Launch Slideshow

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Cao | Perrot Studio

Cao | Perrot Studio

  • Andy Cao (left) and Xavier Perrot founded their landscape firm in 2006.

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    Andy Cao (left) and Xavier Perrot founded their landscape firm in 2006.

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    Stephen Jerrom

    Andy Cao (left) and Xavier Perrot founded their landscape firm in 2006.

  • In 2012, Cao and Perrot did a temporary installation called Cloud Terrace at Dumbarton Oaks, the research library and museum in Washington, D.C. On a paved terrace, the designers floated a free-form cloud comprising wire mesh and Swarovski crystals over a reflecting pool set in pebbles. Cloud Terrace, installed in gardens originally designed by Beatrix Farrand, was the third of the studios cloud installations; Bow Lake Cloud, planned for a site in Washington state, will use pieces of glass salved from a landfill, stainless steel mesh, and felt.

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    In 2012, Cao and Perrot did a temporary installation called Cloud Terrace at Dumbarton Oaks, the research library and museum in Washington, D.C. On a paved terrace, the designers floated a free-form cloud comprising wire mesh and Swarovski crystals over a reflecting pool set in pebbles. Cloud Terrace, installed in gardens originally designed by Beatrix Farrand, was the third of the studios cloud installations; Bow Lake Cloud, planned for a site in Washington state, will use pieces of glass salved from a landfill, stainless steel mesh, and felt.

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    Stephen Jerrom

    In 2012, Cao and Perrot did a temporary installation called Cloud Terrace at Dumbarton Oaks, the research library and museum in Washington, D.C. On a paved terrace, the designers floated a free-form cloud comprising wire mesh and Swarovski crystals over a reflecting pool set in pebbles. Cloud Terrace, installed in gardens originally designed by Beatrix Farrand, was the third of the studio’s cloud installations; Bow Lake Cloud, planned for a site in Washington state, will use pieces of glass salved from a landfill, stainless steel mesh, and felt.

  • A detail from Cloud Terrace.

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    A detail from Cloud Terrace.

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    Stephen Jerrom

    A detail from Cloud Terrace.

  • For the main city park in Grand Prairie, Texas, Cao and Perrot created Willow Tree, a permanent centerpiece made out of stainless steel and 80,000 handmade mother-of-pearl leaves. Cao was familiar with mother-of-pearl from Vietnam, where its often embedded in furniture. The sound was one thing we didnt expect, he says of the finished installation, a rustling sound, like a wind chime.

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    For the main city park in Grand Prairie, Texas, Cao and Perrot created Willow Tree, a permanent centerpiece made out of stainless steel and 80,000 handmade mother-of-pearl leaves. Cao was familiar with mother-of-pearl from Vietnam, where its often embedded in furniture. The sound was one thing we didnt expect, he says of the finished installation, a rustling sound, like a wind chime.

    600

    Stephen Jerrom

    For the main city park in Grand Prairie, Texas, Cao and Perrot created Willow Tree, a permanent centerpiece made out of stainless steel and 80,000 handmade mother-of-pearl leaves. Cao was familiar with mother-of-pearl from Vietnam, where it’s often embedded in furniture. “The sound was one thing we didn’t expect,” he says of the finished installation, “a rustling sound, like a wind chime.”

  • The champagne maker Laurent-Perrier asked Cao | Perrot to create an installation called Aerial Garden for a garden festival in the Tuileries in Paris in 2009. Hoping to represent champagne bubbles visually, the studio fabricated a steel tree with a 35-foot span and a profusion of champagne-colored, mother-of-pearl leaves. Here the wire-mesh clouds are around the base of the piece, anchoring grasses and flowers.

    http://www.architectmagazine.com/Images/tmpDC05%2Etmp_tcm20-1986717.jpg

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    The champagne maker Laurent-Perrier asked Cao | Perrot to create an installation called Aerial Garden for a garden festival in the Tuileries in Paris in 2009. Hoping to represent champagne bubbles visually, the studio fabricated a steel tree with a 35-foot span and a profusion of champagne-colored, mother-of-pearl leaves. Here the wire-mesh clouds are around the base of the piece, anchoring grasses and flowers.

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    Stephen Jerrom

    The champagne maker Laurent-Perrier asked Cao | Perrot to create an installation called Aerial Garden for a garden festival in the Tuileries in Paris in 2009. Hoping to represent champagne bubbles visually, the studio fabricated a steel tree with a 35-foot span and a profusion of champagne-colored, mother-of-pearl leaves. Here the wire-mesh clouds are around the base of the piece, anchoring grasses and flowers.

  • Detail from Aerial Garden.

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    Detail from Aerial Garden.

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    Stephen Jerrom

    Detail from Aerial Garden.

