Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Human Touch

What is it about places that are interesting and passionately crafted into the human scale that provide delight to the eye? The arch of carved stonework, the engraving of metal filigree, the color and splash of tile rioting across a fountain or plaza? That prompts people to stop, look, experience and now shutterbug their way through an urban space and talk about it?

One of these shutterbugs, who has hundreds of followers and is part of a vast international network of "daily photographers", has captured some of this essence in her local wanderings here in Pasadena. Petrea's blog, Pasadena Daily Photo, has examined some of these places that create some kind of resonance because of the artistry of the place. Sometimes they're surprising things in the urban environment that have been around seemingly forever. Suddenly they pop out again!

She's explored one of the more interesting public spaces in Pasadena, the fountains and tile works in Plaza Las Fuentes and talks about how it sparks her curiosity and interest. This public art space was designed by a well-known landscaper, Lawrence Halprin, incorporating artworks by several artists. It provides a rich visual experience and intriguing human-scaled spaces to explore.

A favorite of mine, one that I'll drive into downtown LA for, is the Maguire Gardens that is integrated into the main entrance to the Los Angeles Public Library, which is in itself a cacophony of art and color that references its history. The fountain is part of the Spine art sequence, and is integrated into the public entrance and the waterway that's woven into the fabric landscape, which again is designed by Lawrence Halprin.

The clear intervention of the human hand and eye in the patterns and scale of a space give it a resonance that pure form is not always able to express. The interweaving of cultural forms and their colors evokes the sense of spirit. The sound of water and plants rustling in the wind as part of a smaller-scaled place, with patterns of sun and shade, are the kinds of experience that we cherish in the urban environment. The harsh anonymity of blank paving and walls and acres of asphalt are relieved by places such as these, which encourage people to stop and look, assuaging the alienation of anonymous urban spaces.