Admittedly, I have a fascination for gabion baskets. Can’t explain it, but there it is. There is something so arslocii about them. It is the unlikely pairing of a rectangular cage and collected rocks, used mostly for retaining-wall structures or anti-erosion control, and also for enabling water runoff to occur more naturally around manmade obstructions. And, yes, all those engineering issues need solutions – but amazingly, here is a visually interesting one.
So. back to the arslocii bit: this sometimes artful arrangement of metal grid in geometric skeletal form filled with natural, rounded stones; the container holds the shape revealing the shapes within. Caged nature is not what I see but rather nature being put on display. Whatever the meaning, the objects are both found and created, natural and unnatural.
I started seeing these alongside roadways cut through mountains. I am opposed to the cuts made but I am cheered by the striking appearance of minimal-meets-environmental artforms. I have also spied them used as barriers on misengineered highway projects that dead-end abruptly – many of those have been hit and “contoured” in unusual ways. Mostly I have seen them stacked, pyramid-style, like a Sol Lewitt sculpture, only filled-in with an Andy Goldsworthy structure.
Gabions were used in medieval times for military fortifications; they were cylindrical wicker woven cages that were filled with dirt, perhaps similar today to cellular confinement systems or geocells, used to control erosion and stabilize soil.
The metal version of the sack gabion was invented in 1893 in Italy by the Maccaferri family to repair a dam destroyed by flooding. The family then patented the box-type gabion that is made today. These mass-produced berms have variety to them because the basket frames vary in material: either rigid re-bar or cyclone fence caging. And the fillings can vary by shape, size, color – river stones are particularly nice.
As another side to this affinity, I am also attuned to anything gabion-like. This remarkable fence, a clever and artful combination of metal grid and cross-section slices of trees is put together just like the outer layer of a gabion, except that it is linear as opposed to solid, and it moves like an extended folding screen through the landscape.
And, just as wonderful are these extremely clever and referential “columns” that were used as sculptural elements for a garden-design theme at the Philadelphia Flower Show by Temple University Ambler campus’ horticulture department. Not only are they natural, they are fanciful and beautiful – and such variety! But, see how they encompass the original idea of portable protection during military maneuvers, their references to structural gabions and, also, the limitless use of textures and colors of natural materials. Cool, indeed.
Apparently, I am not alone when it comes to gabions and their potential for design statements. Next time you find yourself on a more-recently-engineered highway, look for them along the roadside. They can be an unexpected glimpse of arslocii in the fast lane.