Doors of Abu Dhabi
The doors of Abu Dhabi connect the small mountain studio in Southern California all the way across oceans, cultures, worlds, to a United Arab Emirates sheik palace. This connection came about by the architect Victor Bisharat picking up a book in 1984, and being inspired by the work within, was moved to seek out and commission the artist to construct the 18 interior and exterior doors of his palace design.
To find the artist, Victor had to go to the Triton restaurant featured in the book and ask the staff who had done the artwork. Only then did Victor discover the mountain studio and artist.
Bisharat wanted the doors to be like Arabic coffee, rich and lavish. He also suggesting not trying to incorporate religion into the doors, because it would be too much and too complicated. To understand better the distant world these doors would serve, poetry was read. Knowledge of the rich Eastern culture and history was amassed through verse. This knowledge was then incorporated into the design of the doors. Legends and traditions pertaining to the space and function beyond the door was considered and incorporated to try and establish a universal understanding and appreciation of beauty. Nature and animals were a common theme in the poetry and culture, and served well in forming this universal connection.
To design the doors took six months, to construct them another six. Over a dozen craftsmen converged on the studio, combining their knowledge of wood, glass, and metal to bring these physical and spiritual connections to life. The result is a collection of pieces that work to transcend the distinctions of distance and background, and work instead to connect us through beauty.
The Sea Ranch Chapel
The Sea Ranch Chapel came about (as these things often do) through friends of a friend coming into contact with the artist at the perfect time. It was in this manner that Robert and Betty Buffum commissioned the design of a non-denominational chapel and worship space for their home of Sea Ranch, California.
The artist’s designs always seek inspiration from the local area and surrounding nature, and so it was on a visit to the location that the design of the chapel began to take shape. The artist was staying with Pat and Lyle Ditzler, friends of the Buffum’s and Sea Ranch residents themselves. The artist slept in the room of their recently deceased son Kirk Ditzler. In addition to being a naval aviator Kirk was an artist, and his drawings scattered throughout the room of seashells and bird’s wings came to inspire the idea of flight in the chapel. Further influences arose from the site and soon a model was built. This model ceramic and teak model came to serve as the main guide for construction more than any traditional blueprints.
The chapel is built with a base of local stones, branching out into flower beds which helps blend the structure into the hill. What proved to be most challenging was constructing the curvilinear lines of the roof. Fortunately one of the carpenters had been trained in boat building, and so through a series of trial and error, the roof frame was bent, pushed, and coerced into a semblance of the model line. The next step was to apply the cedar shingles over a waterproof membrane. Because of the irregularly shaped roof, the traditional straight rows of overlapping wood soon evolved into a series of undulating whorls and eddies, like waves in the ocean or the surround canopy of pines caught in a wind.
The interior is composed of redwood strips and high plaster ceilings. The benches and shelves were carved by Bruce Johnson, the elements seeming to grow from the ground itself. The tall stain glass window that cuts a swath through the chapel roof was donated by the Ditzlers, and the grand double doors are products of the Hubbell studio and embody that traditional aesthetic. Also from the studio are the wrought iron prayer screen and chandelier.
It is through the combination of all these craftsmen, all these moments and connections that one of the artist’s greatest structures came to life. The space now functions as a place of worship and meditation for the community. Sometimes small ceremonies or weddings are held there. It is a space of beauty and wonder in its meaning, its design, and its construction. The artist firmly believes that each moment of a building’s life, from conception to construction to use, should be considered equally important and rewarding. Creation of a structure is a process, just as life is. The Sea Ranch Chapel is a worthy embodiment of this philosophy, and perhaps even something to reflect on within its walls.
“I hope it will help the children to understand that it is a wonderful thing to be alive and to be human and to care.” – James Hubbell
The Tijuana school is an ongoing project that perhaps best exemplifies the artist’s commitment to beauty, community, and nature. The work began with Christine Brady-Kosko, founder of The America’s Foundation, which funds the school. As time and supplies allows, the school continues to grow and benefit both the community, and the volunteers who get to work under the guidance of the artist. The school currently services around 300 students, pre-k through sixth grade, in the Colonia Esperanza area.
The Colonia is hardly more than a shanty town outside Tijuana. Though its inhabitants number over 2,000, there are no public utilities available for the poor families who reside there. No running water, no electricity, and no childcare. Often the children are left alone to wander the streets while their parents seek work. It was after seeing this level of destitution and hardship, that Christine Brady-Kosko was inspired to form The America’s foundation and begin construction of a school in the area. For this she sought the help of the artist in an attempt to bring some beauty and inspiration to the children’s lives.
