From his home base—a geodesic dome in Los Angeles—the artist and architect Fritz Haeg has spent the past several years waging a war on the American front lawn. The recently released second edition of his book Edible Estates (Metropolis) documents his efforts around the country to replace the grass of suburban front yards—which he sees not only as an ecological nightmare but also as a symbol of stultifying conformity—with edible gardens. "Something for Everyone," his new solo exhibition at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut (on view through January 2), expands on the book and his previous shows at museums like the Whitney and the Tate Modern. He recently sounded off on lawns, gardens, and buildings.
Details: Your work encompasses architecture, art, gardening, urbanism, and education. What do you say when someone asks what you do?
Fritz Haeg: You know people who are aimless in life until they find that one thing—like Tai Chi or knitting or macramé or astronomy or acting or whatever—that gives them purpose and meaning? For a long time, I thought for me that was architecture, but it turned out that architecture was just a portal that led me to all these different things.
Details: Architecture was your gateway drug?
Fritz Haeg: It was, totally. But it's an inherently generalist profession anyway, right? Architects have to pretend to know a little bit about everything already. It's such a beautiful field of study that's wasted on the production of buildings. I'm really interested in the idea that an architect should do more than make buildings, because it's a set of skills and a way of solving problems that could be applied to so many other, more interesting things. It just so happens that buildings contain the most capital, so they're worth more than gardens, and that's why gardens aren't taken seriously and buildings are.
Details: But what's so terrible about lawns? If they go, where would we play Frisbee?
Fritz Haeg: The thing is, I love lawns, but if you think about them the way you think about buildings, where you design rooms based on how much space you need, you'd make different decisions about them.
Details: So you're not advocating doing away with the lawn entirely?
Fritz Haeg: Just the front lawn, because it's the American dream, and it's a useless, insidious space at your front door.
Details: I used to play Wiffle ball on my front lawn as a kid.
Fritz Haeg: Well, you can keep yours. See, that's the thing: It poses as an advocacy project telling everyone to do this—which it is. But it's also rhetorical. It's a big what-if. And if someone says, "I love my lawn," that's great—let's talk about why they love it.
Details: When did you become so passionate about gardening?
Fritz Haeg: When I moved to L.A. from New York in 1999, it became an immediate obsession. The funny thing too was that, at a typical party in New York for kids in their late twenties, what do you talk about? Real estate, girlfriends, jobs, the economy, or whatever. In L.A., people were comparing notes on their tomato plants or saying, "Oh, I grew this really great variety of beans" or something.
Details: Is the increasing receptiveness to the garden and the homegrown and handcrafted a passing trend, like oxygen bars or big shoulders? Or does it represent a genuine sea change in terms of how we live in cities?
Fritz Haeg: Well, there's nothing new about it, so there's nothing that can go out of fashion about it. We're always going to be eating food out of the ground—it's just a question of whether we choose to look at it or not. All my work is primitive—intensely, insanely primitive. It's meant to be so modest that anyone could imagine doing it themselves. It's about privileging behavior over objects or material things. Would you grow your own food? Would you make your own clothes? How much activity are you comfortable with, in the middle of a life that in most of our cities is quite passive?
Details: Does that rule out ever being pampered or enjoying nice things?
Fritz Haeg: Well, I do love watching bad TV shows. That's a real luxury sometimes.
Gimme Shelter: The Best Architecture Books
Home Stretch: The Living Room Re-imagined
Cool, Low-Maintenance Indoor Plants
The Ultimate Treehouse Hideaway