Sunday, August 10, 2008

Lost in Paradise

I was at a gathering of architects and someone told me where to go to see the finest new public garden in Houston. I am in need of adventures for The Kid, who is pathetically bored by summer holidays now, so off we go. We’re looking for a coffee house in a garden behind the library at Rice University. I am picturing a little leftover space where the students have done something terrific.

When we reach the library, we walk through a sleek, formal landscape that I don’t remember seeing before, in search of the coffee house garden. Eventually it dawns on me we’re in the very place we were trying to find! I can feel my frame of reference change. The spectacular white building over there is Brochstein Pavilion, in other words, the coffee shop. This IS the garden.

[dang, I just can't get these photos to line up]
We get cold drinks and sit in the bistro tables by one of the cool black trough fountains. It begins to rain and the fine drops feel nice filtered down through the allee of elms overhead. Everyone else leaves.

I’ll spare you my observations (well, most of them) about the use of the axis and the historical precedents. I am still amused by my expectation of a tiny funky garden by students. But after all, it was my old architecture prof Stephen Fox who told me about this place. And this is a Less is More kind of garden. Three species are planted here. Only three colors here too: black furnishings, green foliage, and buff granite. But really its richness is in its careful craftsmanship, its relationship to the campus, and as a stage for human interaction.

Say ‘garden’, and what comes to anyone’s mind is something somewhere on the continuum of landscapes from wilderness to plaza. A garden is a pretty flexible concept. My mental garden must be getting closer to wilderness than a plaza. But anyway, I like knowing that the word ‘paradise’ originally meant a garden more like the symmetrical, fountain-centered one at Rice University than the vacation locales we now call paradise.

1 comment:

Muddy Mary said...

I forgot to say who the landscape architects are. It's the firm with the hefty name: The Office of James Burnett.