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Peter Wirtz Talks Landscapes at IIT

When an unfamiliar New York publicist called last week and asked if I knew who Peter Wirtz was, I could only guess he had something to do with the Blackhawks-owning beverage family…

When an unfamiliar New York publicist called last week and asked if I knew who Peter Wirtz was, I could only guess he had something to do with the Blackhawks-owning beverage family. Nooo, I was informed, Peter Wirtz is a renowned Belgian landscape architect, and furthermore, he would be in town soon to check up on a project at the Lake Bluff home of a bigshot Chicago exec. Would I like to come hear him speak at the Illinois Institute of Technology? One look at Wirtz International’s online portfolio (Peter Wirtz helms the firm with his father and brother), and I was floored. You honestly would not believe what these guys can do with a hedge. So, Tuesday afternoon found me seated among a rapt crowd of impossibly young-looking architecture students on the lower level of IIT’s S.R. Crown Hall (elegant, open and bright, it’s one of my favorite Mies van der Rohe buildings in the city), watching Wirtz point a laser pen at a slideshow of one stunning garden after another—residential, corporate and public—around the world. Imagine a circle of delicate crabapple trees, their branches trained to form a flowering, lacey ring above the head of a walker…or a row of bushes clipped in bulbous, otherworldly forms that appear at once impeccably controlled and muscularly rambling. “We like a lot of volume and structure in our work,” said Wirtz. “Major wow factor.” The Wirtzs’ landscapes are wow-worthy indeed, and you can put their imaginations to the test on your own grassy canvas—for a price. Meanwhile, I’ll just dream of moon-shaped hedges and the blooms of a thousand roses.

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