Reading The Land

This article was first published in The Jerusalem Report.

Karoo Wilderness Center, Karoo, South Africa. (Courtesy of Field Architecture)

Karoo Wilderness Center, Karoo, South Africa. (Courtesy of Field Architecture)

Stan Field looks back on his long career in architecture and sees a single line extending from one end of the world to another. This line has followed the natu ral landscapes of three countries on three different continents, all of which played home to Field at one point in his life. It has traversed his native South Africa’s vast wilderness, Israel’s ancient wadis and terraced hills, and, in the last two decades, Northern California’s lush vineyards and giant Redwood forests.

All architects know how to read blueprints and plans, but Field has a unique ability to read the land. The natural terrain, the “groundscape” as he calls it, inspires his designs. Field doesn’t impose buildings on a piece of land. Instead, he spends a long time getting to know the land, and he allows it to inform him what kind of structure belongs there.

“I design architecture that belongs to the place and the time,” he says. “We’re dealing with a holistic approach. Sustainability is at the heart of it. Everything is connected… Climate and comfort, energy, water, air, wind and geology — all of these things are the forces that shape architecture and environment. I’m really talking environments rather than specific buildings or structures.”

Father and son team: Jess and Stan Field (Courtesy of Field Architecture)

Father and son team: Jess and Stan Field (Courtesy of Field Architecture)

Field always takes the same approach, no matter what the scale or location. It could be a private home on the African veld, an urban planning scheme to unite East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem following the Six Day War, or a community center in a poor South African township. It could also be a posh winery north of San Francisco, an automobile factory in Hawaii, or a new synagogue building he is currently designing for a Conservative congregation situated just three miles from his office in Palo Alto, in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley.

On a sunny August morning, Field hosts The Jerusalem Report in his office on the mezzanine floor of a building that also houses the cheerfully decorated headquarters of a children’s book publishing company. He flips through the pages of personal sketchbooks and architecture books with his designs dating back to the early 1980s, when he was chief architect of Jerusalem. Many of the images depict the surrounding terrain, and, amazingly, the structures in them do appear as though they have been almost pulled out of the ground.

It is clear from Field’s passionate manner that he has no intention of slowing down. However, at age 69, he seems to be pausing to take stock of what he has accomplished. His retrospection might have something to do with his selection as the 2012 Sophia Gray Laureate, an annual honor bestowed in recognition of a South African architect’s contributions to society.

“It’s the South African version of the Pritzker,” says Field, referring to the annual Pritzker Architecture Prize, considered the Nobel Prize of architecture.

It might also be related to the fact that several years ago, he took on a full partner for the first time ever. That partner is his 37-year-old son, Jess, who, with his cutting edge technical and digital skills, is positioning Field Architecture for the future, while keeping it firmly rooted in his father’s unique vision.

The rest of this article appears in the October 21, 2013 issue of The Jerusalem Report magazine. There is no online version available at this time. A pdf copy is available upon request.

© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

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