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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

January 2008 Issue

Boundary Maker
Devotee of stone Jonathan Piasecki, ASLA, tells how he builds walls, makes art, and tries to respect the land.

By Marty Carlock

Boundry Maker Courtesy of Reuben Cox

Jonathan Piasecki, ASLA, has a mystical feeling about walls. At the Bronze-Age roots of our own culture, he says, the wall was “a fusion of stone, earth, and ritual,” the place where raw and perhaps hostile nature was held at bay. Basic to Piasecki’s work is an attitude of respect for the earth and for stones as the bones of the earth.

From the beginning of a project, Piasecki approaches the design of a landscape backwards. Instead of imposing his plan on the land, he walks around a site, gets an idea of “what the landscape wants to be,” and to some extent improvises as he works. Piasecki muses, “If you draw first, the drawing tells you what it’s going to be. If you just go out and look, there’s a process of discovering what [the landscape] could be.”

He does some other unorthodox things. He makes his own art from the materials he finds on site. You won’t find fountains, benches, or cherubs sculpted elsewhere and plopped into place. For him and for users of the place, the art works as directional signs and place markers.

Most radically, he builds his own stonework. Sometimes he has help, but when he’s working on a project he’s on site, dust and dirty fingernails and all, cranking come-alongs and working tractor front loaders. He’s particular about the way he wants his dry walls built. “There are not many landscape architects who do stone. Masonry people know how to set it but don’t have the design thing. It’s pretty rare to fuse the two.” Piasecki takes satisfaction in laying every stone himself. The macho component to wrestling with and subduing tons of rock is balanced by his creativity.

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