Using Crystals and Plantings, Cao Perrot Studio Creates “Dreamscapes”

With bases in Los Angeles and Brittany, France, the landscape designers craft exquisite outdoor spaces around the world.

Nominated by Diana Balmori, principal of Balmori Associates

The Swarovski crystal clouds—a recurring motif in Cao Perrot’s projects—have appeared at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC, recently at a royal wedding in Dubai, and also at their ongoing project at the Swarovski Kristallwelten in Wattens, Austria.

Courtesy Cao Perrot

Over the last decade, Andy Cao, 48, and Xavier Perrot, 34, have carved out a creative domain that blends aspects of landscape design, site-specific art, and horticulture into an other-worldly aesthetic. “Our work is mainly driven by a desire to make places for dreaming,” Cao says, referring to the designers’ whimsical gardens and outdoor installations, which conjure drama out of hybridized materials like colored glass and sparkling material and fabric. “It’s not about nature, but about alternate worlds.”

A good example is Cao Perrot‘s surreal 2012 Cloud Terrace at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in Washington, DC. The installation simulates a small forest of trees, actually tall, thin poles that support a delicate hand-sculpted cloud-cum-chandelier. Made of wire mesh, it’s woven through with 10,000 water-drop crystals that shimmer in the reflecting pool below.

The pair first met in France in 2001, when Cao, who was born in Vietnam and since 1989 has called Los Angeles home, was completing an outdoor installation for the International Garden Festival. From the beginning it was clear they shared similar sensibilities. Though both were trained in landscape architecture, neither was interested in working as a landscape architect. “We like to fly under the radar and do our own thing,” says Perrot, who is based in Brittany, France. “We don’t really classify our work, but if we had to label ourselves, ‘landscape artist’ would be the most fitting description.”

Andy Cao (pictured left) and Xavier Perrot excel at turning landscape designs into art experiences.

Courtesy Stephen Jerrome

Not so surprisingly, given their affinity for instinct and spontaneity—“things that don’t have to make sense intellectually,” Cao says—they cite poetry as one of their chief inspirations, particularly the work of poets Louise Glück and Polish Nobel Laureate Wisława Szymborska. But visually, many of their cues are borrowed from the runway, especially the clothing designs of Comme des Garçons’ Rei Kawakubo. “Our ultimate dream is to have tea with her—she always astounds us,” Cao says.

Though the globe-trotting designers are separated by more than 5,000 miles, their projects frequently bring them together to work in locations around the world. Currently they are both living in Wattens, Austria, where they are building their first park, an 18.5-acre expansion of Swarovski Kristallwelten (Crystal Worlds). With projects like these, Perrot says, the two are able to devote their time and efforts on-site, where they can be more intuitive and work directly with the different trades involved. “We don’t spend a lot of time on fancy renderings. We like to be out in the field and be hands-on, so we can respond directly to the environment.”

For Central Park (2010) in Grand Prairie, Texas, the studio created a steel willow tree with 80,000 mother-of-pearl leaves.

Courtesy Cao Perrot

“What differentiates Cao Perrot is their use of specific materials, and the attention and time spent creating the design (leaves that are handmade with materials imported from Vietnam, for example). A design that has been accepted might take months and months to build—and the designers are there, patiently crafting or paying attention to every detail. The natural world is designed into every project—leaves, flowers, sky, clouds, light.” —Diana Balmori, principal of Balmori Associates

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