spacious rooftop of the Walkerís Point building where Jenny
Espenscheid lives provides a versatile space for entertaining,
working, gardening and playing. The space includes an artistís
studio, playground and lots of homegrown fruits and
veggies. Nearly the entire space is built and decorated with
Espenscheid enjoys looking out at the city skyline from the roof of
the Walkerís Point building in which she lives, but spends most of
her outdoor time looking inward at the lush garden, playground, work
and gathering space she has created in its 4,000 square feet. Here her
two young daughters, Veda, 4, and Nika, nearly 2, ride bikes, play
tag, swim, swing and snag apples from the trees. Espenscheid, an
architect and artist, orchestrates found objects and organic materials
for functional and aesthetic uses. Her creativity has led to other
"green" commissions, including a design for planters for the
city of Milwaukee and Third Ward courtyard. "Itís really
exciting to take what Iíve learned ó itís been a series of
experiments really ó and apply it practically to other spaces,"
she says. "You can do green and be environmentally friendly in a
very useful and very cool way."
Q. How does the
The whole garden
is filled with little spaces for doing different things. There are a
couple hundred square feet for the artwork ó the heavy, dirty,
anything I need carving or spraying. The bulk of it is playground for
Hot Wheels, bikes, games and stuff. There are "roads" so the
kids can ride their bikes around and play hide and seek. They do a lot
of weeding, although they pull a lot of actual plants out. They are
"helping," and it keeps them busy and makes naptime longer.
The back corner is where I do the composting. Every year I just mix
the compost in with the rest of it. There are morning doves and frogs
and unfortunately a couple of squirrels I had to do battle with and
lost last year before winter kind of took over. I guess Iíll call it
a stalemate. (This year) I just have to be smarter than the squirrels.
Q. What is the
mood of the rooftop?
It is probably
like my style, very collective, a lot of found objects. The rule was
to just use materials I came across and had, and not to spend a lot of
money on it. I built a sun shade made all out of scrap. It is about
reusing and having fun with what you have.
Q. If this were
a work of art, what would it be?
I would call it
a quilt, sort of a contemporary and organic quilt. Itís set up
rather geometrically, yet it transforms over the season. What at one
time looks very angular, by the end of the summer looks overgrown. Itís
partially contrived, but itís also nature taking over and the
compost doing what it is supposed to do.
Q. What is your
favorite time of the day to be on the rooftop?
kids get up early, sometimes even before dawn, and the light is coming
over the lake. Itís just such a gentle awakening, sort of dewy, the
doves cooing. Itís very peaceful, especially on weekends. You wouldnít
know you are in the city.
Q. What are some
of the plantings you have used?
easy, maple trees, an apple tree that had two seasons already. Trees
have done really, really well. I have a great big magnolia that I put
inside every year. Itís really happy there in the summer. If the
soil is good, (the trees) donít need a lot. There is a tree out
there thatís at least 20 feet tall. Tomatoes just go crazy. I have
squash, kale, kohlrabi and cabbage, and sunflowers and seed flowers
for the kids. Some of the veggies I start inside and some I buy as
little babies. They all end up being the same size. Anything that is
bite-sized ó snap peas, cherry tomatoes, little apples that the kids
can just pick and eat as they are running around. Youíve got to make
it practical. I wanted chickens but that hasnít happened. Iíve got
to draw the line somewhere ó for now.
Q. How did a
girl who grew up on a ranch in South Dakota and a farm in Wisconsin
come to be a full-fledged city girl?
Well, I think
either way you have to evolve, whether on ranch or in the city. Iíve
thought about this a lot. Things are very exciting in different ways
in both places. I could never do the middle, though. It has got to be
urban or country.