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Takuma Ono in Conversation with Charles Waldheim

Gardner Museum Landscape Lectures
June 7, 2012

“C’est Mon Plaisir” reads the motto above the Gardner Museum entrance. Although a century has passed since Isabella Stewart Gardner organized window-box contests on Beacon Hill — spreading her public spirit through healthy rivalry — her memory has inspired a new biennial competition seeking to stretch the bounds of landscape architecture in the public realm. Led by Charles Waldheim, chair of the landscape architecture department at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), the jury for the new Maeder-York Family Fellowship in Landscape Studies at the Gardner Museum found in Takuma Ono an inaugural fellow who shares the museum founder’s pleasure in thinking deeply about the needs of the public and crafting unexpected environments in response.

Fittingly, Ono was brought into a conversation with the public before the end of his first week in residence. Modest and reflective, he presented the work and research of his firm, Aershop, through informational graphics composed with beauty and clarity. Ono also shares with Gardner a perspective shaped by world travel, which has led him to a focus on large-scale environmental interventions in collaboration with Aershop co-founder Darina Zlateva. In a proposal to restore the Los Angeles River, for example, the partners demonstrated a new approach to reverting an ailing waterway into a vibrant destination through a de-centralization of wastewater treatment. No dream is too big for Ono and Zlateva, who met while studying at the GSD. They tackle challenges with what would seem like wild abandon, if not for the thorough research behind their dramatic conclusions.

Will a process-oriented digital designer be affected by residing with a collection of objects created through slower methods of representation, and in living quarters designed by Renzo Piano, master of reducing complex performance to visual simplicity? Ono will spend his three-month residency investigating methods of reusing dredged material from Boston Harbor to address the issue of rising sea-water levels. Having demonstrated a talent for flipping sites in environmental crisis into recreational venues for enjoying the outdoors, this fellowship is a promising gift to the city. Situated for its connection to the Emerald Necklace, the Gardner museum seems an apt birthplace for the next major work of landscape architecture in Boston.