PHYLLIS ODESSEY

Book of Losers

 Copyright Peter Mauss. Photographs by Peter Mauss.
Ken Smith talks about his new book, Ken Smith: Landscape Architect
with John Beardsley, Director of Garden and Landscape studies at Dumbarton Oaks
The New York Public Library
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Part of The New York Public Library series: Architectural Explorations in books

chandeliers marching down Fifth Avenue, billboard gardens dottiing the roadside,
       elevator shafts filled with plants
                                                             this can only be the work of Ken Smith.

Ken is known as the “bad boy” of landscape architecture.  He challenges our idea of what landscape can be.  And that is why I never miss an opportunity to hear him speak. He throws convention out the window and rethinks ideas we take for granted.  He likes boundaries; so he can figure out a way to break out of them.  As he said Feb. 23rd , “I am a practitioner of critique.”

For example, the viewing garden at MoMA is exactly that.  This is a garden that can be seen, but not visited.  It was designed as an artistic construction to hide air conditioning ducts, etc. The garden consists of plastic rocks, recycled tires, glass pebbles, plastic boxwoods; all of which make a camouflage pattern when viewed from above.  As Ken said, ” the MoMA project is “artificially artifical…”

His work is always full of whimsy and playfulness.  If you are interested in how to make a chain link fence into a work of art open Ken’s book.  The book designed by Michael Beirut of Pentagram Design is extraordinary.  The text is insightful and the photographs illuminate the work.*

Asked what his next book might be, Ken responded, “The Book of Losers.”  A compendium of unbuilt projects.  Ken’s work is kind of addiction: once you get into it, you just want more and more.

*Many of the photographs in the book were taken by Peter Mauss, my husband and I freely admit to being prejudiced in his direction.

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