Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Stones and Trees

Dia Art Foundation planted trees in New York as part
of Beuys exhibition (

Recently the best architects, such as Herzog and deMeuron integrate plants into their buildings, for example the green wall by Patrick Blanc at Caixa Forum in Madrid, and the proposed hanging garden for the new Miami Art Museum.  Jean Nouvel included a similar green wall at the new Musée de Quai Branly in Paris.  These vertical gardens are works of art that require intense irrigation and maintenance because the plants must survive separated from the rich and complex dirt that supports most gardens.  Like hothouse flowers, they grow and change, yet not so much that they challenge the architecture.

Artist Joseph Beuys was a friend and mentor of Jacques Herzog and Pierre deMeuron.  Beuys argued that art could make real change in the world. In 1982, he undertook planting 7000 oak trees along the streets of Dusseldorf, each with a basalt stele planted next to it.  The trees grew, offering shade and life to otherwise barren streets, the stones weathered, sometimes supporting some small mosses and lichens.   As the trees grew larger every year in their cloaks of changing leaves, the life they supported on the street and in their branches also grows, while the stones seem to become smaller and less significant.  Beuys wrote,  “So now we have six- and seven-year-old oaks, and the stone dominates them. In a few years' time, stone and tree will be in balance, and in twenty to thirty years' time we may see that gradually, the stone has become an adjunct at the foot of the oak or whatever tree it may be.” ( 
Are architects daring enough to risk bringing vigorous life into the midst of buildings, knowing that their stones will diminish in significance as life takes over? And are they then willing to have their weathered buildings stand even after the oak has lived its life and rotted, perhaps to feed another tree.  What significance then is the basalt, like a gravestone?