The great wall of Aspen
September 18, 2006
The politicians, artists and thinkers who meet at the Aspen Institute are going to be brought together in a most unique way next year. The Institute’s new Doerr/Hosier Center, set for completion in January, has been designed to maximize cooperative thinking and finding common ground. And that process will begin before the congregants even step through the building’s doors.The building has been designed by Aspen architect Jeffrey Berkus with a keen eye toward integration. Berkus created an in-the-round style meeting hall – distinct from the theater-type space at the Institute’s Paepcke Auditorium – to foster conversation, rather than lecturing. A pyramid roof above the hall echoes the contour of Red Mountain as visitors approach the building. The entire building site respects the Bauhaus techniques employed by Herbert Bayer when the Institute campus was first built, in the middle of the 20th century.
“It’s designed to facilitate common ground,” said Berkus, standing in front of the work site Monday. “That’s the mission of the Aspen Institute, to facilitate dialogue. So, how could we design a building to facilitate intense dialogue?”Berkus’ answer began with the path that leads to the building. He invited Andy Goldsworthy, an English-born, Scottish-based sculptor noted for his inventive use of natural materials, to collaborate on the project. Goldsworthy created a curvilinear stone wall that snakes its way not only up to the building’s entrance, but, in its way, into the building and through the back wall – essentially sculpting a line that leads the viewer from the mountain peaks south of the Institute campus to the Roaring Fork River behind it. “I had to respond to the purpose of the building,” said the 50ish Goldsworthy, whose past work includes at least two walls – in Stanford University in California, and at the Storm King Art Center in upstate New York – that presage the current wall. “I wanted a sense of connecting the inside and outside, but also flowing into the building, almost flowing through the building and independent of the building. Jeff’s suggestion was a wall that would lead to the building. It provoked me into thinking of something that leads people to the building, that draws them into it.”
The sense of connection runs deep in the project. One of the masterstrokes of Bayer’s original design was the dome-shaped mounds – some of the first, if not the first, examples of earth sculptures – that dot the landscape. The mere use of environmental sculpture links the new Doerr/Hosier Center to the founding vision for the Institute property, known as the Aspen Meadows. The process has been unusually collaborative for Goldsworthy. As the outstanding 2001 documentary film “Rivers and Tides” made clear, Goldsworthy is something of a lone wolf as an artist, wandering solo in the woods, on beaches and along streams to find inspiration in nature and its materials – rocks and water, twigs and time. The current project has him working in close cooperation with Berkus, and while the two admit to having locked horns some, they clearly have found ways to move forward together.”Sometimes there is a barrier to that happening,” said Goldsworthy, whose show, Stone Works in America, was exhibited at the Aspen Art Museum in 1995. “I’ve had differences with architects in the past. It’s a delight to have Jeffrey encourage me to become part of the work.” (Goldsworthy and Berkus also collaborated on an Aspen house several years ago, and the relationship between artist and architect extends back even further: Berkus’ art-collector parents were part of the group that first brought Goldsworthy to the U.S., in 1992.)
Goldsworthy’s intention to draw people together is found even in the materials. While he customarily uses whatever objects nature provides locally, for the Doerr/Hosier Center, he has imported red sandstone – similar to what is found in Colorado – from China, India, Jordan and England.”What’s happening with this place?” asked Goldsworthy. “It’s a place that people come from all over the world to meet. It’s about the richness and beauty of the stone at your feet, and the connection that makes to the rest of the world.””That idea,” said Berkus, “is bringing stones together, so when people come, they can touch the world they came from.”