Saturday, September 5, 2009

The James Rose Center

On my recent trip to Manhattan, I made a trip out to Ridgewood, New Jersey, to visit the James Rose Center, a fairly new foundation dedicated to the preservation of the home of and work landscape architect James Rose.

Rose was an early pioneer of modern landscape architecture and co-author of a influential series of articles discussing modern landscape design in the 1930's. Rose started out as a student at Harvard along with Garret Eckbo and Dan Kiley, but he wasn't happy working in the traditional Beaux-Art style of the time and was expelled for his radical design experiments.

Rose's house, built in 1953, is in a typical suburban neighborhood; the house is anything but. I imagine some of his neighbors weren't too pleased with the unfamiliar style of the house. The house was divided into separate structures for himself, his sister, and his mother. Instead of a compact little house in the middle of the lot, the parts of this house is deconstructed and separated, pushed out to the property line.

The most interesting thing about the house is the breakdown between inside and outside. In the mural below, you get a sense of Rose's balance between figure and ground, architecture and landscape.

In some places the breakdown is very literal, as in this tree branch penetrating a wall of the house.

The house is structured around several courtyards. The main one directly behind the house has a large pond and fountains,

and the smaller interior courtyard below leads to the roof garden. The arrangement of these transitional spaces make the house feel much larger space than it actually is.

The house has a very do-it-yourself feel. Rose was know for collecting old building supplies to construct his home. On the cover of the house brochure (below) is a photo of Rose with one of his building models. The house very much has the feel of a study model, scaled up to full size. Many parts have a rickety feel; they seem like they would disintegrate in a heavy thunderstorm.

My favorite part of the house was the roof garden, dominated by a kite-like sloping roof.

The top story also contains a Zendo (a Buddhist meditation hall) with sliding panel walls

and a secondary gathering spot reached by small bridge.

The house changed much over the years, from a relatively straightforward rectilinear modernist house, to a more elaborate Asian influenced design. In a strange way it reminded me of The House on the Rock, another mid-century house that started as a simple modern house, but grew in (bizarre) complexity. I think it was due partly to the smell - more on that later.

Rose died in the house in 1991, but you can still feel his presence in rooms furnished with his original belongings, seemingly in wait of an intimate dinner party.

There are also funky old paintings and Rose's old housewares.

It was interesting to find in this famously modern house items like old dishes and stoves, bringing to mind a earlier era.

Also giving the house a very authentic feel is its run-down character and the permeating smell of mold and mildew. Before the James Rose Center was founded the house was nearing collapse from fire and water damage. The house must be a nightmare to maintain with all the intricate details and unusual materials. In the Zendo upstairs the gold wall covering is peeling and bubbling.

Also contributing to the feeling of age are the somewhat gloomy plantings throughout the property. The house is shaded by several lindens and hemlocks, limiting the kinds of plants that can grow in the shade below. An early plan of the house I saw showed a kitchen garden in the front yard. There is no way that would be possible now.


Around the main courtyard are shade-tolerant plants like dwarf spreading yew (above), hosta, rhododendron and pachysandra. Much of the yard was overtaken by ivy - I wonder what plantings were there before..

I'm sure only hard-core architecture buffs would want to make the trip out to the see the Rose house, but id did provide a nice break from the hectic pace of Manhattan. Navigating the trains to Ridgewood was a little tricky for a small town guy like me, but it wasn't a very long trip from city and Ridgewood is a charming little town.

The train station and surrounding downtown area provided a pleasant welcome, and the house was only about a 10 minute walk from the center of town. It will be interesting to visit again in a couple years to see what further improvements will have been made to the house.

4 comments:

Janet said...

A very interesting place indeed. Not sure that during a New York winter it would be very cosy.

how it grows said...

I think you're right about that!

Gail said...

There is something appealing about his design~~I like that he allowed it to evolve and not stay a static Mid-Century museum. gail

lilmisssunshine said...

I am from baltimore and live in a James Rose designed home. It is one featured in his book Modern American Gardens..Marc Snow..No question that Rose was able to capture the relationship between indoor/outdoor living..every room leads to a garden, every garden leads to a room..here is a picasa web album of this James Rose Designed home. http://picasaweb.google.com/karenmorrilldesign/AJamesRoseDesignMidCenturyModernHomeOn9SecludedAcresInGlyndonMaryland#