A striking public sculpture garden in the heart of metropolitan Orange County, California Scenario is an abstracted representation of the state’s many diverse landscapes, from the Sierra Mountains to the southeastern deserts to the northern woods. Located in the city of Costa Mesa, in a commercial area of offices and retail, the 1.6-acre public garden was intended to enhance the space between two glass-and-steel office towers built on the property of longtime landowners, the Segerstrom family. The garden is completely enclosed by the towers and other lower, long buildings, and is visible only from the garden interior or through the windows of the adjacent tower.
In 1979 Henry Segerstrom commissioned California-born and New York–based Isamu Noguchi to design the garden. The prolific modernist is best known as a sculptor, but his gardens, furniture, lighting, ceramics, and set designs are equally renowned. His work is greatly informed by a desire to recreate natural surroundings, often utilizing natural and earthly materials including stainless steel, marble, balsawood, basalt, granite, and water.
California Scenario has seven major features intended to create sequential “scenarios” that enable visitors to experience the diverse landscapes of California represented in microcosmic form. The flat plane of the small garden contrasts dramatically with the verticality of the surrounding office towers. In this way, the garden creates a sense of seclusion from the outside world. As a whole, the seven distinct features create a narrative that insinuates the finite nature of California’s diverse natural resources.
Noguchi’s most significant and visually arresting design element is a water-filled fissure that meanders through the garden, perhaps alluding to the California aqueduct that crosses through much of the state. The landscape scenarios begin with a 30-foot-high sandstone triangle entitled Water Source that traverses the site as a flowing stream of water and stones. It travels through to Water Use, a granite wedge that suggests the vulnerable condition of the state’s water supply. The third dominant feature is the Forest Walk, which allows visitors to experience a small grouping of California Redwoods characteristic of the northern part of the state. Circling back toward Water Source visitors encounter Land Use, an 8-foot-high knoll featuring a rectangular granite form that denotes contemporary development in the state. A fifth sculptural element is Desert Land, a rounded mound planted with cactus and other indigenous vegetation. The Spirit of the Lima Bean comprises an assembly of stacked granite boulders that evokes the site’s original function as a lima bean farm. Finally, and most prominently, the narrative sequence ends with the Energy Fountain, a 12-foot-high and 25-foot-diameter fountain composed of granite bricks and stainless steel. The fountain not only symbolizes the energy and spirit of California, but also serves as a welcoming gateway between the interior space and surrounding office buildings.
California Scenario is regarded as one of the most significant sculpture gardens in the United States. It remains a secluded oasis in the midst of office buildings and provides visual interest for those peering down from their workplaces. It can be enjoyed simultaneously as an outdoor art gallery, an alluring photographic destination, and as a place for reflection and respite in an urban environment.