With a body of work spanning sculpture, dance, furniture, lightning, and landscapes, Isamu Noguchi is one of the most revered figures in the 20th-century canon. Buckminster Fuller once called described him as "a scientist-artist…one of the rare question-askers and responders" and others have said he's a traditional sculptor who makes contemporary images that relate to history. Historian Martin Friedman notes that "his large-scale architectural conceptions have more in common with the awesome structures of Mesoamerica, Borobudur, and Angkor Wat than current forms." Here, we take a look at four of his public spaces, which feature abstracted forms, monolithic elements, organic influences, and visual references to history.
UNESCO Garden, Paris, France
Noguchi described the spirit of the garden he designed for UNESCO as coming from Japan but the composition of granite, concrete, and wood distinctly his own. The 1958 commission marked his first large-scale public garden design.
Philip A. Hart Plaza and Horace E. Dodge and Son Memorial Fountain, Detroit, Michigan
Located on the banks of the Windsor River, the Philip A. Hart Plaza was designed by architecture firm Smith, Hinchman & Grylls with the help of Isamu Noguchi.
Heralded as a cultural landmark when completed in 1979, the plaza features a sculptural fountain designed by Noguchi. For more on the plaza, Docomomo offers a good history.
The California Scenario, Costa Mesa, California
Noguchi's abstract composition completed in 1982 features elements representing the Golden State's diverse ecosystems: mountains, redwoods, rivers, deserts, and meadows. The 1.6-acre sculpture garden open to the public and visiting information is located here.
Bayfront Park, Miami, Florida
When the city of Miami commissioned Noguchi to redesign Bayfront Park in downtown Miami, Florida, the area was underutilized. "The idea was that it would be a park for people—not an escape from the city, but a place to go to, a place for congregation," Noguchi said about the design. It features a 20,000-seat amphitheater, rock gardens, ample vegetation, and an esplanade.
A 400-foot-long, 60-foot-wide promenade culminating in a fountain offers pedestrian access from busy Biscayne Boulevard to the waterfront.
Sunken Garden, Chase Manhattan Bank Plaza, New York, New York
Completed in 1964, the subterranean brick-lined water garden features boulders Noguchi collected from Kyoto's Uji River.