GARDEN OF EDEN:
AN ENVIRONMENTAL "RADICAL TRANSFORMATION"
[As published in the 1985 Proceedings of the Environmental Design Research Association]
|Note: the following
combined EDRA text is excerpted from pages 116-121 of LIFE with les(s)
ego--a 2001 documentary story of The Garden of Eden eARThWORK
in New York City, 1975-86, by "Adam Purple," one pseudonym of r(apid)evolutionary
les ego (author of Zentences! --a miniature NON-linear book "written"
in 1967-68, a copy of which is in the Rare Books Division of the New York
Public Library, Fifth Avenue & 42nd Street).
Page 116 - 121 of LIFE with les(s) ego from EDRA-16 Proceedings:
The Proceedings editors should be applauded for responding so positively to Adam Purple's initial submission about [The Garden of Eden], a project which symbolizes the theme of the 1985 EDRA Conference. The editor's encouragement and Purple's enthusiasm have resulted in the now published paper, destined, I suspect, to become not only a valuable piece of source material in the field of local open space development, but also a classic example of documentary case-treatment in community design. The "case" is "radical" (from the Latin radix, root; indicating thoroughness, getting to the heart of the matter, presenting a foundation for reform by exploring the essentials). I haven't met Adam Purple, but he strikes me as a true local-globalist. In the first place, he is a supreme pragmatist, a hands-in-the-dirt soil scientist concerned with the biodynamics of "brick dust" and horse manure in the resoilation of a city habitat, at the same time driven by a larger vision of the interrelatedness of things: homelessness and the New York City Planning Commission, the geometric and spiritual properties of circles, humor as a weapon, the media as promoters and defenders of the public interest....
Purple calls himself "artist," rather than scientist, yet his accomplishment demonstrates the integration of these two (supposedly) opposite poles of professional relationship to the world. Intuitively, because of his action-research, he has clear "scientific" understanding of what he is doing and why (as any child exposed to similar experiences would have), but these understandings are not systematically recorded, sifted, evaluated and externalized in a way that can contribute to scientific knowledge. Yet as a holistic demonstration of scientific principles, Purple's work surely informs scientific understanding. Professional science takes lots of painstaking, systematic record-keeping, of a kind that is impossible to do alone, while embroiled in political skirmishes, not to mention hauling horse manure 3 1/2 miles by bicycle.
Art takes the lead the moment one steps beyond the scientifically measurable, into the realm of human values, culture and politics. Art informs both the doing and the done. In Purple's case, in the softly-peddled spiritual ideas embodied in the work, in the wonderful, disarming, rightfully caustic, rueful humor, and in the sheer for-the-hell-of-it, doing-things-for-their-own-sake attitude that underlies art not patronized by church, state or rich folks.
For me, Adam Purple's work lies in the best tradition of action-research, in fact helps define that tradition of open-ended exploration-through-action, a viable way of proceeding into uncharted social/environmental territory: a self-informing sequence of doing, 'learning,' 'documenting,' 'publishing,' meshing with others' work...).
His work represents, let's say, the "left-handed" side of EDRA, a side we need to embrace, learn from, work with, and support. The challenge is for EDRA to represent itself in a way that will attract more participation from action research/environmental artists like Adam Purple. The relationship works in the other direction, too, since [The Garden of Eden] clearly offers a great opportunity for "right-handed," systematic, social impact research. The social action orientation of our field would gain much from such collaborations.
(Note: "1985-EDRA" refers to the
16th annual conference of the Environmental Design Research Association
at the City University of New York's Graduate Center, 33 West 42nd Street,
New York, N.Y. 10036, 10-13 June.)
The Garden of Eden: An Environmental "RADICAL TRANSFORMATION"
Adam Purple, Landscape sculptor certified
by the Department of Cultural Affairs of the City of New York
A B S T R A C T
The submission's subject is The Garden of Eden, an existing eleven-year-old environmental sculpture in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City. Enclosures document The Garden's past development, suggest its future design, and outline the statement being made by its development and design.
