Village Barns, it is located in a lovely north-south valley ringed by the foothills of the Berkshires.

This photo shows a sculptural utilities enclosure made of native stone and stained wood. It houses all of the gas meters, air conditioners and other mechanical devices needed for the adjacent medical arts building. There is an advantage to having a separate enclosure for these functions that is at some remove from the building . Now the architecture can be free of all of those unsightly metal boxes and noisy fans that most developers try to hide in the bushes.

When the tall grasses around Mountain Waves begin to blow in the breeze, it sometimes gives the illusion that the static wooden waves are moving too. This is an unplanned and happy accident! It shows how sensitive attention to plantings can create unforeseen and delightful effects.

More information describing this piece and my other contributions to this project are described in greater detail here:


Peel (a small tower, fort or castle; a keep) is located a couple of hundred feet away from Mountain Waves. It uses the same materials in a somewhat different configuration. Peel serves two small retail / office buildings on the Kent Village Barns site. The difference here is that this design incorporates a fourteen foot long curved mahogany bench. Cantilevered out of the stone, the bench is easy to clean as it has no legs to catch leaves or debris. Also, in plan view (seen from above), Peel is shaped like a big egg.

The bench: The curved stone wall was laid with several square metal tubes set flush with the stone at seating height. Small aluminum 'T' beams were then inserted into the tubes. The wood bench is supported by these hidden 'T' beams. If the bench is ever damaged by vandals, the wood and metal parts can be easily repaired or replaced.

There is no reason why this technique could not be used to retrofit existing urban spaces that have concrete walls. How to create attractive and bulletproof urban seating: Drill holes in the concrete, mortar-in the tubes, slide the pre-made bench unit into place. Two men could do it in two hours.

 Peel Detail

This shows how the wood parts in Peel are held parallel off of the stone; about one inch away. This is called 'scribing' the wood to the stone. A small gap is needed to allow the wood to ventilate; not absorb the water that condenses on stone during cold weather.

Peel Foundation Hole Layout

I took this picture at about 60 feet above the ground in one of those hydraulic 'man lift' cranes. The footing layout for Peel is shown in red paint on the dirt. To give you an idea of scale, my plywood workbench is at the bottom of the photo. The wooden square frame in the middle provides geometric references for creating the circular shape. Note that the overall shape of Peel is like a big egg. This is for two reasons. First, it is a 'soft' shape that contrasts with the surrounding architecture. Second, it mediates the transition from architecture to nature - where flat and square things do not exist.

People often think that artists are fragile, flighty and unphysical souls. When I was building Peel, I had to conform to local zoning regulations, state and federal building codes, the Americans with Disabilities Act, HVAC requirements and a raft of inspections. Then I had to flatter, cajole and bully the general contractor and his subs to do this the way I wanted it done. There are notable exceptions, but this sort of work is mostly done by 'rough' men who work outside all year round. That is, they repeat the process of conventional construction techniques day in and day out. Like most of us, they do what they do best just fine, and they do not wish to be on the receiving end of a lecture. In this case, there is not a single straight line. In effect, everything somehow appears to be referenced off of a random spot on a big French curve. So, instructions to workers were drawn, spoken and repeated with some frequency. Most of the guys ended up respecting that. It's all about how you handle the situation. And I was out there in the mud every day myself.

My Song is Love Unknown

This is a poured concrete sculptural relief that hides a bunch of heavy duty commercial electric meters. If you sight along the top of the wall like a rifle looking west, you see the steeple of St. Andrew's Parish across the street. On Palm Sunday the choir at St. Andrew's often sings 'My Song is Love Unknown,' a lovely hymn.

Concrete Relief, Figures in Landscape

Part of the Kent Village Barn complex includes a 1,000 square foot yoga studio. This photo above shows a concrete abstract relief that depicts people doing various yoga poses. After this photo was taken the hole was back-filled with earth and planted. Figures in Landscape also hides numerous big electric meters. The relief side faces our project's parking lot. Once again, we have taken unsightly meters and moved them away from the buildings.

That's my son, Jackson (wearing the 'hoodie') in this picture. I am standing to the right. We had just completed stripping the wood forms from the barely cured concrete. By a funny coincidence, on that same day a dean at Kent School sent us two high school boys from Afghanistan. They walked from the school to our construction site expecting that our family would take care of them for the day. So I put them to work! We returned over a thousand pounds of rented form equipment to Andren Concrete in Dover Plains, NY. The boys loaded-up my truck and we took a ride over to Andren.

They were quite amazed at seeing the extensive display of equipment used for forming and pouring concrete. Rebar of all sizes, benders, welded mesh, pump trucks and form parts filled the Andren property. An earthquake had just destroyed thousands of primitive homes in Pakistan and Afghanistan. One of the boys, looking at a pile of rebar, said: "We should start a concrete company in Afghanistan."

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