The Thinking 

The Principle of Non-Decoration at Work

December 15, 2009


Donna Karan by David Shankbone.jpg

  These two 21st century goddesses are fashion designer Donna Karan and her daughter Gabrielle, pictured in Karan’s vacation retreat in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The compound was featured in the December issue of Architectural Digest, along with the homes of Elton John and other celebrities. Karan’s beachfront buildings typify what might be called Sybaritic Minimalism, another exemplar of the Principle of Non-Decoration discussed in a previous post. There are enormous close-to-the-floor divans and chaises throughout and a canopy bed large enough for seven brides and seven grooms on the deck.

The Western woman’s infatuation with Eastern mysticism is on display in the infinity pool and yoga pavilion. No ostentation is disdained provided it is done in the name of inner enlightenment and wears the clean garb of simplicity. “Everything is honest,” says the designer of her over-sized furniture. “We hate fakery and pastiche.” Traditional Western forms of ornamentation are presumably “fakery.” Karan boasts that it is “an international environment.”

Behind all this studied minimalism – the builders erected a structure and tore it down when they didn’t like it – there is the innocent’s love of nature. “Collaborating with Donna is an intense experience,” Cheong Yew Kuan, the architect, says, “both visceral and cerebral. There was one constant in the flux of our ideas: the elemental way she wanted to live with nature. It was never about making a fashion statement.” Karan is more Alcyone, the Greek goddess of the Sea and Tranquility, than powerful fashion potentate who commands a restless empire.

Karan has made her wealth in New York and the capitals of the West. But where is she happiest? “Africa and Bali.”


                                                               —— Comments —–

Hannon writes:

This story was repellent on several levels. From the article: “With multiple structures and a fragile ecosystem, the site plan,” Bonetti says, “was our greatest challenge.””

Yes, just as building a ski resort in Yosemite (plans were drawn up in fact) or a port facility on the Great Barrier Reef would be a challenge in a “fragile ecosystem.” But instead of taking on the greater challenge (for these folks) of living where people should be living in the first place, their peerless zazen sensibility will ensure a kindly imprint. The architecture is entirely disharmonious to that environment: where does one find trees for building on what is a semi-arid tropical island? [Laura writes: And, Karan says she is looking for another property to develop. For the sake  of simplicity.]

Interesting that she says Bali and Africa are her favorite haunts, the former being a recipient of fabled tropical hardwoods long after Bali’s own deforestation. The latter is still a substantial wild source of fellable trees that China is ruthlessly exploiting.

No mention (or thought?) is given in the write-up as to the source of the luxurious timbers hewn to impress. This seemed like a missed opportunity to elevate the conscience of the developers. Yet even if they looked for them there are no “plantation-harvested” stamps of approval on most woods, regardless of origin.

Sustainable harvesting of tropical trees is one of the remaining– and critically important– subjects that the “greens” have yet to tackle.

Perhaps they simply cannot grapple with the deep-seated corruption in the logging business in Indonesia that feeds an insatiable Japan and China? Or economy-bolstering wood exports from Brazil? Strange that there seems to be an “environmentalist” track record of altering international fishing practices while arguably more vulnerable forests are left with impotent support groups.

Nature conservation– not rabid and propagandized environmentalism– is an essential element of conservatism.

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