On Design: Topher Delaney

On Design: Topher Delaney

February 23, 2005

Q: Who is your favorite artist?
A: Leonardo da Vinci.

Q: What client request do you most dread?
A: All requests are interesting; you need to understand the person, the need and the underlying reasoning.

Q: Who or what prompted you to go into landscape design?
A: Several roots formed? shoots which branched forth to form a definite shadow in the landscape. Upon reflection or dissection, these roots stemmed from the following:

  • A desire to work in collaboration with others. The gardens I create or discover with private clients are similar to a short story or, in some instances, a tabloid novel. It's always a great read?physical literature I want to reread on a constant basis. Public clients, in some senses, are similar to private clients in that there is a narrative which reveals the personality of a community. My challenge is to illuminate the philosophy which guides this complex set of values and to develop, in the form of beautiful gardens and environments, complex integrations which may be interpreted through multiple metaphors.  
  • An interest in creating installations which are both affected by and affecting the terrain extant. I am particularly interested in both the personal interpretation and the personal narrative expressed through the manipulation of land. Gardens have always been particularly interesting to me because they entail interpretation, renunciation, reformation, faith in the future and a significant amount of technical knowledge. The science of the investigation involves knowing soil typologies, drainage, plant typologies and cultural biases which define the currency of taste. For example, who is influenced by traditional Arab gardens? Who is influenced by historical English gardens? Of particular interest is why one currency has more value than the other; this bias is defined by the embedding of our cultural identity into the text of our physical surroundings. I will likely continue to focus on the physical environment because it is unremitting in its constant contraction and expansion through the continuum of time?the seasonal cycles of this particular planet in this particular orbit in this particular solar system.  
  • Creating gardens with others helps me make daily maps of a physical world which, quite frankly, I seem to have less knowledge of as time expands.  
  • I enjoy the social aspects of consideration, and I enjoy the generosity of those with whom I work. I enjoy the fact that each day is the practice of attention to the literal and figurative breath of creation.

Q: How important are treads to your work?
A: Not important.

Q: Lawns — for or against?

A: It depends on the context and the climate.

Q: Name one plant that you think should be more widely used.
A: The integration of medicinal plants within the traditional "garden" format.

Q: Where do you go to watch people?
A: Morocco and train stations.

Q: Which architect, living or dead, would you most like to work with?
A: I would have liked to work with Julia Morgan.

Q: Which contemporary designer, in any field, do you find most interesting?
A: Peter Latz and Anne Fougeron.

Q: What is your favorite movie-for the scenery?
A: Woman in the Dunes and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

About Topher Delaney:

Topher Delaney's 30-year career as an environmental artist has encompassed a wide breadth of projects that focus on the exploration of cultural interpretations of landscape architecture, site installation and public art.  Her practice, SEAM Studio, has evolved from a traditional landscape architectural practice to an atelier, which serves as a venue for the investigation of cultural, social and artistic narratives "seamed" together to form dynamic physical installations. Sites range in scale from intimate to expansive, from private residences and sanctuary gardens for medical facilities to corporate rooftop gardens and large-scale public art installations. Current works in progress include: 

  • Funding, design and installation of the Isaac Espinoza Memorial garden, a tribute to the San Francisco policeman who was shot last April. This garden is located at Espinoza's precinct.
  • A "nave of light" installation at the University of San Francisco entrance plaza.
  • A master plan for Embarcadero Cove in Oakland, California-350 units focusing on the development of sustainable infrastructures comprised of decomposed granite and permeable concrete paving.
  • A garden for a modernist Lake Michigan residence.
  • A book on the bridges of New York.

Rather than subscribe to typological categorization, Delaney's projects emphasize the integration of physical form with a narrative that references the currency of a site's unique historical, cultural, physical and environmental profiles. The text of the terrain is evidenced in the structure of these narratives, crafted by technical skill and quality of materials to create a site that the general public will read and interpret.
Delaney received her Bachelor of Arts in landscape architecture from the University of California at Berkeley after studying philosophy and cultural anthropology at Barnard College. She has been widely published and recently authored Ten Landscapes: Topher Delaney (Rockport Press, June 2001). Delaney has received numerous awards and honors for her achievements in the realms of both landscape design and public art. The work of SEAM Studio has been exhibited internationally and can be viewed at the San Jose Art Museum from February 2005 to April 2005. See tdelaney.com for updated information.