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Wurman's Secret Garden

WURMAN AND I ARE trying to have a conversation in his backyard when the construction starts. The rude mechanical belches are shattering the mood of an otherwise serene environment. The backyard, which along with the house will be featured in Garden Design, is a testament to Wurman the architect's architect. It is an immense, inviting green space that practically begs for a few rounds of croquet. Two long, thin reflecting pools form a T (for TED?). Tall, full hedges provide a lush frame around the edges. Most curious, though, are the round metal Volkswagen-sized submarine buoys. It is as if Gulliver had just abandoned a giant game of boule. "My wife likes to say that I have giant steel balls." Wurman laughs.
   By the sounds of the crane, though, it seems as though Gulliver is stomping his way back. Wurman winces at the racket, annoyed that the flow of our dialogue has been interrupted. He takes conversations very seriously. An entire chapter of Information Anxiety is devoted to what he calls "the lost art of the conversation." He writes, "There is nothing we do better than when we do conversation well. There is no other communication device that provides such subtle and instantaneous feedback, or permits such a range of evaluation and correctability." In fact, Wurman has designed an entire room of his house specifically for conversation: Four soft, cushiony couches face each other in a square; next to each is a small side table for drinks; in the middle is a table for everything else. (He designed all the tables in his home.)
   Despite the disruptions, Wurman continues to explain to me why he thinks that most sites on the World Wide Web are so poorly designed. His own site might strike some as surprisingly spare; it is made up mostly of lines of text occasionally set off with bands of different colors. But that, he says, is the point. He's not interested in dazzling himself or others with digital animation; he simply wants to convey the necessary information -- as quickly and succinctly as possible.
   "Ninety percent of [designers on the World Wide Web] are just making bells and whistles," he says. "It's just that they -- " Another blast of construction trumpets. Wasting no more time, Wurman hoists himself from his chair. "Let's go to the Secret Garden of Silence, shall we?" he says.
   We enter a round maze of thick hedges and walk until we come to two chairs in the middle. Small stones splay like rays from the sun in the center. Nearby, Wurman has a few hundred rose bushes planted in a long, winding spiral. He points to his mansion, looming over us a couple hundred feet away. On the top floor is a small porch. He built this sacred garden space right here, he says, "so that my wife and I can gaze out upon it." It is thoroughly calming. Everything is so still. The crane is nothing but a distant hush. We are ready to begin the conversation again. It starts to rain. Continued...
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