Animal Instincts


One of Ai Wei Wei’s owl houses.
Monique Deschaines

Architects haven’t always been welcome on the sacrosanct grounds of the Presidio (See: Richard Gluckman), but even if grand glass cubes aren’t allowed, some very contemporary work has been able to infiltrate the former army base—at least temporarily—in the form of an art exhibit called Presidio Habitats, currently showing in the Fort Scott area.

OpA’s shipping container visitors center. (Click to zoom)
Courtesy OPA

A group of 25 artists, designers, and architects were invited to design a “habitat” for one of the animals living on the Presidio. The most high profile name is artist-of-the-moment Ai Weiwei, who is also an architect. The Chinese artist created a series of classic porcelain vessels for the Western screech owl. But there is also a buckyball perched on a tepee by LA architects Taalman Koch; a stacked-cedar pyramid by Danish firm CEBRA; and an artistic rendering of a dead tree by Fritz Haeg. All the proposals that weren’t built are displayed in the visitors’ center by Ogrydziak Prillinger Architects, who created a three-legged triskelion, a departure from shipping-container genre architecture.

One of the more creative interpretations is Jensen Architects’ poetic tribute to the great blue heron: ten yellow chairs placed around the Fort Scott meadow, from which visitors are invited to contemplate the landscape (and with luck, see a blue heron). “We didn’t literally provide a home for the blue heron, but we’re protecting the habitat by asking people to slow down and respect it,” Mark Jensen said.

Two of Jensen’s ten yellow chairs. (Click to zoom)
Monique Deschaines

The exhibit was arranged by the FOR-SITE Foundation, whose tagline is “art about place.” The group was founded in 2003 by Cheryl Haines, the owner of San Francisco’s Haines Gallery. “Nothing like this has ever happened in a national park—there was no blueprint,” said Hal Fischer, FOR-SITE’s director of special projects. The exhibit is the organization’s second partnership with the Presidio; in 2008, sculptor Andy Goldsworthy, whom the gallery represents, created a 90-foot spire out of salvaged cypress trees that overlooks the park’s Inspiration Point. The habitats will be in place through May, 2011.

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