Documentation of The Garden's development is provided by text and photographs. Textual materials are a position paper by the designer/artist; reference to National Geographic magazine's September 1984 coverage of The Garden; the artist's "application for certification," made to New York City's Department of Cultural Affairs; excerpts from professional letters in support of The Garden. Photographic materials are from the New York Sunday News in 1976 and subsequent documentation.
Suggestions for The Garden's future design are provided by the designer's position paper, architectural drawings (one of which was a collaborative effort), and reference to related architectural projects executed by the University of Minnesota that inspired The Garden's designer.
Statements of intention and/or environmental design philosophy are provided by the designer's position paper, his "aapplication for certification," the letters of support, and bibliographic citations.
O U T W I T T E D
He drew a circle that shut me out-- Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle that took him in! --by Edwin Markham (1852-1940)
H I S T O R I C A L O V E R V I E W
The designer of The Garden of Eden moved to 184 Forsyth Street in New York City in February 1972. From his rear window (looking to the East) his "view" was of high-fenced back "yards," piles of garbage thrown from windows of "neighbors," and rear walls and rusting fire escapes of four six-story, walk-up tenements fronting on Eldridge Street in what is known as Block 421 of Manhattan. Children could be seen playing in rubbish in basement-level pits behing the Eldridge Street buildings. Virtually no sunlight entered this abyss of human and environmental degradation.
In the latter half of 1973, two Eldridge Street tenements immediately to the east of the designer's apartment were razed by the City of New York to dovetail with "The Master Plan" of the City Planning Commission (see map entitled "Development Opportunities 5," dated May 1970), which oversees the systematic destruction through deliberate neglect of buildings and vacant lots to create "Major Action (Urban Renewal) Areas" for non-local real estate developers....
Suddenly, full morning sunlight flooded an abused area of bulldozed brick rubble measuring about 50 by 100 feet.
Realizing that "the longest journey starts with a single step" (ancient folk saying), the designer began sorting the rubble into piles of whole bricks, brick "bats," and foundation and window (lintel) stones; and sifting the remaining rubble into salvaged wood (to burn for potash), gravel measuring one-half and one-quarter inches in diameter, and "brick sand" produced by repeated crushing by bulldozer tracks during demolition operations. All of these by-products of demolition (called "parent material" by National Geographic), plus sheets of galvanized iron and porcelainized "tub tops," ordinarily go to waste as "land fill" because City planners are not yet enlightened as to the real value of what appears to them to be nearly worthless debris. From Central Park's tourist carriage routes, the designer carted bags of horse manure by bicycle a distance of 3 1/2 miles to mix with the salvaged "brick sand" and potash to create virgin topsoil (Zenger, 1979)....
By the time the designer had converted the original 5,000 square feet of tenement rubble (to an average depth of about a foot) into arable land, the City demolished a tenement to the north of The Garden. About a year later the City demolished another tenement to the south of The Garden, which then received eastern and southern half-day sunlight.
Comprehensive media coverage of the resulting inner-urban Earthwork ("Nature is God's art."--Dante) began with the August 1979 publication of an article in New York magazine (Green, 1979). Because this article resulted almost immediately in the first international press reportage (Schnitt, 1979), because it contained a number of journalistic "sleepers," and because The Garden's obvious ecological orientation might be assumed to question status-quo inertia among bureaucrats, it seems appropriate to quote Green's article in New York magazine, as follows:
Another communique proclaims the purpose of [The Garden]: "Without waiting another 2,000 years for institutionalized Christianity or Judaism to build or rebuild theGarden of Eden (Paradise of Pleasures), we have taken psychic inspiration from General Zenlightenme(a)nt to 'plug into' organic communication from Uranus, to wit: 'Speciesurvival is more and more a race 'twixt Zenlightenme(a)nt and extinction....' (Green, 1979). [The Garden of Eden] is one aspect of Biocybernetic Fun & Games to L.E.A.R.N. (Let's Erase And Reprogram Now) for Speciesurvival bye 1984 --from the Seventh Planet, Uranus. And if you do not know where your anus is, you are definitely part of the Problem" (Green, 1979).It was not until after The Garden was reported in Stern magazine in Germany (Schnitt, 1979) that the City came forward with a housing project which included the entire area of The Garden in a "pre-selected" site or why. The fact that the City has, subsequently, shown a total lack of interest if not "zenthusiam" in including The Garden into its plans for houding calls into serious question the real motives of City planners.....
