A critique featured in Ville Giardini, Milano, Italia Casa nel Verde, February, 2003, No. 388 By Gilberto Oneto
Time is a gentleman. An old adage, perhaps, but particularly pertinent in landscape Architettoure. The quality of projects becomes evident over time, along with the true abilities of designers. Unlike works of Architettoure which are generally striking, shiny and beautiful on opening day, and then reveal their weaknesses --- in most cases --- over time, the finest landscape operations reveal, in positive cases, their best qualities only thanks to the test of the passing of the years. Like wine, they improve if they are good, and go sour if they are poorly designed from the start.
Similar considerations may apply to the designers themselves. There are certain personalities that reach heights of fame thanks to promotional skills, advertising, the favor of sector media, insertion into the privileged circles, or simply the whims of fashion. Just like poorly made works, landscape Architettos who are --- all hype --- usually fade under the test of time, and seldom find their way into the history books. Just the opposite has happened and still happens, systematically, to the best landscape designers, who may be overlooked or even scorned by the media because they are too innovative, because they do not follow fashions and trends, because they do not move in powerful academic and publishing circles. But as the years go by they emerge and the quality of their work is fully revealed. The great Porcinai immediately comes to mind, relegated to the margins of official culture for years, snubbed by the illustrious professors, the publishers of instant books on the most --- a la page --- landscapers, and undoubtedly better known and appreciated abroad than in Italy. Today, on the other hand, Porcinai is universally considered the greatest Italian landscape Architetto of the 20th century, while those who looked down their noses at him are names found only, if they are lucky, in the phone book.
Our magazine has always stood out from the rest of the crowd, for its concrete, pragramatic approach, focusing on skillful designers who might be excluded from the trendiest circles, but have much greater value than academic pundits and the self- promoting authors of vanity publishing houses. Many of the designers whose interesting works have been published in Ville Giardini have wound up being universally esteemed for their capacities, without having to attend high society cocktail parties.
The Dirsmiths have appeared many times in our magazine, but they are rarely included in the many anthologies that systematically appear to report on the activities of the showiest stars of the profession. Yet few other contemporary landscapers have constructed and designed as much as this couple and their collaborators, The Dirsmith Group, with studios in Chicago and Rome. All their works are characterized by certain specific qualifying elements, such as exuberant imagery, refined mixing of nature and artifice, and above all extraordinary technical ability.
The pursuit of such lush imagery, environmental opulence, with strong contrasts and associations of vegetation, hardscape and, above all, features utilizing water in all forms, represents a sort of signature of the studio,, independent of the geographical location or functional role of the work. Rudimentary images, rugged minimalism, and the moralism of excess intellectualism have been banished from their repertoire --- where they intervene the landscape is enriched, becoming more complex, with open and full spaces, cheerful overlappings, daring juxtapositions, elaborate narrative feats that amaze, attract, enthuse and amuse. Boredom has no role to play in their landscapes which are always a grand hymn to color, vitality, a world approached with hearty, fearless good cheer.
Such an approach could easily fall into traps of kitsch, of excess, of redundant accumulation of imagery. But these pitfalls are avoided thanks to two other essential characteristics of their operation --- the relationship with nature, and the application of noteworthy skill.
The image of nature, at its flourishing, richest best, is the leitmotiv of every project, a luxuriant rain forest nature of tropical landscapes full of color and luminosity, that look as if they had emerged from a painting by Rousseau, the drawings of the Hildebrandts or the 17th century descriptions of the discovery of new worlds. We can see something of Burle Marx, but also the colors of Gaudi and the acrobatics of Vicino Orsini. Their projects are always a corner of the world to be explored, a treasure island, an Eden-like zone, Shangri-La and Tahiti. Nature is the red thread --- rarely are their touches of hardscape with an overly rigid Architettoural aspect, the vegetation is untamed, the stones and rocks look like free stones and rocks, the water always splashes, spurts, babbles and burbles musically, generating fine mist. Water, stone and greenery dominate every space in an intricate pattern of inseparable overlappings, a gouping of dream-like, enchanted images.
The entire spectacle is kept in order by refined technique, confident knowledge of every technological device, every form of artifice required to achieve a theatrical effect. There is precise control of superimposed levels, of variable sets, the relationships of light and everything that contributes to the overall impact. Their projects are very detailed, with particular attention to even the smallest parts --- everything is planned and measured to the millimeter and skillfully calculated. Their drawings are masterpieces of professional skill, worthy of being used as objects of study and artworks to hang on the wall, as with the drawings of the great designers of the past. There is never a single line in excess, nothing is ever out of place, while everything that is needed is present and accounted for, all foreseen and densely detailed. The result is set design at its most imaginative, backed by the most rigid scientific use of technology; the most beautiful imaginative things require extremely efficient structures.
Thus all the works of the Dirsmiths are grand, they function and they amuse. They are exactly what they were designed to be, and always much more than one might expect from an artificial landscape. Like fine wine, made with care and ability, they improve with time. G.B.
Copyright Suzanne and Ron Dirsmith
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