The Fussy Eye: Flow of History

A Bauhaus student in Kent.

Herbert Bayer survived the Austro-Hungarian Empire, studied at the Bauhaus, art-directed Vogue in Weimar Germany, and was included in the Nazis' notorious 1937 "Degenerate Art" exhibit before fleeing to the U.S. And today part of his legacy resides in Kent. Yes, Kent, which during a late-'70s progressive push also sponsored Robert Morris' Untitled/Johnson Pit #30 earthworks. One of Bayer's last endeavors (he died in 1985) was designing the 1982 Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks, a stormwater containment project sited in a ravine just east of downtown Kent. The environmental purpose is less unlikely than it may seem for the highly cultured Austrian, who also designed typefaces, ARCO's corporate branding, and the headquarters of the Aspen Institute. Living in Colorado (and later Montecito, Calif.), he became keenly interested in ecology. And his Bauhaus training meant that form was often reduced to function. There is a beauty in utility. Historical frills and filigree are wasteful and cluttered. Nature creates its own streamlined architecture. Thus, following the gentle ravine, parallel to the flood-prone creek, Bayer's walkway bisects one raised earthen ring. Unseen until after you walk beneath a trestle are two smaller, nested rings that form a duck pond when flooded. The whole grassy structure—somewhat overgrown and scheduled for restoration—lies below grade, designed to absorb a 100-year flood if necessary. Raised mounds echo the adjacent rings, but you can only get a sense of the contours by walking through them—following the meandering path of the water from one eddy to the next. 

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