October 28, 2009

"It was in an odd, improvised shape, because Mr. Halprin knew his wife could not be contained by a rectangle."

Lawrence Halprin was "the tribal elder of American landscape architecture," who had a "passion to give people as many options as possible to go this way or that, to reverse directions, to pause, to start over, to be alone, to meet others, and to experience as many different sights, smells and sounds as the site permits," and his wife was "the former Anna Schuman, a modern dancer and choreographer." He was born in Brooklyn in 1916 — he died last Sunday — but he studied at the University of Wisconsin and his original urge to become a landscape designer arose from seeing Taliesin East, Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio in here in Wisconsin. It was Anna who suggested the trip to Taliesin, back in 1939, and the "odd, improvised shape" was a dance deck he designed for her at Mount Tamalpais, which is not in Wisconsin. It's in California.

Ah — here! — I've found a picture:


35 comments:

Pogo said...

Ultimately, most everyone can be contained in a rectangle, and then interred. For ashes, small cylinders and other shapes will suffice.

Fred4Pres said...

Okay, I guess technically that deck is a polyhedron and not symetrical, but it is still roughly rectangular and fairly conventional (although perhaps having trees poking through the deck was considered radical at the time).

I am a huge Wright fan, but Mr. Halprin's deck (beyond being big enough to dance on and in a nice location in Marin County, California) does not seem all that amazing to me.

Henry said...

This is the America I believe in: the America of odd, improvised shapes.

EDH said...

It was in an odd, improvised shape, because Mr. Halprin knew his wife could not be contained by a rectangle.

Enough already about Mrs. Halprin's personal grooming habits!

t-man said...

Aren't most stages rectangles? I guess when she was at home, she just wanted something different. A triangle would be even more confining than a rectangle, but in the end, most women would be happy with a large diamond.

Pogo said...

I always thought my face was an odd, improvised shape, though not one to gather accolades.

Fred4Pres said...

Henry, you just triggered a memory. Yeah improvised shapes are American.

I read The Island At the Center of the World last year (acutally I listened to it at the gym on my ipod). A facinating work, based on old Dutch colonial records found in Albany. The author's premise is while we have the Puritans at Massachusetts and the colony at Jamestown, it is really the overlooked Dutch settlement at New Amsterdam that at least equally and perhaps dominately helped create and shape the American character.

But one of the weird historical twists reported was the Swedish settlement on the Delaware (which imposed on the Dutch land claim from the mouth of the Delaware to the mouth of the Conneticut River)imported some "Forest Finns" who had immigrated to Sweden and were cutting down too many trees. The Swedes sent the Finns to the New World to work on some Pennsylvania trees. When the Dutch shooed the Swedes out, they invited the Finns to stay and to keep logging. The Finns started logging like beavers down into the Appalachians and influenced the new Scots-Irish settlers from Virginia in creating the American Log Cabin.

When the author told his theory to his Minnesotan Swedish father-in-law, he replied, "Well everyone knows if you want a good cabin you get a Finn to build it."

former law student said...

It's funny that a man who grew up near Olmsted's Prospect Park, in the same city as Olmsted's Central Park, would not be inspired to be a landscape designer till he saw Wright's house.

Dogwood said...

Improvised shape?

Looks like he designed it to minimize the number of trees that would need to be cut down.

Not sure what is worse, pretentious artists & architects, or pretentious reporters who write about them.

Ugh.

Henry said...

Looks like he designed it to minimize the number of trees that would need to be cut down.

Sounds improvised to me.

Paddy O. said...

Yet, the railing suggests he certainly did want her contained in some way.

He gave the illusion of freedom and choice to her, even as he bound her in with his own imposed, unexpected limitations.

She thought she was dancing as she would, but once again the man tells her where she can go, where she can't, and what space she is allowed to fill on an otherwise open landscape.

That deck is modern misogyny at its most sublime.

Dogwood said...

Sounds improvised to me.

Improvised:

to make, invent, or arrange offhand


Nothing "offhand" about designing a deck (or any other structure) to fit in available space while preserving shade trees. Sounds planned, not improvised.

Ann Althouse said...

"Mr. Halprin's deck ... does not seem all that amazing to me."

It does have Merce Cunningham on it. That's kind of amazing.

Henry said...

Improvised: done or made using whatever is available;

Not that it matters a whole lot.

Ira's Fountain in Portland, Oregon is also Halprin's work. I'm willing to let the man have his say.

Dogwood said...

That deck is modern misogyny at its most sublime.

Infinity deck?

traditionalguy said...

My problem is that my wife likes everything to be rectangular and equally balanced. She has a problem containing me.

Michael Hasenstab said...

How did Halprin actually know that his wife could not be contained by a rectangle?

Did he learn this by subjecting her to containment in forms of various shapes, thereby confirming her ability to slip the surly bonds of rectangles, and only rectangles? What a strange, if kinky, relationship they must have had.

Their house must have been quite interesting. If it had rectangular elements, she'd POOF! escape at will. But if it borrowed it's design elements from round barns, for instance, she'd never escape and her career would have amounted to naught.

Good thing aircraft have cylindrical cabins, or poor Mrs. Halprin would have found travel most troublesome.

Michael Hasenstab said...

I now understand why Mrs. Halprin never got that gig on Hollywood Squares.

Titus said...

Fellow republicans it is hard eating with my British/Indian boyfriend.

He eats small meals every two hours.

A rice cake here, some veggie assortment there, a kashi ensemble over there, a grape at around 2:00.

I don't like tofu. The texture reminds me of eating someone's skin.

I am trying but it is such a challenge.

As always, thank you for your concern and interest.

Titus said...

Oh and fucking carrot juice, gross.

Did you know appoximately 70% of Indians are Vegetarians? I think it has something to do with Gandhi.

Fucking Gandhi.

Ralph L said...

How many dancers banged into the trees? Kinda discourages improvised dancing.

Titus said...

I don't blame Indira though. She was a peach, poor thing.

Chip Ahoy said...

I too knew that my wife could not be contained on a rectangular deck for she is uncontainable, so I improvised with an deck area that could be danced on several levels. The outer levels tilt so that anything placed on them slide off toward the center, and built with portals that promise escape but all lead circuitously back to the main dance area, rather like a hamster habitat. I rounded the edges and varied the angles for nature has few straight lines and fewer right angles and my wife is nature personified, and that made the whole deck railing more difficult, you see, which I then electrified because I knew she would make several attempts at an over-the-rail vault. The deck areas are also surrounded by a moat that I populated with piranhas that I feed regularly by dropping in a steak so they're veritably trained to converge en mass, along with back up electric eels and those really gross blood-sucking slugs, all to discourage wandering beyond the safety of boundaries I set forth with my architecture. The deck itself is fitted with sprinklers at its farthermost points that spray a mist with power hose force to warn the little sylph-like dancing scamp whenever her dance gives the appearance of breaking loose or she nears the end of her retractible chain.

Michael Hasenstab said...

@Titus - You're going to become an in-the-closet carnivore, aren't you?

Sneaking little bites of turkey breast, or maybe a nice salmon patty at lunch when you are alone, or possibly some furtively consumed sushi.

You cannot be contained by the vegetarian rectangle.

TMink said...

Titus wrote: "Fucking Gandhi."

Titus, far too often your sense of humour flies over my head, lifting my hair as it sails past. So it is with joy that I can share how I laughed when I read "Fucking Gandhi."

Thanks you again.

Trey

Paddy O. said...

chip, a masterpiece of artistic design.

Ralph L said...

Chip, what can Titus do with his tofu?
Remember, he doesn't like things up his ass.

Chip Ahoy said...

Halprin dance deck, now with IMPROVED DANCE!

victoria said...

You peeps are nuts. One look at the Roosevelt memorial and you will realize what a huge talent he and Robert Graham (sculptor who did the statues) were. Go there, walk through it. Prodigious talent.

I'd rather be in an America of odd shapes than one of boxes for people to fit in.

traditionalguy said...

Titus...I understand that the vegan ideal in Hindu culture comes from disgust at eating the animals that may have contained re-incarnated people or even worse may offend one of the animal gods in the pantheon of known gods.Religion is hard on folks.

Henry said...

Chip, that's brilliant. You could sell mortgages with that animation!

Titus said...

I do agree Fucking Ghandi is funny.

I read all about why Indians tend to be vegetarians.

Is just seems like so much work.

Go to a restaurant and watch one of em struggle with the menu. Completely painful. And don't even get me started with the order process, I am ready to pull out my beautiful hair. I also get a notion in my head that I would like to punch him during the entire ordeal...really hard in the face, probably not a good sign.

I also have dreams of strapping him to a chair and stuffing a T Bone down his vegetarian mouth and then watching his head explode.

Titus said...

I would lather the T Bone up with a big stick of butter too.

Ralph L said...

Titus, wrong end.

former law student said...

Go to a restaurant and watch one of em struggle with the menu.

That explains why most Indian restaurants are buffets. Take whatever seems good to you.