Pennsylvania State University (Arthur)



Sep '04 - Nov '04

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    The man who lived in a sand castle

    By bande_a_part
    Sep 20, '04 12:50 AM EST

    Studio is finally being split up and assigned to different professors. And I'm pretty happy about being in professor Barbara Voight's section.Having gone through a presentation last wednesday, Barbara seems pretty helpful and nice. Looking forward to see how it goes...

    Our project this semester would be to design an education center and its surrounding landscape for the Penn State Arboretum. The Arboretum is not built yet, but plans are being finalized. The site is pretty much a gigantic piece of flat land on the north side of campus. This is a project that is strongly related to the site itself. I'm researching a bit on the Eden project and underground architecture...I don't really want to get into talking about my project yet, 'cause there's something more fun to talk about...FIELD TRIP!

    The field trip to University of Pennsylvania's Morris Arboretum and the Henry Mercer house last friday was quite a blast. At 5:30am I braved the dark and rainy streets, lunch box in hand, and along with 50 some other studio kids and three professors, got onto the tour bus and drove for three and a half hours to the Morris Arboretum at Germantown, Pennsylvania, which is about an hour from downtown Philadelphia. Bus trip was smooth, and we really behaved well this time. Stepping into the arboretum with aching necks from bus nap, we explored the landscapes of the Arboretum, which is quite wonderful. There was a rose and herbal garden, swan pond, miniature train garden...and of course, the most important thing that the arboretum strife to preserve - trees. All kinds of trees grow profusely in the arboretum, and the ancient ones are really impressive. The arboretum is quite easy to navigate, provided that there are two main tracks, and all the points of interest are arranged along them.

    At 12:30pm we left. After another hour of bad quality bus nap and ocassional chit chat around we arrived at Fonthill (in Doylestown, Pennsylvania), a house designed and build by Henry Mercer in between 1908-1912. At first I was not aware of what I was about to experience. The house has a rough concrete exterior. At times it reminds me a bit of Gaudi's chimneys. But once inside, I was in awe of such a spectacular gem. Irregular, cave like rooms are heavily decorated, most encrusted with tiles that Henry Mercer designed or collected from China, Persia, etc. Or the walls are covered with his collection of prints. In a nutshell, the house was build by moulding mounts of sands, then concrete was poured on top of it. Afterwards the sand was removed, while the space filled with sand before becomes a room. It was a castle formed out of sand. And it was only build with seven people, a horse, and about $3000 dollars. In one room there was a protruding hand print on the ceiling (someone probably fell on the sand), in another, Chinese roof tiles from Qing dynasty. Used to seeing roof tiles on exterior of temples in Hong Kong, I was thrilled to see it as interior decoration. The rooms are inter-connected by narrow spaces; as I travel through the house I felt as if I'm in a never-ending space. Everything in the house was left untouched since Henry Mercer's death, creating a unique, time-warped space that is full of the wonders of yesterday's events. The house itself is a story - just like the tiles on the walls that illustrates the tales of Columbus, Native Americans and times past away.

    I felt like I've seen the world in the eyes of Henry Mercer. In the house I thought of the times of Kate Chopin, F. Scott Fitzgerald and steam machines - and a genius who lived his life alone in this sand castle. Before I left, I saw a picture of Henry Mercer on the wall. Looking at his quite handsome face I felt like I've just finished a trip into his psyche, much alike the emotions that a Adolf Wofli drawing can evoke. I've been to Versailles, palaces clad in gold - and it would not have been as enchanting.

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