My passion for gardens was ignited last week with a visit to the DIA Art Foundation. A boutique modern art museum in New York’s Hudson Valley, DIA Beacon opened in 2003 in a 300,000 square foot former Nabisco box printing factory overlooking the Hudson River. An architectural museum garden is relatively rare — especially one designed by an artist whose work is featured in that museum. But the commission went to Robert Irwin, a Los Angeles artist who I happened to know during my time as an art student at UCLA, my alma mater. Mr. Irwin is a conceptual artist so an architectural garden must have been fascinating for him to design.
The scale of the garden is modest in comparison to some homes in Europe where gardens are the size of parks. There is nothing as grand as English designer Anouska Hempel’s outdoor dining room that I featured in my Outdoor Living Walls post.
At DIA, the trees act as a barrier to the river view from the parking lot and entry. If you are intent on seeing the exhibitions inside, and don’t go exploring, it can come as a surprise that there’s anything more than giant hedges.
The plan is actually is simple. It’s a grid based on rows and boxes intersected by two different types of interesting walkways. One of my special interests is the way gardens are navigated. Garden pathways may look humble but they are akin to the street plan of a city.
Several rows of enormously tall, carefully pruned trees begin near the building and screen out Hudson River views. I estimate the trees are 50 to 60 feet high. They are planted close together so their branches merge.
The combined branches have been cut flat across the top and beveled on the corners. I would love to see the gardeners at work here in the Spring. We’ve already had a glimpse (above) of the wooden walkway, passing between the main tree groupings which become more intense at the center. Here’s the approach — a raised wooden ramp. Tree beds are bordered by steel railings, which also edge the walkway.
The center is marked by mitered planks that remind me of 18th century floors found in Swedish manor houses. Today, it make require an architectural museum garden to create this level of refined detail.
At the end of the passage way is an open deck with a pair of ordinary wood benches. There, visitors can sit and enjoy views far-off views of the Hudson River. I was so taken by the scale of the benches — which are so small you almost miss them — I never turned around to take a photograph of the view. But great Hudson River views are far more common than this type of garden! This is a wonderful place to sit and daydream or listen to music on a sunny day.
Walkways and surrounding paved areas are especially interesting aspects of garden design, I think. This stretch of honeycomb cement tiles is filled in.
Closer to the building, and in other parts of the garden, the honeycomb is filled with grass. The tufts remind me of a dimensional carpet — a living carpet that will change with the seasons. If only I could recreate this in my yard!
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