• Jennifer Jewell

THE FIRST NEXT ROOM: CONSIDERING OUR GARDENS FROM THE INSIDE OUT with ARCHITECT DAVID ABELOW



Today we move out in perspective a little, looking, thinking and talking about how built spaces and landscapes integrate into the world around us - connecting us as people to the places we are – and considering how this next level out perspective can expand our own sense of our gardens. In this conversation, we're joined is by award winning architect David Abelow who asks us look at our gardens from the inside out and shares his exploration of our gardens as the “first next room” out of every door and window. This perspective gets us re-viewing what are our gardens are and can be.

David is an award winning architect at Abelow Sherman Architects in New York. In his long career, David has worked with notable architects including IM Pei and on notable urban designs and historic projects. He’s served as a visiting critic at Columbia University and at the Parsons School of Design.

His life, and work on projects all over the world – including his own back garden landscapes with his wife Lorraine - has given him plenty of fodder for thinking about the built environment and connecting to place thoughtfully.

"the history of architecture and humankind’s underlying psyche is to connect to the outdoors - people always talk about light and view in relation to architecture in their lives, and to that extent I’ve always viewed a window as an opportunity to look out into the outdoors in a fashion that I call the first next room."

Architect David Abelow

In our conversation, David and I explore some of the ways of thinking about and seeing our built and our landscaped environments – including how they connect, how well they connect, and how to address when they don’t connect. David shares some pivotal and formative moments in his work which were foundational for how he, as an architect, considers the outside spaces of his projects – or as he likes to think of them – the first next rooms, waiting to be part of our lives out of every door and window. We also consider life cycles in what we want from our gardens, and how differently (and similarly) David considers urban, suburban, exurban, and rural environments.

Follow David's work online at abelowsherman.com

Thinking out Loud this week...

So here’s what I’m thinking out loud about this week – editing and practicing and editing some more. Getting down to the most essential aspects of what we’re doing and why we’re here.

David talks a lot in our conversation about the skills and benefits of editing. And really - it’s just good advice and homework for us as gardeners and us as people and inhabitants on this generous planet… anything worth mastering takes practice - from faith to growing flowers to saving seed to patience to making dinner.

And editing – editing is almost as hard as committed practice and almost as hard as patience. Because that’s what editing is – it’s practicing patience in action. At least to me.

To edit means we have to have created something in the first place, and to edit means that we reconsider that creation – carefully – and determine what is most essential to its wholeness and purpose - and what is not, what is in fact cluttering it up, diminishing its strength and personality and point.

And telling any part of your garden, your house, your writing, your art that it’s not essential can be SOOOOOO HARD. Removing a living plant that is not working in a space, in a group – or deleting a favorite sentence, or changing a habit of convenience that maybe you’ve had for years and are attached to – these are not easy things to do, but they can and do clear the way for a better view, a better feel, and clearer understanding and path to progress on any front.

Because – as David mentions towards the end of the interview, we do not garden as a form of decoration, we garden as an urge and desire for interaction, which implies relationship.

And when you get a relationship down to its most essential – well – then you know where you stand. And you’re willing to stand up for something this clearly essential. Like all of our gardens.

The first next room - the essential nature of this mindset really shifted my thinking. I guess I consider the interface between house and garden from the outside, because that’s where I like to be. Outside. And that’s where the interface – from my seat – can be so jarringly dissonant – harsh – poorly thought out.

But hearing David talk about the first next room really turned me around and took me to the INSIDE looking out – and like listening to Courtney Allen talk about reading a landscape, or Margaret Roach talk about the view out her window to the driveway, which she then turned into a garden, this perspective has me thinking about the views out of all of my windows and doors.

It has brought more fully to mind a few window views which I don’t love all of AT ALL – for instance one looks into the exterior wall and side door to my neighbor’s garage. BUT – in the far upper left hand corner of this window view from the inside looking out, I can see the sunset daily and the far silhouette of the Coastal Mountain range in the west. It is a small part of the view, but a mighty powerful and uplighting aspect to this view in my suburban house. David’s thinking has got me thinking about how I can plant outside this window to leave just this portion of the view framed…..and to enhance and make the uplift it provides me officially recognized.

Because in thinking about the exterior spaces and viewsheds as part of the first next room in our living areas – we underline the fact that the whole world is our living environment. And if it’s ALL part of home, we treat it differently don’t we? And by that I mean – I hope – that we treasure it more, respect it more, protect it far more.

Here’s to full inclusion and care for the First Next Room outside each of our windows here at home on Planet Earth.

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