JAMES ROSE BENCH
(2013)
This project reimagines a nearly lost piece of furniture design by groundbreaking modernist landscape architect James C. Rose. By drawing together threads of historical and material research, combined with innovations in fabrication, an extraordinary design was recovered and transformed, culminating in a production-ready bench. This process establishes a model for the creative preservation and active interpretation of landscape history—one that revives and gives new application to historic design, returning it to the garden.

In this study, an innovative set of seats and benches designed by Rose was chosen as a vehicle for investigating how historical reinvention might become a tool for applied landscape architectural practice. Equally useful indoors and out, this suite of furniture exemplified Rose’s unique perspective on blurring the distinctions between interior and exterior spaces. Rose used the design in several of his 1940s and 1950s projects, and the furnishings evolved through several iterations over many years. By the time of Rose’s death in 1991, rusted metal frames and a few rotten wood slats were all that remained of the furnishings. By 2013 there existed a range of artifacts and documents from the benches’ various incarnations, including archival photos, a rusted frame, and several early-1990s reconstructions. These artifacts became the foundation of this project’s attempt to fabricate a new interpretation of Rose’s design.

The team studied and measured these physical artifacts to develop a basic sketch of the original bench design. This sketch was then expanded to reflect an understanding of modern production, forming the basis of a model for adapting the design to contemporary fabrication. Although the bench was originally a handmade object that evolved over a period of years, new techniques and materials allowed it to become a production-ready design. The project team also took advantage of recent research on the use of black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) as a sustainable and local alternative to tropical hardwoods. Black locust’s high durability and ethical sourcing make it an attractive modern alternative to the historic use of tropical hardwoods. These modifications to material and fabrication resulted in a furnishing that preserves the form of Rose’s original while enabling a new scale of production, meaning an innovative historic design can now be manufactured at a level of efficiency and consistency that was impossible earlier.

Through the synthesis of historical and material research, this project proposes a method for reanimating historic design works that moves beyond preservation, restoration, and reproduction. The examination of historic artifacts is therefore not the strict domain of preservationists, but also fertile ground for practicing designers.

The James Rose Bench won a 2014 ASLA Research Award.
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