Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Building architecture > golf architecture.

Our recent work at The Oakville Golf Club, influenced and
inspired by site characteritics and conditions, history,
client needs and desires, etc...
As I've written (too) many times before, I often think of legendary golf architect A.W. Tillinghast - specifically as his work relates to genuinely creating distinctive golf courses.

The contrasting styles of Tillinghast's golf architecture at Somerset Hills (New Jersey), Winged Foot (New York) and the San Francisco Golf Club, for example, provide a wonderful illustration of this very important element in golf course design.

If we didn't know better, we'd likely think each of these remarkable courses were designed by different architects - not all by the great Tillinghast.

Over the past weekend, I came across a short column on Moshe Safdie in the June 2012 issue of Vanity Fair magazine. Safdie is one of the world's leading building architects, who first became famous some five decades ago with his design of Habitat '67, in Montreal. Safdie has since designed many more revered buildings throughout the world, including the National Gallery in Ottawa and the U.S. Institute of Peace, on the Mall in Washington, D.C.

John Heilpern writes about Safdie's resistence to the phenomenon of "starchitects", who have become "almost as famous in the U.S. as celebrity chefs". The theorist-teacher within (Safdie), writes Heilpern, opposes the unquiet architecture of Frank Gehry and Daniel Libeskind and what he terms, ominously, "the Bilboa effect".

"I don't think I have a signature style that announces, 'This is a Safdie'," says the 74-year old architect. "But I think star architects have seized an opportunity to go anywhere in the world to produce meaningless buildings. You know?"

According to Heilpern, Safdie is constantly asking what the purpose of a building actually is - as his early mentor, Louis I. Kahn, once asked, "What does a building want to be?"

This, to my way of thinking, is a question golf course architects should constantly be asking themselves as well - "What does a golf course want to be?" The answer to this all-important question should be unique in each case - relative to site characteristics and conditions, (in some cases) history, client needs and desires, and other important factors which should (almost always) assist with consistently creating distinctive golf courses.

"I try firstly to make buildings humane," adds Safdie. "Countries and places have a history, a story, and a culture. I want my buildings to take root and look as if they've always been there... it isn't about pastiche or adapting what's already there. It's about trying to blend the future and the past."

I could (and may) paraphase Safdie relative to my own work in golf architecture, simply substituting the words 'golf courses' for 'buildings'.

Safdie also makes an interesting point to Heilpern about inevitable contraints in architecture, citing past debates with influential American building architect Philip Johnson (1906-2005). "There are no rules," Johnson declared. "Only a sense of wonderful freedom."

... bares no resemblence to Sagebrush, where I was on-site
architect - working with Rod Whitman, Richard Zokol and
Armen Suny - through the course's development.
Safdie disagrees, calling Johnson's credo a socially irresponsible license to design anything that comes to mind. "It's treating architecture primarily as an expressive art, like sculpture and painting," he explains. "But architecture has constraints. They're real. It has to contend with them. Otherwise, a building can't fulfill its purpose and the course of its invention - the life that goes on within it."

The parallels between world-class building architecture and the very best golf architecture continues to fascinate.

What's most important to me is to, many years from now, be able to look back on my career in golf architecture and point to a remarkably diverse portfolio - unique golf course designs which derive from sincerely answering the question, "What does this golf courses want to be?"; distinctive golf course designs that intelligently deal with inevitable contraints in creative ways that allow each course to take root and look as if its always been there; and, individual golf courses that completely fulfill their unique purposes.

The works and wisdom of Moshe Safdie and A.W. Tillinghast speak volumes.

1 comment:

  1. Great thoughts you got there, believe I may possibly try just some of it throughout my daily life.

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