  • The studio is adept at using manmade, often highly refined materials, to evoke natural forms, but with Pillow Field, Cao | Perrot sculpted the humblest natural materialearthinto an undulating, quilted field. The design team used compacted earth and thyme to create more than 200 land-pillows on a site located between mixed-income housing and the White Center, Wash., business district. The City of White Center was the client; Cao | Perrot Studio accepts commissions from public agencies as well as luxury brands like Kenzo.

    http://www.architectmagazine.com/Images/tmpD30A%2Etmp_tcm20-1986715.jpg

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    The studio is adept at using manmade, often highly refined materials, to evoke natural forms, but with Pillow Field, Cao | Perrot sculpted the humblest natural materialearthinto an undulating, quilted field. The design team used compacted earth and thyme to create more than 200 land-pillows on a site located between mixed-income housing and the White Center, Wash., business district. The City of White Center was the client; Cao | Perrot Studio accepts commissions from public agencies as well as luxury brands like Kenzo.

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    Stephen Jerrom

    The studio is adept at using manmade, often highly refined materials, to evoke natural forms, but with Pillow Field, Cao | Perrot sculpted the humblest natural material—earth—into an undulating, quilted field. The design team used compacted earth and thyme to create more than 200 land-pillows on a site located between mixed-income housing and the White Center, Wash., business district. The City of White Center was the client; Cao | Perrot Studio accepts commissions from public agencies as well as luxury brands like Kenzo.

  • A detail from Pillow Field.

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    A detail from Pillow Field.

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    Stephen Jerrom

    A detail from Pillow Field.

  • Cao | Perrot created three pollen gardens in France for a nonprofit that promotes awareness of allergies. This, a temporary one at the potager du roi (king's kitchen garden) at Versailles, was planted with 17 species including wild wheats and poppies. Perrot loved working with the older wheat varieties, which grow tall and have different colors and textures from typical Big Ag stalks. Id never seen a field full of those plants. Its fantastic, its beautiful, he says.

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    Cao | Perrot created three pollen gardens in France for a nonprofit that promotes awareness of allergies. This, a temporary one at the potager du roi (king's kitchen garden) at Versailles, was planted with 17 species including wild wheats and poppies. Perrot loved working with the older wheat varieties, which grow tall and have different colors and textures from typical Big Ag stalks. Id never seen a field full of those plants. Its fantastic, its beautiful, he says.

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    Stephen Jerrom

    Cao | Perrot created three “pollen gardens” in France for a nonprofit that promotes awareness of allergies. This, a temporary one at the potager du roi (king's kitchen garden) at Versailles, was planted with 17 species including wild wheats and poppies. Perrot loved working with the older wheat varieties, which grow tall and have different colors and textures from typical Big Ag stalks. “I’d never seen a field full of those plants. It’s fantastic, it’s beautiful,” he says.

  • Pollen gardens.

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    Pollen gardens.

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    Stephen Jerrom

    Pollen gardens.

  • Pollen gardens detail.

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    Pollen gardens detail.

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    Stephen Jerrom

    Pollen gardens detail.

  • Pollen gardens detail.

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    Pollen gardens detail.

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    Stephen Jerrom

    Pollen gardens detail.

  • Pollen gardens.

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    Pollen gardens.

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    Stephen Jerrom

    Pollen gardens.

  • At the Maladrerie Saint-Lazare, a 12th-century hospital for the treatment of leprosy in Beauvais, in northern France, Cao | Perrot designed Red Bowl, a temporary installation that hints at the suffering of former inhabitants. The balls of red glass allude to a medieval belief that lepers could be cured by bathing in blood, Perrot says. Visitors walk over a pond on burnt-wood ramps through a bowl formed of steel rods. When the sun hits, you will see these little drops of blood, Perrot says. Also, the movement: Its a windy site, and the whole installation will move, like wheat.

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    At the Maladrerie Saint-Lazare, a 12th-century hospital for the treatment of leprosy in Beauvais, in northern France, Cao | Perrot designed Red Bowl, a temporary installation that hints at the suffering of former inhabitants. The balls of red glass allude to a medieval belief that lepers could be cured by bathing in blood, Perrot says. Visitors walk over a pond on burnt-wood ramps through a bowl formed of steel rods. When the sun hits, you will see these little drops of blood, Perrot says. Also, the movement: Its a windy site, and the whole installation will move, like wheat.

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    Stephen Jerrom

    At the Maladrerie Saint-Lazare, a 12th-century hospital for the treatment of leprosy in Beauvais, in northern France, Cao | Perrot designed Red Bowl, a temporary installation that hints at the suffering of former inhabitants. The balls of red glass allude to a medieval belief that lepers could be cured by bathing in blood, Perrot says. Visitors walk over a pond on burnt-wood ramps through a bowl formed of steel rods. “When the sun hits, you will see these little drops of blood,” Perrot says. “Also, the movement: It’s a windy site, and the whole installation will move, like wheat.”

