At Home in the World: The Works of Reed Hilderbrand

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Throughout October, the University of Virginia School of Architecture community got to see photographs of the landscape architecture of Reed Hilderbrand, touch samples of materials used in their projects, and grab post-card copies of their site plans. An exhibition of their work culminated in a lecture by founding partners, Douglas Reed, FASLA, and Gary Hilderbrand, FASLA, on their design philosophy.

Rather than being cloistered in an enclosed gallery space, the exhibit occupied the open, eastern hallway of the architecture school where it encouraged daily encounters between students and the firm’s work. It was clear from Reed and Hilderbrand’s talk that both believe places of cultural significance shape fledgling designers and the type of work they ultimately produce.

Each designer situated the firm’s work within his own personal biography and the landscape in which he was raised. In discussing his youth in Louisiana, Reed drew upon Jens Jensen’s belief that we are always longing to return to the “landscape of home.” His experience growing up in a landscape of extreme flatness — contrasted with Hilderbrand’s childhood in the rolling Hudson River Valley — plays a significant role in his unique understanding of the conditions of the ground. Together, they believe “a site’s history and the particular character of its ground – its shape, soil, moisture, vegetative cover – are what motivates meaningful form in our projects.”

While Reed and Hilderbrand may call upon their particular conceptions of home in their design philosophy, they also spoke of the importance of travel. Hilderbrand attributed his year in Rome as a Rome Prize recipient as the primary inspiration him to come together with Reed to found Reed Hilderbrand. Getting to intimately know the landscapes of Rome, not as a tourist, but as an extended visitor with the time and the freedom to “see and return,” made him want to build great places. “Seeing great things is both humbling and inspiring, ” said Hilderbrand.

In their first project together, the Leventritt Garden at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, their design drew upon not only a deep understanding of the conditions of the site, but also an experiential knowledge of Roman terraces, resulting in an “organic parterre” distinct from, yet perfectly suited to the rest of the Arboretum.

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The success of this first project stemmed from their ability to grasp the site’s unique assets, while drawing on a vast inner library of places seen over years of travel.

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In Reed Hilderbrand’s work at Bennington College, their reading of a set of disjointed site systems from previous eras of development, including an overlay of campus architecture of disparate styles, propelled the partners to bring cohesion to the campus. As Reed says, in this case “we realized that the larger regional context – the panorama of mountains,” with the elevated plateau of the college campus serving as a viewing platform, drew the campus plan together.

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While it was inspiring to see images of Reed Hilderbrand’s work in the everyday environment of the school and in the pages of their new monograph, Visible | Invisible: Landscape Works of Reed Hilderbrand, the magnitude of their effect became more apparent after hearing them reflect upon their work. The elegant detailing, subtle sculpting of the ground, and the clearly distinctive quality of the work, are stunning and motivating.

This guest post is by Rachel Vassar, Master’s of Landscape Architecture Candidate, University of Virginia

Image credits: (1) Visible / Invisible, Metropolis Books, (2) Leventritt Garden / Andrea Jones, (3) Leventritt Garden Plan / Reed Hildebrand, (4) Bennington College plan / Reed Hilderbrand, (5) Bennington College / Michael Moran.

3 thoughts on “At Home in the World: The Works of Reed Hilderbrand

  1. Janet crane 11/20/2013 / 8:05 pm

    Excellent , thoughtful commentary by Rachel Vassar- motivating to learn more about these landscape architects and their work.

  2. Brad 11/21/2013 / 10:56 am

    Really very interesting. This is a new world of landscape architecture than what I’m use to. This is very impressive. Great job Rachel.

  3. julie zellat 11/21/2013 / 6:12 pm

    So interesting to read how the landscape of personal history and world history together become the inspiration for creating something new. I wouldn’t have fully appreciated some of the photographs, especially of the Leventritt Garden without your thoughtful analysis. Looking forward to learning more from you about your work.

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