Landscape Architecture Class

During the installation process in Gainesville, my friend Mary Padua brought a group of students from the University of Florida to the site. She is a professor in the Landscape Architecture program at UF and a gifted designer and photographer. The students are studying implementation and construction drawings. I talked briefly about the project, about the work in general and designing with stone. At the end of the conversation, I ran through my five suggestions for young designers:

Learn the local geology

Just as a designer moving to Colorado would set out quickly to learn the local plants, learning about the local geology can be an invaluable asset. The make up of the Earth varies more dramatically from place to place than many realize. Knowing what types of rock are present, their formation and structure can help a designer choose the best application for each. The finished product is stronger and more durable and it looks like it belongs to the place it built. Also, the more you knows about the local geology, the more you can understand about the forces that will actively try to destroy your work such as erosion and earth movement.

Connect with local craftspeople

Large architecture firms hire large builders. This is cost-effective and helps to ensure compliance with the myriad laws that control construction. But large builders don’t have the vision or the gift of invention that independent craftspeople do. Local craftspeople understand their materials intimately and create distinctive works that celebrate creativity and are meant to last. Employing local craftspeople is the sustainable choice for the economy as well; they spend their wages in their communities and often support other small businesses. Local craftspeople are a fantastic asset to the design process as well, adding a strong practical understanding to the conceptual development of an idea.

Build dry

Dry stonework is the sustainable choice for landscape applications such as retaining walls, paths, patios, and steps. A well-crafted drystone retaining wall will have a smaller carbon footprint and will outlast a similarly sited mortared wall. I offer a more detailed take on this here.

Water always wins

There’s a misconception that modern materials and techniques are so advanced and technologically sophisticated that they can withstand any assault, resist any force. This is patently false. Water always wins. The forces of weather over time should be a central consideration in the design and implementation of every project.

Learn about business and marketing

I expect that most young Landscape Architects will start working in larger firms and over the early years of their design careers get practice at the whole range of design tasks. Many will, at some point, strike out on their own. It’s an amazing journey and incredibly rewarding, but it can be very challenging to start your own business. I encourage everyone to start learning their way around the business side of the design and construction trades now. Project bidding, tax issues and insurance requirements sneak up fast when you set up your own shop. Marketing is often very difficult for the self-employed. Taking classes now and reading books can be helpful. Learning by doing is best, if you can find opportunities to handle the business side earlier

The Blue Spiral

Last week I traveled down to Florida and installed the “Blue Spiral” which I’ve been working on for the past few weeks.

I drove down on Monday and the stone arrived the next morning. It was a soggy day, but mild compared to the weather Gainesville had endured all summer. It never topped 90 on my whole trip, but the week before it had been pushing 100.

It took me a day and a half to pack up all the stones for travel. I used cardboard between each layer on a pallet and shimmed under stones to keep everything level and tight. Lots of strips of cardboard went between the stones on each layer, so that there wouldn’t be any movement and vulnerable points wouldn’t be broken. Then I shrink-wrapped the heck out of it. It all traveled beautifully; there was no damage to any of the 105 pieces. Thanks to Dennis at Dayrunner Systems for taking such care with my delivery.

It took three very full days to install, plus some final tweaks in Friday morning before I started my drive home. My favorite part of the installation process was seeing the stone in natural light. I had built it in the shop, but it was always deeply shaded in there, with a few florescent lights overhead. Thursday evening, when it was substantially complete and the sun was setting, I really got to see the richness of the color in the composition. It was a very gratifying moment.

Here’s the piece in its new home. I placed some sod around the edges, but I think the landscape crew will make some adjustments to that, maybe even add a gravel path. It’s sited at the Gainesville Regional Utilities Eastside Operations Center. It’s a huge new campus, with seven new buildings, all of which will be certified LEED Silver. It’s an impressive place.

On Thursday, my friend Mary Padua brought a group of students from the University of Florida to the site site. She is a professor in the Landscape Architecture program at UF and a gifted designer and photographer. The students are studying implementation and construction drawings. I talked briefly about the project, about the work in general and designing with stone. I’m hoping that someone took a picture or two that I can post here in the near future, with notes on the conversation.

I owe a debt of deep gratitude to John Hayes, the Public Art Coordinator of the City of Gainesville’s Art in Public Places Trust and his board for giving me this opportunity. I am also very grateful to Reid Rivers, GRU’s Project Manager, who was incredibly helpful and supportive in shepherding the project along.

It’s not exactly a maker’s mark, but I did sign the bottom of stone 8.1 with a Sharpie.

The Blue Spiral is an original Artwork commissioned by and in the public art collection of the City of Gainesville.

Gainesville Public Art: Blue Spiral

Gainesville Public Art

Gainesville Public Art

Blue Spiral patio- an art project in Gainesville, Florida

In April I got a phone call from the Art in Public Places Trust (APPT) in Gainesville, Florida announcing that I had been selected to complete a public art project. I am going to build a mosaic stone floor in a courtyard adjacent to a new building on the campus of the Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU). In May I visited the site and met the APPT board and toured the campus/construction site. Back home, I set about drawing.

During my visit to Gainesville, I found myself drawn to the local stone. The area limestone is dense with the fossilized remains of ancient sea creatures. I took pictures of fossil-rich boulders and sketched from them, looking for forms and relationships that might translate into a patio surface. My source photographs and fossil books opened up interesting explorations, but always led me to the same place. By the very nature of seashells, their forms are instantly recognizable and iconic. I strived to sidestep that iconic nature, for fear of creating a floor that looked like wallpaper. The APPT encouraged me to explore natural shapes, but avoid graphic depiction. The seashells were too graphic, too decorative, too obvious.

The design I proposed for the Gainesville public art feature contains a central spiral element, drawn from my fossil sketches. I have shattered the form with other shapes, lines that intersect it and obscure it. It is a form emerging from a background. Like the process of discovering a seashell embedded in an ancient rock, so the nautilus shape emerges to the eye slowly. The intersecting lines suggest water steadily wearing away the matrix surrounding the fossil, stone slowly giving up its secrets. I hope to capture that same magic of discovery for people first venturing upon my mosaic.

Pebble March

Pebble March

Pebble March



Come visit me at the WNC Home Show at the Asheville Civic Center this weekend.