Nature and Nurture
The landscape is the star of Vladimir Djurovic's architecture
Marisa Bartolucci -- Interior Design, 7/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
A suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, seems an unlikely base for one of the world's most forward-thinking landscape architects. But then again, why not? Before the country's catastrophic civil war, Beirut was considered the Paris of the Middle East. And the city is again becoming the nexus of a progressive elite.
Befitting this cosmopolitan culture, Vladimir Djurovic designs sophisticated landscapes that subvert the enclosed paradises of Islamic tradition. With just a few details—a high wall, a paving stone, a wooden bench—he sketches rooms out of nature. And he uses natural elements, perhaps an artfully placed stand of trees, to soften his long, angular architectural interventions, so they never appear cold or harsh.
When he established Vladimir Djurovic Landscape Architecture in 1995, locals desirous of stylish outdoor retreats quickly embraced his singular brand of sybaritic minimalism. Now his commissions have expanded to encompass public parks and outdoor spaces for boutique hotels and resorts. He's collaborating with Steven Holl Architects on a mixed-use marina in Beirut and with Maki and Associates and Charles Correa Associates on gardens for the Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Centre in Toronto. We caught up with him between airports.
From your name, no one would think you were Lebanese.
My father is Serbian. He visited Beirut 40 years ago on a tourist visa, was seduced by the beauty, and stayed. Later, he fell in love with my Lebanese mother.
How did you become interested in landscape architecture?
My family has a textile showroom, Perspectives, in Beirut—they're agents for companies like Zimmer + Rohde. Everyone we know is involved in interior design. But growing up on Mount Lebanon also gave me a great love of nature. Instead of interiors, I chose to design landscapes.
Has Lebanese topography shaped your design language?
Definitely. The climate is Mediterranean, so you can live outdoors nine months of the year. Outdoor spaces are as important as houses.
Have you been influenced by other landscape architects?
Not as much as by nature. I've spent time studying things like why pine and cypress trees look so good together—it's because they're both indigenous to the region. And I try to mirror how everything flows together in nature, mostly in the way I arrange textures and materials.
Can you give an example?
At a weekend house on Mount Lebanon for the fashion designer Elie Saab, I created a series of outdoor spaces that serve as a meditative retreat for him and can also accommodate large groups of people when he's hosting PR events. The plot of land, including the house, is about 19,000 square feet; it feels even larger because of the way the spaces flow into each other.
For instance, on the upper terrace, I employed the same stone as the flooring in the house. Outside, though, the pavers are separated by grooves of grass. The lower terrace, meanwhile, surrounds a swimming pool with an infinity border—the pool acts as a kind of water mirror. When guests are seated in the two recessed areas next to the pool, they're eye-level with the water and the mountain range in the distance. It's as if the whole view is for them.
Besides nature, what inspires your work?
All fields of design. But especially architecture. I admire the craftsmanship of Peter Zumthor and buildings by Eduardo Souto de Moura, which are beautifully integrated into the landscape. Both men deal in almost timeless forms, which is important to me as well.
Which foreign lands do you find emotionally moving?
I've traveled from Australia to Iceland, and I'm constantly excited by different landscapes. Presently I'm working on a retreat for a family outside New Delhi and a mountain resort in Thailand. Both areas are so culturally rich that they inspire me to create new forms.
When I take on these projects, I actually don't study the area's traditions of garden design. Instead, I consider the plants, the land, and the seasons. For the Aga Khan property, I had to figure out how to make a garden with a water feature that would look good when the ground was covered with snow. I try to absorb the spirit of a place wherever I go, so I can interpret it in a new way. My design language evolves constantly.
Is it true you're designing a line of outdoor accessories?
When we can't find outdoor furnishings we like, which is often, we design them ourselves. A line of products should be out by next year—hanging candleholders, birdhouses, wind chimes.
Biljana Granic - 2008-04-23 20:28:00 EDT
Breathtaking designs! We need your touch in Serbia to complement its beauty as well!
Живео на многаја љета! Христос Воскресе! Soon!
Живео на многаја љета! Христос Воскресе! Soon!