The Garden's designer was certified as an artist/environmental sculptor on 1 March 1982 by New York City's Department of Cultural Affairs and was recertified on 4 March 1985. Reference is made below to philosophical views included in his "application for certification" (Purple, 1982 & 1985).
Since early 1982, environmental/ecological supporters of The Garden, including those quoted below, have been involved in a running battle with City officials. The City's "stonewall" position has been the "divide-and-conquer" tactic of pitting "housing" advocates against "greenspacers," as if unwilling or incapable of blending the two "opposites" together.
A sampling of philosophical observations of professional persons about The Garden [to page 119] of Eden (as submitted in letters to theCity Planning Commission on 6 and 20 October 1982 and to the Board of Estimate on 16 December 1982) read as follows:
For a decade Adam Purple has been working with his neighbors to create ...a space [that help(s) to keep us human] for the people in his community. But instead of help forthcoming from the City there has been harassment and, now, the threat of extinction. In a community where almost nothing else is sacred this space has been virtually vandal-free. What more proof is needed that [The Garden] and the people who tend it have gained the respect of their neighbors? What city-run park can boast such a record (Stoney, 1982)?All attempts to address such issues as "due process," First Amendment rights of free speech (artistic expression), natural (common-law) rights, or what the designer calls "huwomanimal" rights to "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness," have fallen on the deaf ears and blind eyes of governmental officials.
At the same time that The Garden was appearing as a two-page photographic report in the September 1984 issue of National Geographic (pp. 384-5), the Storefront for Art and Architecture [in New York City] was showing an exhibition entitled "Adam's House in Paradise."
The exhibition reverses tradition in the artist/architect relation by presenting architecture created to the demands of art.... Thirty internationally acclaimed and emerging architects from [the United States, Europe, and Asia] have designed two city blocks of public housing around The Garden of Eden.... Adam Purple's legendary persistence and imagination have brought international stature to this garden: a work of public art which hjas been critically compared with great French and Japanese gardens and with environmental artists like [the late] Robert Smithson. The Garden of Eden is always on view. The impetus for this exhibition comes from New York City Housing Authority's plan to construct a public housing project on the site of The Garden of Eden. The current plans call for the destruction of [The Garden] by [30 September] 1985. Rather than ignore this valuable anomaly to existing urban plans, the architects...have accepted the challenge of Purple's earthwork to create architecture of equal vision. The catalogue, published by Storefront, presents reflection upon the urban values surrounding public art, neighborhood gardens, housing and the myth of neutrality in professional architectural activities.... (Park, Weiss, 1984).On 15 October 1984, James Stewart Polshek, dean of Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture and Planning, wrote to New York City Mayor Edward Koch as follows: " I am writing you to support the continued existence of [The Garden of Eden]. It is this kind of humane initiative that has made and kept New York a place for people. The idea of replacing it with housing is, to me, as serious an urban crime as the Saint Bartholomew's tower. Please use the power of your office to see that this much-needed housing gets built elsewhere." Dean Polshek was referring to controversial plans of a Park Avenue church to cash-in on real-estate values in midtown by selling and razing its parish house to allow a devel- [to page 120] oper to erect a tower. It is unknown at this writing (April 1985) if or how Mayor Koch replied. Therefore, it seems appropriate here to update The Garden of Eden's ongoing saga....
C U R R E N T S T A T U S R E P O R T
The view from the designer's rear window is dramically different now from what it was in 1972: one sees blooming flowers, bearing fruit and nut trees, butterflies, and children with their parents or teachers enjoying a variety of living and growing plants, birds, and garden insects (to appreciate the truth of what Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden: "One cannot have too much nature.").
The interdisciplinary processes in which The Garden of Eden is rooted are not readily obvious to a casual visitor or hurried reader/viewer of media reports of its development since it began in 1973 to metamorphose local environmental "parent material" (National Geographic 1984) into a world-recognized inner-urban Earthwork. Since its first press appearance in 1976, The Garden has attracted continued national and international journalistic reportage: Stern, Panorama, and Swissotel magazines in Europe; national TV coverage in Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden, and the United States; news/feature accounts by New York City newspapers, magazines, and television/radio stations; two pages in the September 1984 issue of National Geographic, etc.
