Daniel Ewald, landscape architect MNLA

Why large parks?

This was the introducing question in one of the chapters from the book “Large parks” by Julia Czerniak and George Hargreaves, which we were given to study and discuss in the on-going course in urban blue-green structures. An interesting read on the issues a designer meets when planning large sites, the text explores different parks around the world and the plans for them; what succeeded in terms of original intent as opposed to reality and what did not.

The core issue in this text is the fundamental question that arises when undertaking such projects: How much design is actually needed? To what extent does one plan surroundings of such scales? How much can indeed be planned? As a landscape architect, when is it time to say “this is enough”?

The authors clearly state that large sites are complex systems and, while it may seem obvious, they must be treated as such – meaning, attempts at simple solutions will fail. As shown in several examples in the text, attempts at grand schemes which bypass the site’s natural context can and will work against its purpose. One cannot for instance roll out a green carpet in the middle of a desert, plant it with random, exotic species and proclaim that people use it according to plan; perhaps casually strolling and observing the “natural surroundings” in a predetermined pace on Sundays. At the same time, a clear vision of the site needs to be apparent, otherwise it will lack in both identity and purpose. The uniqueness of the site and the character must build on existing qualities, otherwise it will ultimately be an artificial and disrespectful design.

Furthermore, the authors argue the need of clear, but flexible programming – as in, not rigid dividing of a greater whole into parts that has single programs (here’s the picnic grounds, here’s the tanning area, here one is allowed to play a game of football). Areas need to allow for temporary and unforeseen activities. One cannot pretend to completely control something that is in its essence uncontrollable – but it is still important to stay true to the original vision, inducing people’s relation to the place to become personal, while at the same time reminding them that there is a plan behind it.

A recommended read on a complex topic, for planners and architects alike.
“Large Parks” on Amazon

Filed under: Books,

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