The world in a crystal, the garden as a metaphor of the universe.
Archetypal orders of space exist not on an amorphous but on a conceptual level. They are independent of time, location, social and psychological conditions or individual expressions. To achieve a dialogue between an abstract structure and a formula for public use, a site must be structured to reveal its independent grammar within an architectural and urban environment.
The instrument of my thinking are measure and proportion. This aesthetic practice is centred in the analysis of spatial orders. A work is a construct through the reflection of all details represented in a given architectural context. To develop a canon of evaluation and balance, to achieve a transformation into an ensemble of space, all involved elements must be joined in its materialization. The shape of a space, the location of a site and its light conditions are considered and studied as well as the historic frame of reference and its contemporary use. All elements in play are controlled through measure and proportion. Their elementary tectonic principles are developed through concepts of space, which means that the work is logical and pragmatic in its placement and construction. A work so produced is not an installation; it is a form of art which does not ignore the existing architectural environment and which develops its artistic dialogue through its rational setting. It is about the sensual qualities which are embedded in the body of form and their dialectric discourse within contemporary contexts.
On a walk in the Aue Park at the opening of Documenta IX, in the spring of 1992, Marie-Claude Beaud invited me to think about a park in Paris for the Fondation Cartier. The significant consideration in reflecting on this quasi-triangular site, was its planned use as a public park set into an urban frame. To impose order on the highly irregular shape of the plot, a clarifying structure was chosen, based on five elementary geometric modules, inherent in the site itself.
Derived from within the shape of the site, these five principal, abstract forms established the geometric order to mold the terrain as an architectural sculpture in itself. The challenge was to imagine a solution, particular to the existing conditions, to establish a dialogue of elementary spatial concepts by using classic formulas which have appeared throughout all historical periods.
The glass body of Jean Nouvel’s new edifice, the old partition wall, containing the park and holding historical memories, and the elevation of the terrain, generated a need to unify the site and its specific conditions. With its high glass curtain walls, its verticality and grace, the exhibition hall echoes the trees of the surrounding park, and offers through its transparent infinity an impressive sense of human scale. Fleeting reflections of dark, ancient trees reveal the interior though the glass facades, while the ever-changing light of passing clouds bleaches out their mirrored image. The ephemeral quality of the translucent space renders the visitor’s perception ambiguous. There is no defined separation between building and park; the ground and its vegetation are conceived as part of the whole. There is no beginning or end. Single trees appear multiplied. Everything is in motion, reflected in the play of horizontal and vertical rhythms, as well as seasonal changes. Fragments of the park are captured within the glass sections of the architectural grid. And refracted as if through kaleidoscopic prisms, light transforms the building into a crystal. Space becomes mirrored surface; the park presents the building and the building highlights its foliage. Panels of the glass facade slide open onto the park, turning the building into a vitrine. And reflecting further on this and on the steep elevation of the terrain, an independent spatial structure was invented to take into account the presence of the building and its unique surroundings.
Drawing an imagined circle into the triangular-shaped plot, the radius was found that determined the terrace structure. And by shifting its center along the axis of the building, the placement of the tiered levels, proscribing one-third of the circle, became form. Divided in segments, the elevation of the rising slope ordered the elliptical shape of the fountain and the connecting terrace structure. A sparse grass surface mixed with a changing variety of native plants extends the building’s concrete floor to the leveled ground and presents the huge “vitrine” on stage.
Conceiving the garden as a rational geometry of clear forms, proportional to human scale and as a place of rest and contemplation, the configuration of the terrace and fountain develops its own architectural logic. Its subliminal language is controlled by rational thinking, proportional relationships and coherent sequences, while its setting is stimulating through intuition.
Large areas, including the terraces and the crescent-shaped section between the building and the fountain, are covered with dry soil of sablon, a fine sand silicuum from the Vallee de l’Essone near Fountainebleau. Its colour and texture matches the Massangis stone from Bourgogne, chosen to build the fountain and terraces. The material purity of the stone and sand relate to the liquid appearance of the “crystal” and its outer surface, of glass and aluminum.
A range of thirty-five newly planted trees of different species and a collection of wild plants native to France obey an invisible order that visualizes iconographical configurations and images. This can be discovered through the viewer’s ability to read art and to imagine the enigma of structured space, hidden in the organic interchange.
Marked by a four-story, free-standing glass wall, the garden and boulevard are divided into two separate and different spaces. Looked at through this huge glass window, the composed native plants appear framed as a painted image. The physical presence of the thick glass, which functions like a magnifying instrument or the viewfinder of a camera, transforms the vegetation into the woven structure of a Gobelin tapestry. In this setting, roses or other “bouquet” plants would have turned the site into a showcase window of a Parisian flower shop. Rather, my intention was to guide attention towards a view of the wild vegetation common to France and unexpectedly transplanted into the center of the city.
The closed system of this garden as a sculpture does not allow the presence of other forms of art in the garden. A sculpture cannot be placed within another sculpture. All new trees were picked by species, shape and size and were planted in conjunction with those already existing in neighbouring gardens, while the overgrowth of the old wall was partly kept, in harmony with the overall setting. A variety of seeds strewn over the ground will form its own socio-botanical entity whose size and colour are determined by the given conditions of light and soil. The planting of the garden is still in progress. More trees and shrubs will come. Finally it will be a matter of patience and passion to observe the transformation of an idea into a living space.