Thursday, October 6, 2011

NYBG Kick-Off Lecture: From Larry Ellison to Hollywood, Ron Herman Landscape Designs Inspired by Japanese Gardens

The kick-off lecture in the annual New York Botanical Garden’s annual lecture landscape portfolio featured landscape architect Ron Herman

Ron is the son of a California nurseryman, California based, world-class landscape architect who has completed more than 400 private residences over the course of his career. 

He launched his work as understudy to California livin’ and is the next generation trustee to Garret Ekbo and Lawrence Halprin’s heritage whom he studied under at UC Berkeley.
According to the NYBG post: 
He opened his own landscape architecture office in Los Angeles at age 22, and then, with a thriving practice, decided to "take another route" and pursue graduate studies for three years in Japan. His landscape designs are deeply influenced by his knowledge and appreciation of that country's historic gardens. A longtime teacher and lecturer, he also co-authored the invaluable book for travelers, A Guide to the Gardens of Kyoto.

He says he is drawn to forces and loves things that have a “sense as architecture.”

It was certainly love at first sight when he saw the gardens in Kyoto. He was smitten by his glimpse of stands of old bamboo, inspiring and motivating him to study in Japan at Kyoto University.
“I envy the designer who goes to Japan for the first time,” said Herman. 

A key learning for him was the Japanese ability to design timelessness.  “The past is modernity.” Good design depends on how well it’s executed, he commented.

Herman showed images and detailed the design elements of reveal. He is interested in the ambiguity of what you see and what remains hidden, between the formal and informal: key in all great garden design.  It is the search for the unknown, seeing a garden “unfold” with subtle transitions. The Japanese use of screens or partitions is another aspect that adds an ethereal feeling to the garden.

Herman also showed how asymmetrical designed elements are part of the overall tableau of a balanced and enduring landscape design.  

Japanese design honors the seasons.  The garden designer thinks about the winter, for example, when the snow becomes part of the garden’s look.  No dead in winter feeling here!  Rather the snow becomes a design element. The color of the autumn is incorporated into the designed landscape – with purpose and respect for nature’s changing fashion show. 
In particular, Herman showed a cypress with snow that resembled a white peony.  He said when he first saw it; he had to ask, “Who are these people?!”

Herman then took the lecture to his work in California where he established his successful business. He said where better for him to create an East meets West practice?
Japan’s design had become too “museumfied” for him, he commented.

In California, he combined his California dreamin’ American sensibility with the Japanese spirit to create a love child that is both modern and natural: honoring nature in settings that are not contrived or overwrought designs.
He uses the concept of “borrowed scenery” in his landscapes.

Herman showed images of Bel Air and Hollywood gardens worthy of the big screen. 
The most dramatic of the landscapes had to be the work Herman has done for Oracle CEO, Larry Ellison.  Herman and his team worked on one of the gardens for more than 10 years. 
The Atherton garden was the first of his Ellison garden and it is a more traditional Japanese structure with elements of water and rock prominent.
The San Francisco garden is sophisticated: complex but simple with lots of abstract angles that redirect the eye.  Herman pointed out the big Japanese tea room bowl at the entrance is in a giant mechanical case, the stone floating above the bar – a swaying three-ton block. 

Why? He challenged us.  In case of earthquakes. Something east coasters don’t usually think about in design. Although after this summer and climate change, we many be adding to the checklist.

There is a grid water feature that bisects the house. He used bamboo and baby tear drops: only three plants in the design. 
The water is de-gassed so no bubbles.  

The latest and biggest of the Ellison gardens looks like a Japanese emperors mountain retreat.  
The boulders and created lake on the 20-acre landscape are stunning. 

Herman ended the lecture with views and a tour of his Hawaiian retreat. 

Herman's Book is a full garden tour: