Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Landscapes Real and Perceived - Sea Ranch and Maya Lin

There are few places where nature and human come together with more drama and more ease than at The Sea Ranch on California's north coast. The story of The Sea Ranch as architectural and environmental utopia is well known (see a recent article in The New York Times Sunday Travel section for history and pictures) and part of the wonder of the place is that after nearly 50 years the original dream is so clearly in evidence and working. Every season, every type of weather, every day, every time of day and night, presents a feast, blessedly free of ubiquitous modern visual and aural static, of sky, land, and sea. We owned a house there once; our teenager used to yawn at the 'boring' architecture, but of course, it's restrictions on design - only natural wood, hide the cars and garbage pails, etc., - that make the houses simultaneously settle into and get out of the way of the natural world. Parts of The Sea Ranch coast are protected havens for wildlife such as seals, brown pelicans, and tidepool creatures, but life is everywhere. On a recent visit we had days full of songbirds and hawks, and twilight sojourns with foxes, rabbits, and deer (three of which plunked down in front of our windows and watched us like television for an hour or so.) It was a hard place to leave after four idyllic days. On my return to San Francisco I went to the De Young Museum to see the show entitled "Systematic Landscapes" by Maya Lin, and was struck by the similar synchronicity of her ideas, which also marry human intelligence with the natural landscape, and are marked by an urge to 'get out of the way' of nature at the same time she exhibits and enhances the significance of it. The Sea Ranch is alive with textures - a side of bark, a mass of wind and waterworn rock, a screen of branches, all adding up bit by bit to a magnificent whole. In one of Maya Lin's pieces, a topographic sculpture made of thousands of cut ends of boards, small individual textures combine into a grand statement of form that makes a monumental rise and spill across the DeYoung lobby. In both cases we get a good reminder to notice, respect and appreciate nature in its detail and its grandeur.

1 comment:

Richard said...

Wonderful evocation of The Sea Ranch. Thanks, Marilyn! It brought back some very good memories. Sorry I did not see the Maya Lin show. Her Vietnam Memorial, of course, is one of the most moving memorials ever created.