The Garden's "generalist" aspect may be seen easily in the interrelatedness of the following quotations about environment:
Probably the first manurial technique discovered by the Andeans [of the pre-Spanish Inca Empire of South America's Western Andes] was that arising from the "Law of Return".... Human excrement was early used as manure (p. 222).... In the fertile coastal valleys...no building was ever done upon soil which might bear a crop, houses being confined to such sites as were naked rock" (Hyams, 1976, p. 225).The above philosophical insights form the transcultural foundation of The Garden of Eden, located on Eldridge Street between Stanton and Rivington Streets in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York City. From The Garden's center, a double or exponential Yin-Yang symbol, one can see the World Trade Center, a contrasting symbol of a culture alienated from and parasitic upon its "soil community" (Hyams, 1976).
It was the idea of "radical transformation" (Krishnamurti, 1963, p. 7) that inspired the following "art form description" in the designer-sculptor's "application for certification" made to the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs:
...a dynamic organic sculpture...described partly as a non-linear, minimum-technology, urban agricultural art project designed to demonstrate how abandoned bulldozed lots (in even the most "depressed" ghetto) can be converted into abundantly fruitful and beautiful open-space without necessitating any government or private funding....conceived as ultimately expanding through contiguous area to a "Great Circle" hemispheric sculpture...its aesthetic [to page 121] orientation continues to be as a non-verbal "teaching machine" alternative to the unwise, uncritical, unhealthy, and unchecked exploitation of the Earth's surface, etc.... even though such exploitation risks species extinction (Purple, 1982& 1985).Succintly put, The Garden hopes for speciesurvival through transcendent r(apid)evolution, augmented with future-faith and corporate charity.
If other adencies of the same New York City government can be prevented through enlightenment from obliterating or lethally "boxing-in" The Garden, its next aesthetic phase of applied Taoism/Buddhism can easily, economically, and "prophetably" show how New York City's approximately 50,000 abandoned lots can be converted into underground and/or earth-bermed de-densified housing to serve promptly all dishoused and homeless citizens in their immediate neighborhoods without the current practice of wholesale population displacement and its concomitant rending of the warp and woof of community life.
Such a "marriage of convenience" of egalitarian housing and oxygen-producing landscape would, inevitably, also show the self-perpetuating and self-parodying absurdity of spending $70.000+ per unit to build "low-income" housing! Such institutions as the University of Minnosota's Underground Space Center have researched and built sane and energy-efficient solar/geothermal, etc., shelter; for a decade, virgin topsoil has been created in The Garden of Eden from local "parent material." In the words of architect I.C. Tinus II [Ictinus II, Ha!], "Let's get on with the wedding!"
For graphics, see Figures 1 through
8 of this EDRA-16 (1985) paper via:
R E F E R E N C E S
Green, Norman. The Purple People,
_______, Statement to the New York City
Board of Estimate,
Hyams, Edward. Soil & Civilization,
New York: Harper & Row,
Krishnamurti, J[iddu]. Life Ahead.
Wheaton, IL: Quest Book,
Lipman, Jean, and Franc, Helen M.
Bright Stars, American
Lippard, Lucy. Statement to New York
McPartland, John. Statement to New
York City Board of
National Geographic magazine.
Washington, D.C.: September
Panorama magazine. Haarlem,
The Netherlands: 14 May 1982,
Park, Kyong, & Weiss, Glenn.
Press release from Storefront
Purple, Adam. Application for Certification
to Department of
Rawson, Philip. Erotic Art of
the East, New York: G.P.
Schnitt, Petra. Gruner Traumer in
den Slums (Ecological
Stoney, George. Statement to New
York City Planning
Sunday News, New York: 5 June 1976, p. M24.
Swissotel magazine. Zurich, Switzerland:
Wright, Frank Lloyd. The Future
of Architecture. New York:
Zenger, John Peter, II. Rubble Reclamation,