On Thursday Nov 4th, Fritz Haeg enlightened us with a wonderful and refreshing lecture at Palazzo Lazzaroni. Mr. Haeg has recently been awarded a fellowship at the American Academy in Rome. And although he carries the label of an architect, he operates very much as a gardener.
He currently lives in a Geodesic Dome in the hills of Los Angeles, which he remodeled and now uses as a living and a social gathering space. He did not start his career as a traditional architect. He started his career as an event organizer, a teacher, and a gardener. He became involved in “not serious” activities, as a means of reclaiming the ‘public.’
Unlike a traditional architect, he is less interested in buildings and more interested in living systems. He prefers to organize people, rather than things.
He prefaced his Edible Estates project by telling us a quick anecdote about the historical significance of the term ‘nature.’ Before the colonization of the Americas, the natives did not have a word in their vocabulary to describe nature. They did not need a term to distinguish one thing from the other: nature from non nature: nature from town or village.
Whereas, the English had a word to describe nature, and they, therefore, isolated nature from an urban or inhabited landscape. With the notion of ‘nature,’ came a distinction between the pleasure garden and the production garden.
We have inherited this term ‘nature’ and today, the gap between an invisible global industrial agriculture, and the purely ornamental mono-cultural landscape, is greater than ever before. Fritz Haeg’s work responds to this dual “nature”: striving to create cities that function as if the word for nature did not exist. The suburban lawn presents his first object of attack. He calls this space an “insidious and sick” place. His first project “Edible Estates” attacks this purely visual and passive space.
His working method is impossibly modest, and his projects intentionally stray away from the monumental. In Edible Estates, he worked as a kind of a gardener/design advisor to families who owned a suburban lawn. He first pitched his idea to different housing communities. The idea was simply to transform the lawn into a garden. He started to work with those families who were interested and willing to participate in such a venture. He simply visited the families for a few days, and helped them to transform their lawn into an edible garden. He states again and again that he does not intend to create monumental architecture, but to create (or trigger) little scrappy, homemade projects that produce a viral effect. With each intervention, the trimmed (preferably front) lawn is converted into a wild looking ‘edible garden.’ The tame suburban “lawnscape” is redefined and the neighbors become an audience to this transformation. The lawn, a previously anti-social buffer zone, becomes an edible garden: an intensely social and active space. The neighbors, for once, can see other neighbors in their front garden. And the gardening neighbors can see where their food is coming from.
Thanks Fritz, for creating beautiful edible landscapes, and please keep on gardening!
(Fritz Haeg is currently working on a rooftop garden at the American Academy and he is seeking volunteers to take care of one of his projects in New York City: the Lenape Edible Estate)