Glenstone Slows You Down

Glenstone / Jared Green

Emily and Mitchell Rales, the founders of Glenstone, one of the largest privately-owned museums in the U.S., want you to slow down.

As you get out of the car park at their expanded museum in Potomac, Maryland, you embark on a 10-minute journey along a gravel path, over a small creek, and between two large hills. Walking the path becomes an act of meditation, but also a journey of discovery as you come across surreal bits of hyper-nature.

Glenstone / Jared Green

After a few minutes the new pavilions designed by architect Thomas Phifer emerge into view.

Glenstone pavilions / Iwan Baan

The crunch of the pale grey gravel, the charismatic trees set in swaying meadow grasses — mostly little blue stem and purple top — are all designed to slow your heart rate and heighten your senses.

At the preview of the expanded museum, which is set within a 230-acre landscape, Emily Rales explained that it’s only when you are most attuned to your environment can you really take in the post-World War II artworks in their monumental new concrete pavilions.

Visitors descend stairs or an elevator to get to the main level of the pavilions where most of the modern and contemporary paintings and sculptures are found.

Pieces include a phrygian cap by African American sculptor Martin Puryear, a calendar of icons by Lygia Pape, an expansive Rothko painting, and epic site-specific installations by land artist Michael Heizer.

Phrygian cap by African American sculptor Martin Puryear / Ron Amstutz

Collapse, one of Heizer’s works, called for the special configuration of an entire wing. Only six people are allowed to experience the piece at the same time — a 16-feet-deep hole partially filled up with rusted steel beams, set in a small ocean of rust-colored gravel, which creates a Martian monochromatic landscape.

Michael Heizer installation / Jared Green

But the building is not only a portal to the art, it’s an entry into a whole other landscape: a water garden.

Glenstone / Iwan Baan

Adam Greenspan, ASLA, principal at PWP Landscape Architecture, who has been working on Glenstone for the past 15 years, said the “center pool is the culminating moment.”

The entire landscape has prepared you for this. “We designed the site as a holistic experience — from the region to the site. We knitted it all together.”

The landscape that leads you to the building was molded from the soils dug up to make way for the pavilions. Hundreds of tons of soil were sculpted into hills. Some 8,000 trees were planted. There are now 40 acres of meadows within the sweeping estate. The early agricultural landscape has been transformed.

Some of the 8,000 trees planted amid the 40-acre meadow at Glenstone / Jared Green

There is an underlying Japanese influence to the landscape and architectural design with the use of minimal gestures for maximum impact. Greenspan said the water garden is really “Ryoan-ji a couple of steps removed.” (Ryoan-Ji is one of the most famous Zen Buddhist gardens in Kyoto). The water garden itself is partially inspired by an Iris garden found in Hakone. “It’s similar in scale and size.”

Glenstone / Jared Green

However, the water courtyard at Glenstone also differs in some notable ways from its Japanese inspirations. PWP Landscape Architecture put the plants on a grid, which provides an underlying geometrical depth to the space. They did this for not only aesthetic reasons but also for practical ones.

The squares found within the grid enable the landscape architects to create areas of different soil depths, so they can contain and define the different plant life. “Irises need 4 inches of water or less; pickerelweed needs 8-10 inches; but water lilies need 8 feet of water.” Each get their own squares.

Glenstone / Jared Green

Within the modular approach, plants can also easily be re-arranged depending on how well they are doing in one micro-climate or another. “We have a living system that can move.”

Up and out amid the hills again, you may notice that meadow grasses seamlessly extend into a green roof that covers part of the buildings. And that the glass banisters purposefully minimize the difference between building and landscape.

Glenstone / Jared Green

Beyond these banisters, you come across an awing site-specific work by Heizer, called Compression Line, opposing ditches set in his rust-metal gravel.

Michael Heizer installation at Glenstone / Jared Green

Trails off the main building take you to large works by Richard Sierra, Jeff Koons, and Tony Smith, as well as the first part of Rales’ museum, which opened across a pond from their home in 2006.

Atop of a hill on one of those trails, an arching Sierra entitled Contour 290 looms and then storms into full view. A matted-grass and dirt path takes you to right up to the piece, creating a journey to a more elemental realm.

Richard Serra artwork at Glenstone / Jared Green

As you spend more time at Glenstone, you may think the art, building, and landscape must be explored again in a different season or sky. Emily Rales’ call for deeper awareness lingers: “we want you to notice the changing light.”

Landscape Architecture in the News (September 16 – 30)

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SWA Group’s park at the base of JPMorgan Chase Tower in 2015 / Cody Duty, The Houston Chronicle

Award-winning Landscape Architect Creates Gardens That Elicit Emotions Star2, 9/18/18
“He does not sweat the small stuff in life but when it comes to his gardens, no detail is too small. Sweeping the top awards at the recent Singapore Garden Festival (SGF) 2018 is Malaysian veteran landscape architect Lim In Chong, better known as Inch Lim.”

‘For Me, This Is Paradise’: Life in the Spanish City That Banned Cars The Guardian, 9/18/18
“People don’t shout in Pontevedra – or they shout less. With all but the most essential traffic banished, there are no revving engines or honking horns, no metallic snarl of motorbikes or the roar of people trying make themselves heard above the din – none of the usual soundtrack of a Spanish city.”

Dallas May Now Get Two New Trinity River Parks D Magazine, 9/19/18
“Last Saturday, two groups held workshops planning their versions of the future Trinity River Park. Were they competitive or complementary?”

Buffalo’s Frederick Law Olmsted Legacy: the Park System That Started It All NewYorkUpstate.com, 9/20/18
“Frederick Law Olmsted is probably the best-known landscape architect in American history. And rightly so. In 1868, after designing New York’s Central Park and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park with his partner Calvert Vaux, Olmsted was invited to Buffalo, with the hope that he would design something similar here.”

Can You See the Future of Houston at Park(ing) Day? The Houston Chronicle, 9/21/18
“You may not totally get it,” says Lisa Girard, who helped organize Houston’s PARK(ing) Day this year with the regional chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and the Rice Design Alliance (RDA). (Disclosure: I used to work for RDA and helped organize the event in the past.) “But you’re out there, which means you’re engaging, which means it’s doing its job. It’s creating a dialogue.”

National Parks Are Warming Twice as Fast as the U.S. Overall High Country News, 9/24/18
“Climate change is having an outsized impact on national parks in the U.S., according to research conducted by scientists at the National Park Service, the University of California Berkeley and the University of Wisconsin Madison.”