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Vine Rail Fence
Three adjoining terraces (dining, swimming and viewing) are perched atop the edge of a magnificent bluff overlooking the Ohio River. At the edge of the viewing terrace a stylized but lifelike wrought iron sculpture called the "Vine Rail Fence" pays homage to and initiates a dialogue with the landscape beyond the terraces.
When JP Shadley began the project, the site was extraordinary but the forest at the edge of the property was so dense that it blocked most of the view. The first task completed was to engage and collaborate with an urban forester to clear the overgrown grape vines and non-native vegetation from the forest and open views to the middle and distant landscapes. This immediately relieved the claustrophobic feeling of the property and reclaimed lost views to the River. It also recaptured convection currents that move up the slope each afternoon to provide welcome relief during Louisville's sweltering summers.
Next, he redesigned and led the team which completely rebuilt existing dining and pool terraces, and proposed the third terrace, a narrow, recessed seating niche at the edge of the pool terrace. The niche's rectangular shape minimized impacts to the forested slope, particularly the robust American Elm which frames the central view, while reinforcing the primary scale of the pool terrace within the formal order of the overall garden. Because of its height above the slope, the niche became a comfortable version of sitting in the tree canopy. It provides a place of complete immersion in the natural landscape only steps from the house.
After the concept of the niche was confirmed by the clients, the focus turned to designing a new fence to complete the project. As design discussion progressed, the clients' enthusiasms and ambitions expanded. They requested that the fence become the centerpiece of their extensive collection of metal sculpture. The design had to be unique, yet not incongruous with the traditional architecture of the residence and gardens. It had to be timeless, but definitely not "stodgy". It was also important that it was not too opaque, so as not to compete with the view to the greater landscape beyond the terraces.
A design was proposed which was unique and timeless. It recalls horticulturally inspired ironwork found throughout the world, yet does so without the encumbrance of heavy castings or static symmetry which can be found on many traditional wrought iron pieces. The clients enthusiastically accepted the concept of a "Vine Rail Fence".
The project team included a surveyor and geotechnical and structural engineers, the forester and landscape contractor, a pool contractor, architectural precaster and a mason, and the fence artist. For the Vine Rail Fence, there was a full project scope, from generating the initial concepts to providing full scale construction documents depicting every leaf, seed, vine and bird on the sculpture. After completing the construction documents, JP Shadley interviewed three "blacksmith/artisans" and selected the gifted artist who ultimately brought the fence to life.
The completed Vine Rail Fence is 78' long and 42" tall. It was entirely hand wrought of mild steel, except for the top railing and sculptured birds, which are bronze. The artist collaborated well with the landscape architect during six full months of fabrication. Through the many progress reviews in the forge/studio, JP Shadley continually worked with the artist Craig Kaviar at Kaviar Forge in Louisville and, step by step, approved the entire piece, including the leaves, tendrils, handrails, espalier rope, birds, and all of the finishes. Over the course of the fabrication, fewer than six leaves were changed from the original drawings.
Although lifelike, the vine is clearly a man-made object, intentionally designed and crafted to work at multiple levels. With its fluid and choreographed movement, it is clearly too stylized to be a real vine. Yet the vine is lifelike enough to convey the horticultural character of a lovingly cultivated real vine. It was conceived of and wrought as though in the early summer, when the leaves are fully-grown yet still fresh, before the summer sun hardens them off. It is an artificial yet sincere tribute to nature, occupying a place that lies between the love of man for nature and real nature itself.
Weather and seasonal conditions such as rain and frost provide constantly changing variations to the colors and textures of the surfaces. As the light moves from the east (house - side) in the morning to the west (slope - side) in the afternoon, the colors of the fence change dramatically and shadow patterns evolve. The forest beyond the fence provides another continually transforming juxtaposition. In winter the fence is clearly a sculpture, separate from nature and a reminder of spring to come. In summer silhouettes of the fence stems can become one with the trunks of trees and from a distance the fence can be lost among the forest leaves.Part of the project's success is its tactile appeal. Those who are drawn out of the house, compelled by the edge of the bluff, are rewarded for the journey. They find the height of the rail is perfect for leaning. The cap is formed to gently accept a hand, and the leaves are curled over to accept a touch, with the tips never too pointed or sharp. The fence encourages one to linger, and it leaves a memory of how pleasant it felt in the hand.
The significance of the perch is in its utility and beauty. Within this garden, it provides safety at a precipitous edge and also frames an essential space within which to sustain and renew the soul. It also provides an example of the continuing inspiration of nature to built works of landscape architecture.
JP Shadley completed this project while at CRJA. The project received design awards from the Boston Society of Landscape Architects and the Kentucky Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.