Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Three Influential Landscapes

Interview: Landscape Journal. Fall 1993

First, I want to thank you for including me in your list of leading designers. Ten years ago a client in describing what I do said, “You celebrate the desert rather than deny it.”  I have tried to create delightful environments that have as their unique character the special qualities of the desert. When trying to identify the landscapes that most influenced my work I just had to look at the photos pinned to my studio wall. Trying to isolate the most important three was a more difficult task. Since I did not study landscape architecture in school, my education and influences have come from observations and first hand experience. I have selected the following three landscapes (environments), they continue to influence me 20 and 30 years after my first exposure to them.

First: The Sonoran Desert Landscape. The opportunity to live on a ranch during my high school years presented itself and I took it. After my first thirteen years in the city, this was a wonderful new experience.

Consequently I discovered the desert. I found great pleasure in exploring the desert. It was absolutely fascinating.  The closer you looked, the more interesting it became. In looking at the man-made landscape, I found nothing as interesting as the desert.

Its plants are the living time line that connects us to the natural history of the place. Native plants represent the state of the art of the process of evolution of a place. I see this as nature at its best. I have tried to make the beauty and natural processes of the desert part of my work. (Unfortunately its lessons have been mostly ignored and development has historically diminished its beauty and energy)


Second: Looking at a photo of Costani’s North Apse, I can remember my first visit there in 1966. I was an art major in college. A design instructor recommend I visit Cosanti, Palo Soleri’s studio complex in the desert. That visit had a profound effect on me, I immediately changed my major and enrolled in architecture. Cosanti was a new form of landscape created out of the desert itself. Soleri had seamlessly combined architecture and landscape into a new experience. The complex burrowed into the ground not unlike a desert creature and was unlike anything I had ever experienced. The sounds of his wind bells, the foundry operation, the international languages, and the ever present opera music added to the magic of the place.

Third: I have three photos of Luis Barragan’s garden as viewed through his famous living room window. The photos are all of the same view but they span a period of forty years or more. They show the evolution of his attitude and garden during this period. The latest photo shows a wild garden that seems to have a life of its own. The book Builders In the Sun was my first exposure to his work. I was most impressed by the amount of study and discipline that went into this limitless 1947 environment. With this garden I became aware of the poetic possibilities of space. Emilio Ambasz, in his book on Barragan’s work, called it liquid silence.


I hope this is what you are looking for. I draw much better than I write.

Steve Martino
Landscape Journal
Fall 1993

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