The first building designed was dubbed Jardin de Ninos La Esperanza which translates to The Children’s Garden of Hope and began in 1987. Within its heavily mosaicked walls are three classrooms, a health clinic, and a courtyard complete with fountain. Children pre-K through first grade attend the school. As per the artist’s usual construction method, parents and other volunteers erected the flowing structure themselves. They are invested in the building not only as a vision of hope for their children’s future and education, but as a point of pride for themselves and their community. Architecture by the soul, and for the soul.
In 1990, a second school was begun, known simply as The Colegio Esperanza (The School of Hope). Its three classrooms, computer lab, office, dance studio, and courtyard rest atop a hill overlooking Tijuana and San Diego. Students second through sixth grade not only receive an education here, but are able to learn ballet, put on shows, and revel in the mosaic art that adorns the walls of the building. Additionally there is a garden being developed that will provide food, as well as an ecological education for parents and children.
Nature and beauty are at the heart of each design, and the Tijuana schools are no exception. What makes this noteworthy compared to the countless other works designed by the artist, is that it so perfectly captures the philosophy of the work. That we live in a beautiful world, and are lucky to be able to explore, and grow, and enjoy it; that each us are worthy of such beauty, and love; and mostly importantly, that we accomplish so much more as community than we can alone.
Pacific Rim Parks
“We have been given a special gift, to live beside the magnificent Pacific Ocean, to be citizens of not only one city, but of an emerging Pacific Rim community.” – James Hubbell
The Pacific Rim Parks began as the cold war was ending. In an effort to heal the divides in the Pacific Rim community, the port cities of San Diego and Vladivostok, Russia became sister cities in 1991, resulting in a number of festivities that put the artist in contact with Gennady Turmov, president of Far Eastern State Technical University, which overlooks the Russian port city. Both desired a concrete representation of their homes’ newly formed friendship. A few years earlier the artist had designed and built a park in Mexico with Milenko Matanovic (the current president of the organization). It was such fun that it was decided to repeat the experience in Russia.
Despite all the challenges and difficulties that arose, the students involved each left with new memories and experiences that would last a life time. With such positive results in creating a new, more international community for the next generation, a foundation was established in order to repeat the process in other Pacific Rim countries, and celebrate the natural beauty that is shared by such vastly different cultures.
In 1994, students from Russia, Mexico, and the US spent three weeks designing and building a park that would overlook the Vladivostok Port. Materials and equipment were in short supply, language was a constant barrier and many of the architecture students had never had construction experience. The work ultimately culminated in the creation of a friendship gate, a flowing stone amphitheater, and the first mosaic pearl to begin the string that will eventually surround the shores of all the countries on the Pacific coast. The park was called Soil and Earth.
San Diego, United States
Located on Shelter Island, known as the Pearl of Pacific, this park completed in 1998 incorporates elements from the cultures of each of the students present. Walls that resemble a Chinese fan, wrought iron gates reminiscent of Russian lace work, and a mosaic that includes a Chinese dragon, Siberian tiger, American shorebird, and Mexican Quetzalcoatl. A gleaming white pearl lies at the center, tying all the cultures together.
Modeled after a traditional Chinese courtyard, this park was built in four weeks in 2001. Half a dozen stone carvers collaborated with students for six days to produce the marble figures that populate the granite walls of the clifftop space. The pearl of this park is joined by a phoenix bird and the moon, symbols relevant to the area’s culture. Carved upon the stones at the entrance is a poem that reads “One moon draws us together through stone gates” written in each student’s native language.
Known as Entre Corazon y Mar (Between The Heart and The Sea) this park, built in 2004, allowed for access to the coast (through 80 truckloads of dirt, sculpted and graded) in a place where the steep terrain generally forbids it. The man made rise allows for the concrete portal to overlook the Pacific Ocean from one side, and the park from the other. The Pearl is located at the bottom of a series of stone terraces and is accompanied by a mosaic of the Pacific waves.
Puerta Princesa, Philippines
The first island park, Salinlahi Park was also the first to feature a black pearl.
In 2009, students from China, South Korea, Russia, US, and Philippines laid the spiral stone platform and erected the flowing concrete arch that would curl around the mosaic pearl.
Jeju Island, South Korea
The Stepping Stones Park acts as a connection between the land and ocean, future and past. Completed in 2010 by 27 students from all the preceding Pacific Rim Park countries, the park is oriented to look out over the Pacific Ocean, and towards the future. Behind it lies the mountains, and the memories of the past. To the West lies a stone courtyard, and at its center the pearl, a gift for the people of the Island of Peace.
The latest of the Pacific Rim Parks, named Pacific Birth, was completed in 2013. The park consists of a 50 foot diameter Earth mound divided into three sections with a 9 foot diameter space in the middle. Flowering shrubs grow on the tops of the mound, adding life and beauty to the structure. The sections are supported by red clay brick walls (12 foot high at their peak) and in between are paths from which one can enter the inner space. There one finds a flowering tree, a bench from which to view the Pacific Ocean that spreads out before you, and of course a pearl, embedded into the bench.