An Artist’s Hand

The Abstract Art of Architect Larry Berlin

> Story by Meg Daly
> Photography by Jim Fairchild, fairchild-creative.com

No matter how high-tech architectural design becomes, Larry Berlin stays committed to sketching by hand. As an abstract artist as well as an esteemed architect, Berlin says the process is similar for both. “Drawing keeps you in touch with the comprehensive feeling of a design,” he says. The following pairings of Berlin’s drawings and his architecture reveal how his modern visions originate within the timeless practice of making marks on paper.

PLACE

When considering place, Berlin factors in the elements of the building site as well as the mountains and valleys of Jackson as a whole. “The environment here in Jackson is so strong and bold,” he says. “The architecture in the environment has to be part of that place.” Here, Berlin’s abstract landscape drawing showcases dynamic colors, shapes, and shadows. Similarly, the architecture of this Jackson home confidently reaches skyward and stretches to meet the grassy field. The assertive lines and forms of the architecture complement the breathtaking beauty of the surroundings.

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COLOR

“Jackson architecture needs warmth and rusticity, even if it’s modern architecture,” Berlin notes. To create that warmth, he utilizes natural colors that are native but not always dominant in Jackson. The gold, crimson, and umber of autumn play off one another in this abstract drawing. Similarly, the rich pumpkin color of these affordable housing units welcomes inhabitants. In the winter, a warm hue like this doubles its impact as a signifier of “home.” In the fall, the apartments blend into nearby cottonwoods, willows, and aspen trees, enhancing a sense of living in the natural environment.

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FORM

“When creating an interior, I think about how people experience the rhythm of the forms.” This interior features a sequence of views that open up as a person moves through the room. Elements of form, such as the varied ceiling angles, inform the overall experience of space. Berlin stresses the interrelation of positives and negatives. The positives of structure–walls, ceilings, windows–frame the negatives of open glazing that allow the majestic views in. “You have that sense of protection but you’re still open to the environment,” he says. In his drawing, Berlin started with architectural shapes and distilled their essence through abstraction.

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LIGHT

In this drawing, Berlin muses again on light and negative space. The strong focal point–the concentration of line and darker green on the left–offsets the light coming in from above. He notes that we are often gazing up in Jackson Hole, taking in the mountains and the vast sky. Thus an open, vaulted living and dining area becomes a light-filled pavilion. The space’s natural light on three sides creates transparency, inviting the outside inside. “How we bring light into a space not only defines the form, but it also defines the space on the inside.”

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LINE

“All of our forms are connected with lines,” Berlin notes. “A lot of what I do in my abstract drawings is like viewing blocks of space from an aerial perspective. Spaces that are connected with a road or a fence get abstracted in my mind so that the lines are defining space and also connecting different elements.” With the house featured here, Berlin used lines to define the series of rooflines. The approach to the house is also defined by line. By staying connected to drawing and sketching, the artist remains intimately engaged in the most basic elements of his architecture.

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