On the first floor of a commercial centre down a side street in the Lebanese mountain town of Broumana is the office where, for the time being at least, Vladimir Djurovic works.
The centre has seen better days. Aesthetically-speaking, it is badly dated, think Gordon Gekko meets Knott’s Landing. Djurovic’s office, a clean, gleaming white cube of an affair, blazes as brightly in its 80’s chic surroundings as did Moses’ bush in the sandy wastes of the Sinai.
Half Lebanese, half Serbian, Djurovic knows all about life in the wilderness. Legally a foreigner under Lebanese law, which accords nationality on a patrilineal basis only, he is a stranger in his own land, an internal exile.
His citizen of the world status may be one reason why he is has no time for boundaries. A landscape architect who also indulges in acts of architecture and interior design, Djurovic is difficult to pigeonhole. Not that he lets that worry him.
“It doesn’t matter what you call what I do,” he says, flashing a high-intensity smile. “Let's just say I try to put my clients as close to nature as possible by creating a complete environment.”
By putting clients as close to nature as possible, what Djurovic really means is he aims to put clients in nature. Comfortably, of course.
Take the Bassil residence in the Mount Lebanon ski resort of Faqra. On a band of land around the building, used as a year-round weekend retreat by its owners, Djurovic created a living space that feels indoors and outdoors at the same time.
In the upper garden, a sunken seating area has been created from massive linear slabs of polished white stone. Shaded by a wooden lattice pergola, it backs onto a long reflecting pool. Viewed from above, the pool mirrors the row of tress planted along one side of it but seen from the benches, where it is at eye-level, it draws the gaze over the mountains and down to the sea, just visible on the horizon.
A walkway across the pool which leads to a floating staircase to the lower level is formed of a chain of stepping-stones so weightless, they appear wrapped around the water like a bracelet. The far end of the pool is a negative-edge Jacuzzi. Cantilevered out over the garden below, water flows over its edges, erasing the boundaries between pool and sky. Seated inside, only the surrounding mountains are visible above the bubbles and the Jacuzzi seems to hover in mid-air.
In the lower garden, a simple cedar wood and stone kitchen and barbeque area supports the Jacuzzi from below. A second stone seating area, this one with open-air fire along one wall, is located at the other end of the garden. The edge of the property is bounded by a single linear slab of stone, part balustrade, part bench which runs from the seating area to a swimming pool. Like the water feature on the upper level, this is oriented towards the horizon.
Djurovic co-opts his surroundings, drawing the entire landscape into his design. With artfully placed shrubbery here or an architectural feature there, he tidies unsightly views, obscuring wires, pylons and ugly buildings. Then, he frames mountain ranges, cityscapes, forests and sea views with such deliberation, you wonder if the world wasn’t created solely to serve as his backdrop.
These acts of topographical larceny, a Djurovic trademark, are committed on such an epic scale, they leave the viewer with the feeling they are master or mistress of all they survey. If a man’s home is his castle, Djurovic’s gardens are surely his kingdom.
Consequently, people get possessive. Commissioned to design a guest house, pool and garden complex for a client in the mountains suburbs of Beirut, Djurovic effectively erased the line between inside and outside by creating a series of rooms that could be opened up completely on at least one side. The rooftop pool and the curtains of water Djurovic allowed to cascade down on either side of it went down so well, the owner decided to move in and put guests up in the main house instead.
Another project, a restaurant commissioned by the Seykoun family never opened because the owners fell in love with the massive angled black mirror pool - part stealth bomber, part 2001 monolith - and the way, after the sunset turned it a bright orange colour, it reflected the lights from surrounding mountain villages at night.
The descriptions ‘Minimalist’ and ‘Zen’ are often used to describe Djurovic’s work. Certainly, he creates pared-down, contemplative spaces but a better description might be to call his style integrated.
Indoors merge with outdoors. Seams between materials, such as the one between lawn and path or the pool and the lawn, unite, rather than divide. By allowing grass to show between the oblongs of paving slab and by running the edge of the lawn right up to the edge of the water and then continuing the flow by blurring the line between the edge of the pool and the sky, Djurovic creates an infinite world with an unlimited vista. The experience is practically god-like.
In nature, of nature and at one with nature. When you can commission a haven like this, heaven can wait.
Originally published in Wallpaper*
Photo © Vladimir Djurovic