Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Bringing the Outdoors In

Design by Marmol Radziner + Associates. Picture here (and below) from their forthcoming book Marmol Radziner + Associates: Between Architecture and Construction, due out in July from the Princeton Architectural Press.

e wanted to bring the outdoors inside.

Scan any design or architecture magazine and you'll likely find that quote a hundred times over. Most often it refers to windows, as in the homes that offer a thin glass barrier between you and the landscaped outdoors.

Marmol Radziner + Associates develop a relationship between the building and the surrounding trees, creating a sort of zoo in reverse: nature gets to look in on your glass contained cage, as much as you get to look out.

Sometimes the line can blur and the relationship can be more literal. I recently saw a show profiling a Japanese home where the owner built around a natural rock cavern to create an indoor bathtub fed by a natural spring.

But what about an engineered nature? Artists and designers are bringing their own contrived version of nature indoors. One product that's been growing in popularity over that past few years is resin walls encasing natural materials, like leaves and grasses.

Maidenhair fern trapped in a resin panel created by 3Form. Click here to see all of the organics used in their collection.

Two artists have caught my eye for taking the idea of nature indoors to another level. First, there is Mary Temple, a New York artist who paints intricate replicas of the natural shadows cast by a sunlit window. In the homes pictured below, Temple painted trompe l'oeil shadows on the walls for her Windows series. She captured a specific time of day, it seems, using the angle of light and the outline of trees—light and trees that don't actual exist around these homes. The one on the left feels more like high noon, a direct sun hitting the wall head on. The one on the right feels more like afternoon. There's a slant to the angles and, even though it's only the simplest of graying paint, it evokes the sensation of a waning light before dusk. It feels like sun hitting the wall. (Thanks to Marianne for bringing this to my attention).

Temple also likes to transpose urban environments and natural settings. "Much of my work is concerned with environmental perception, whether that environment be a physical structure or as abstract as a psychological impression," she has written. In another series, titled Postcard Skies, she juxtaposes the homes in her Brooklyn neighborhood against the open sky of the American Southwest, where she lived before coming to New York.

For the website Re-Title.com, Temple wrote about her inspiration for the Postcard series:

"I’ve combed the blocks around my apartment in Williamsburg, enjoying and recording the idiosyncratic artistry with which people have distinguished their homes from the ones on either side of them. It wasn’t long until my perception of the buildings expanded and I saw them as anthropological surrogates for the residents. Removing the windows from the photos seemed to allow the buildings to breathe, and their fa├žades looked like bright open faces posing for a snapshot. I obliged. Perhaps they’d like to travel? I described what I know—the Grand Canyon, Coyote Springs, Oak Creek Canyon, Prescott Valley, Granite Dells. They agreed, having always wanted to see a bit of the Southwest."

Then there is Dutch designer Nienke Sybrandy. Her tree branch shadow curtain has been getting lots of play on design websites, like Apartment Therapy. Sybrandy uses ASCII-code, the code for computers, to create the outline of her tree. So in this case, a natural element is rendered "real" on fabric using the computer language that would represent that natural element on a computer. Makes your head spin a bit, doesn't it?

Shadow decorations are appearing elsewhere, like in those wall stickers that are popping up in design stores. I like to think of these as the gateway drug to actual wallpaper. Ferm Living offers birds, branches, and flowers that you can affix to your wall:

A hydrangea shadow growing out of your baseboard...

There's also an interesting reminder in their collection that the "outdoors" coming inside doesn't necessarily mean nature: