A wall of integration, not division
September 19, 2006
In his career as an environmental sculptor, Andy Goldsworthy has reimagined the potential uses of such materials as rocks, water, twigs, leaves and even the passage of time. With his current project, part of the Aspen Institute’s new Doerr/Hosier Center, Goldsworthy is redefining the concept of a wall.
Walls are generally intended to divide and separate, and it seems the more notable the wall – think the Great Wall of China or the Berlin Wall – the more it was built for that purpose. Goldsworthy’s wall, however, has the opposite aim: to bring people together. The wall begins several yards outside the Doerr/Hosier Center – though the trail-like nature of the piece invites the eye to imagine it starting miles away, in the mountains of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. The line in the ground eventually becomes an actual wall, red sandstone some 6 feet high, snaking its way to a water-filled entryway to the building, designed by Aspen architect Jeffrey Berkus. Through the center’s main meeting room, the wall becomes a line again, curving across the floor and out the rear wall. Again, a viewer can readily envision the line continuing, joining a curve of the Roaring Fork River below and connecting to Red Mountain to the north.
The essence of Goldsworthy’s wall is connections and integration. Goldsworthy, who has created wall projects at California’s Stanford University and at the Storm King Arts Center in upstate New York, had in mind the nature of the Aspen Institute. The Institute’s business is bringing politicians, artists, social critics and more from around the world to address the problems of the world. Berkus’ building design centers on a meeting hall that emphasizes interaction: the hall, while flexible, is primarily an in-the-round room, as opposed to the Institute’s lecture-style Paepcke Auditorium.”I had to respond to the purpose of the building,” said Goldsworthy, a native of England who lives in Scotland. “I wanted a sense of connecting the inside and the outside, but also flowing into the building, almost flowing through the building, independent of the building.”That connectivity is bolstered by a separate, but related, work Goldsworthy is creating for the building’s interior. The piece has Goldsworthy carving a line, mimicking the curves of the wall outside the building, into a large, vertical slab of stone. The inside piece will run vertically along a staircase, linking the upstairs to the downstairs.
The materials in the Doeer/Hosier project likewise stress the concept of integration. Goldsworthy began with the idea of Colorado’s ubiquitous, beautiful red sandstone. He expanded the thought by importing red sandstone from China, India, Jordan and England. Red, says Goldsworthy, is “an important color for me”; in this instance, it is a reminder of the blood common to all people. To Berkus, the stone represents the coming together of people.”That idea is bringing stones together, so when people come they can touch the world they came from,” he said.Goldsworthy is accustomed to a solitary artistic existence. In the 2001 documentary “Rivers and Tides,” by German director Thomas Riedelsheimer, the artist roams the woods, beaches and streams around his house in Scotland without assistants, or even tools. He has a reputation for keeping his personal life private, and keeping quiet about his work.
But Berkus’ presence seems to bring something else out of Goldsworthy. The two met in the early ’90s, when Berkus’ parents, art collectors, were part of the group that first brought Goldsworthy to the States. Several years ago, the two collaborated on an Aspen house. In an interview at the Aspen Institute job site this week, Goldsworthy, who has kept an extremely low profile during the weeks he has spent here, was in a generous mood in the company of Berkus. (Goldsworthy even whipped out a digital camera to show me shots of a stunning work of rocks and twigs he had made in the Roaring Fork River, in Woody Creek. Such side trips provide relief from the stress of the Institute project.)”I have felt I have always worked in opposition to architects – which is sad,” said the 50-ish Goldsworthy. “It’s a delight to have Jeffrey encourage me to become part of this work.”Berkus’ ideas for the project foster cooperation. His guiding philosophy has been one of integration; the key question, he says, is, “How could we design a building to facilitate intense dialogue?”
His answer: dynamic modernism, a concept that respects the Bauhaus elements of Herbert Bayer’s original design for the Institute. So the roles of artist and architect are integrated. (Bayer was both.) Berkus’ pyramidal roof echoes Red Mountain behind it. Simply having an element of environmental sculpture links the Doerr/Hosier Center to the rest of the Aspen Meadows campus; Bayer’s earth mounds are a signature part of the place.”Modernism was about setting objects on landscape,” said Berkus. “This building is about connecting the architecture intimately into the landscape, into nature, into the Roaring Fork basin.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org