  • A detail from Red Bowl.

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    A detail from Red Bowl.

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    Stephen Jerrom

    A detail from Red Bowl.

  • At a ruined church in Beauvais, France, not far from the red Bowl installation, the studio installed a companion piece called White Dome. It turns the bowl inside out and lifts it up; thousands of Swarovski crystals cascade in expanding rings.

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    At a ruined church in Beauvais, France, not far from the red Bowl installation, the studio installed a companion piece called White Dome. It turns the bowl inside out and lifts it up; thousands of Swarovski crystals cascade in expanding rings.

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    Stephen Jerrom

    At a ruined church in Beauvais, France, not far from the Red Bowl installation, the studio installed a companion piece called White Dome. It turns the bowl inside out and lifts it up; thousands of Swarovski crystals cascade in expanding rings.

  • A detail from White Dome.

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    A detail from White Dome.

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    Stephen Jerrom

    A detail from White Dome.

  • A detail from White Dome.

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    A detail from White Dome.

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    Stephen Jerrom

    A detail from White Dome.

  • White Dome detail.

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    White Dome detail.

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    Stephen Jerrom

    White Dome detail.

  • White Dome detail.

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    White Dome detail.

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    Stephen Jerrom

    White Dome detail.

  • White Dome detail.

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    White Dome detail.

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    Stephen Jerrom

    White Dome detail.

For a recipient of both the prestigious Rome Prize and a Harvard Loeb Fellowship, landscape designer Andy Cao isn’t very academically minded. Cao (pronounced “Gow”) describes himself as a “bad student” at Cal Poly Pomona, where he got a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture in 1994. His creative coming-of-age happened after graduation, he says, when he was casting around for meaningful work and settled on the backyard of his own rental house in Los Angeles.

Two-and-a-half years and 45 tons of glass pebbles later, Cao had created the Glass Garden, an homage to the rice paddies and salt farms of Vietnam, where he was born. (He and his family left Vietnam after the fall of Saigon; he was 13 years old when they immigrated to the United States.) The project made his name and clarified his approach. Instead of narrative, he shifted his focus to materials and how they affect our immediate, sensory experience of place. “Through that process, I learned so much about myself—and I learned about landscape,” Cao says.

Soon after, at a garden festival in France, Cao met Xavier Perrot, a student from Brittany. “Something about his sensibility just clicked with me,” Cao remembers. In Perrot’s telling, they bonded over their shared old-fashioned pursuit of beauty and in wanting to expand the definition of what a garden can be.

Cao hoped to work with Perrot, and he got his chance in 2001, when he spent his prize year in Rome and Perrot joined him as his assistant. They continued to collaborate on and off for several years and formalized their partnership in 2006. This February, their firm, Cao | Perrot Studio, was included in the Architectural League of New York’s Emerging Voices program. Cao still lives in L.A., while Perrot is based in Rennes, Brittany. They bridge the distance with Skype and lots of emails.

Cao credits their “almost effortless” working relationship to similarities in their backgrounds, and Perrot agrees. “We had a common childhood,” Perrot says. “We [both] grew up not far from the sea, so we have this sensibility to changing light in our work.” Both designers spent some of their early years on farms, too, which may explain why they reject digital design in favor of the handmade.

In recent projects, Cao | Perrot has combined everyday materials like chicken wire with refined ones—such as Swarovski crystals—to otherworldly effect. The studio will often bend and ply materials until they seem transformed. For example, the designers recently fabricated a willow tree in a Texas lake out of stainless steel and 80,000 handcrafted mother of pearl leaves. “How the artificial works on the natural,” in Perrot’s words, is a constant preoccupation, but so is its inverse: a project made of steel mesh that the studio is working on now in Washington state, Bow Lake Cloud, may eventually be overgrown with moss.

Cao has more or less stopped drawing so that he can fully visualize a project in his head, then proceed to fabrication as soon as possible. Consistent with this design-by-the-gut philosophy, the studio avoids research, he says, preferring the freedom of trial and error. Perrot clarifies: “We do some research. He [Cao] just doesn’t want to talk too much about it, because that’s what everybody does.”

Indeed, Cao laments that designers spend too much time explaining their work as opposed to letting people experience it. During his Loeb Fellowship, he kept hearing the word “pedagogy,” and decided his practice would be devoted to “reverse pedagogy.” People “spend so much time trying to learn things,” he says. “At the end of the day, it’s harder to unlearn them.”