We’d like to introduce Barrett Doherty from the University of Pennsylvania, recipient of The Cultural Landscape Foundation Fellowship. He’s just completing his fourth week in Dallas and will be moving on to the Houston office to finish the second half of his work.
SWA: Thanks for taking a few minutes to have a discussion with us. Please give us a brief introduction to The Cultural Landscape Foundation Fellowship program and its purpose.
Barrett: A major focus of the Cultural Foundation’s mission is the “What’s Out There?” database. It attempts to spotlight and encourage people to utilize and enjoy some of the significant landscapes that exist around them. The goal is to publicize these landscapes on a number of levels, be it for researchers, scholars, or the public. It is also meant as a visual database for designers.
SWA: What goals do you have for the Fellowship that may not be related to the TCLF objectives?
Barrett: One of my personal projects over the last few years has been promoting U.S.-based work on Landezine.com. The world map on that site shows a tremendous concentration of projects in Europe and not many in the United States. I got really tired of looking at a map that was essentially stating that all of the quality work is in Europe when we all know that’s not true. So, one of my projects has been to contact designers of landscapes that I feel represent the best of US design and encourage them to submit to Landezine.com. Often times, this has led me to volunteer my photographic talents to ensure high-quality images. The U.S. is extremely underrepresented and I have been pushing representative projects, mostly in Philadelphia and New York, which is where I was based during graduate school. So, the Fellowship actually dovetails with my intentions of getting a greater number of contemporary projects submitted to Landezine.
SWA: Of the TCLF-required project visitations, which did you enjoy the most?
Barrett: North Park Center. It really asks some interesting questions: Is a commercial retail experience a public landscape? Are malls a new frontier in landscape architecture that have not been fully developed? Does landscape architecture end at the wall? Essentially architects tend to think of form and structure but in landscape you are invoking nature. When you look at the plantings, they are highly architectural, they almost become postmodern. They are art pieces, highly structural and organic shapes that become strong through the power of repetition. The concept of public art in the landscape and how it creates focal points is very present in North Park Center. It was originally an “L” shape building and at some point they turned it into a square with an interior courtyard. The courtyard and design by MESA are the centerpiece of the interior of the mall. There is a moment where a particular fountain was removed from Lawrence Halprin’s original design and the distinctive base was used as a planter by Mesa for their intervention. It has become a palimpsest of layering of the design. I tend to look at these developments from a more contemporary angle. Landscape has really come into its own over the last thirty-five years and it has almost eclipsed architecture as the pre-eminent field of the urban. It is no longer subservient to architecture. There has been a fundamental shift in the power dynamics and the power of our field.
SWA: During your time in Dallas, what has been your favorite built landscape architectural work?
Barrett: Well, one is Fountain Place because I’m highly interested in the experience of landscape. I try to show this in my photography and I often have people in my pictures so you can understand how a space is used. You step into the space, which is much cooler than the street, and within five steps you forget you are in the city. You see the Bald Cypress canopy, with a feathery and delicate texture, which really creates an ethereal space. The Texas sun is pretty relentless and all of the sudden you step across this threshold and you are enveloped in this blue, green, and cool space. The I.M. Pei building almost disappears. In my opinion the building makes the space feel bigger. It’s interesting because you walk in there and the building wall almost becomes inversed. Normally the wall is the limit, physically and visually; somehow Dan Kiley inverted it. That really is an amazing feat. Also the fact that it is a mature landscape is very interesting. When you think about it, most of us will rarely see contemporary landscapes mature. Landscapes require time and maintenance. That is a big issue; many landscapes are not maintained and do not get mature to completely express the designer’s full intention.
The other is Klyde Warren Park. My friend is the executive director of the Dallas Arts District. So through her, I have met a number of people, not designers, who are very civic-minded. Speaking with them I get a different perspective on my fellowship. They look at a park differently and I hear what they think is important. They look at it much more experientially. Klyde Warren Park has regenerated Downtown Dallas. My friend would argue that it is merely a crowning jewel in a succession of events, but for most people it is the achievement and all of a sudden downtown Dallas is activated. I hear they are getting 30,000 visitors a weekend. To me this is really interesting because people look at it and think it is great. It is nice to hear other people notice the power of landscape to transform. Woodall Rogers had ripped apart downtown Dallas and now you can go from one side to the other. It eliminated this psychological barrier and speaks to me about the power of landscape architecture. Unlike buildings, parks survive because of their own merits. Klyde Warren, like the Katy Trail, is beloved; it’s been adopted by the city. There is no question how Dallasites feel about these projects. No one would dare take them away from them and that’s great.
SWA: You have a very interesting resume. How did you make the transition from the Navy, to professional photographer to landscape architecture?
Barrett: This is something I’ve grappled with– how do the dots connect? I was originally posted to an aircraft carrier in Japan. So all of a sudden, having never traveled outside of the country, I was fully immersed in the both the foreign culture of the Navy and Japan. One day, steaming South of Guam, while on watch, I see two volcanoes in the distance and a gigantic pod of dolphins approaching off the port side and pulling across the bow of the ship. It was a special moment. I am thinking: I have to share this– how do I do it? Being in Japan further piqued my interest, so I picked up a camera. Japan was so different on a fundamental level and in an urban sense, so I started to document it, hoping that my experiences could be shared. Photography became a tool to express myself and I just kept going. I moved to New York to learn studio photography and worked for eight years professionally shooting commercial photography for food, architecture, fashion, interiors, and exteriors. So after immersing myself in photography in NYC, I realized that I’m really interested in natural light and the outside. A confluence of these interests crystallized when I first saw the soon-to-be High Line from above while working in a studio building on the west side of Manhattan. This was before the redevelopment, when Joel Sternfeld, one of my favorite photographers, was documenting it to seed ideas for the High Line Park. In this moment before the design competition, there was this buzz and I became fascinated with it and the potential of what kind of park it could become. So my interest in landscape architecture grew. For me, it really became this idea of creating the landscape image, rather than finding it.
SWA: About your experience as a professional photographer: Do you have a particular focus in your photography of the landscape? How do you see it differently than a typical person?
Barrett: Landscape photography to me is about distilling the essence. I like to see it all and pick out the right details to express. I tend to look for the experience of the place and sometimes the detail. If it’s a detail, it sits within a context of other things. But I tend to like pictures with people in them because that shows the experience. I’ve come to realize that people are an important part of the scene. When shooting for landscape architects, I use people to power the landscape image and as compositional elements. It’s about balance and effectively controlling what is being shown. How do I distill this into its most salient essentials? The bottom line, as a professional, is to create an image that sells the client’s vision. I was taught in New York that you only get three seconds. The viewer will decide if they like your photo in three seconds. That’s your selling time. I want people to think “Wow this is an amazing place, I want to be there.”
SWA: One last burning question: You’ve been attending school in the City of Brotherly Love and now you’re deep in the heart of Texas: BBQ or Cheesesteak?
Barrett: Sushi…Japanese food is truly genius.
For more information on The Cultural Landscape Foundation and Barrett’s fellowship, visit: http://tinyurl.com/lrcdt39
Image courtesy of Barrett Doherty