Living spaces: Parks

Living Space Idleness After-Work

There is something to the saying that spaces have character. Regardless of whether we want to work, learn, teach, communicate, entertain or relax in them – the space "created" for this purpose clearly references the idiosyncrasies of its users and their activities. But whether or not is space "functions" is another question and depends entirely on whether it reaches us emotionally. In the final analysis, impact really is more than the square root of room height + wall colour + floor space.

Melanie loves her lunch breaks in the park. Here she can catch her breath and unwind a little from the frantic office environment. She can find a bit of distance and mute her cell phone without feeling guilty, since - in the worst case - the emails can be read anyway. For the next half hour, the carefully landscaped meadow will become a private sphere. Her favourite things at these moments: reading the few last pages in her book, clearing her head, watching people, maybe taking a short power nap. It might just be her imagination, but here the air seems clearer to her than elsewhere in the city. She loves having such a getaway right at the doorstep. Maybe next time she’ll try slacklining - that’s probably a great way to unwind...

Order is important

... or at least that was what the architects of the French imperial parks must have thought in the late 17th century. The generous outdoor grounds of the Baroque epoch were not public urban areas but rather parts of sovereign residences. This is why their architecture often resembled that of the palace - they were frequently designed directly by the building architect, or with the architect’s collaboration. The park was therefore one element in an overall concept. Just like the palace, it primarily had representative functions and expressed power, wealth and dominance over nature. Accordingly, the design of the garden was very artificial and even surpassed the Italian Renaissance gardens in this respect.

The style of these types of gardens was set by the Vaux-le-Vicomte Palace grounds in Maincy, 50 km outside of Paris, completed in the years 1656-1661 according to plans by the landscape architect André Le Nôtre: strictly geometric, symmetrical, hierarchical.

For a long time, the royal owners and their guests were the only ones permitted to use these park facilities. But periods and political conditions change - and now the elaborately designed green spaces - such as the park at Versailles or, since 1779, that of Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna have been conquered by locals and tourists alike.

Back to the roots

... was the motto of the English landscape parks in the mid-18th century. This was quite a contrast to the geometrical severity of the Baroque gardens. Gone was the attempt to force nature into a tight corset; instead they asked the question: What can nature itself offer us? Of course there were deliberate modifications here as well, but they lacked the mathematical precision. What the designers wanted to preserve or create at that time were beautiful settings that would bring pleasure to the observer, along with gentle, natural landscapes that could be traversed on winding paths like paintings. Flower beds and visual axes were replaced by a diverse landscape consisting of woods, individual trees and groups of trees, expansive lawns, meandering creeks, ponds, and hills. Often the boundary walls or ditches were "buried" inconspicuously in the landscape, creating the impression that the park was melting together with the surrounding landscape. Small temples or artificial ruins were built as accents and eye-catchers along the horizon. The most important landscape architects of this period included William Kent and Lancelot "Capability" Brown.

Even back then, they had a very modern approach: The focus was no longer on the representative function but the delight in nature, along with rest and relaxation.

Into the city

To think that inner-city parks developed exclusively in step with the imperial parks would be erroneous. One of the best-known urban green spaces was already mentioned in writing in the year 1000 but not made accessible to the public until 1637: the Hyde Park in London. Its use is just as multifaceted as its history. While the park grounds were used for court hunts from the 16th to 18th century, there were also glamorous carriage parades as well as numerous duels here during the 18th century. Located in the north-east corner of the park, Tyburn was where the city’s public hangings took place from the 12th to 18th century. About a century later, the famous Speaker’s Corner was created near the former execution site. To this date, anyone one can hold a speech on an arbitrary topic without pre-registration, as long as they don’t mention the royal family. In 1851, the Great Exhibition - the world’s first industrial exhibition - was held in Hyde Park. A few years later, it was the scene of 150,000 people protesting against the high food prices.

Today the park is a central location in the lives of the approximately three million central London residents. Here the British can enjoy their connection with nature - by relaxing, reading, meeting, picnicking, swimming, jogging, bicycling, rowing, and (with permission), fishing in the more than 11-acre Serpentine Lake. Football and rugby cricket are just some of the games played on the sports field. Horseback riders are also welcome.

Not to mention the large-scale cultural events. Anyone who hasn’t seen a concert in Hyde Park yet really has something magnificent to look forward to. In 2012, by the way, the Serpentine Lake will host triathlon and long-distance swimming events.

Barefoot in the park

New York’s Central Park is probably the most famous park in the world. The green lung of the exciting metropolis, located in Manhattan’s priciest neighbourhood between the Hudson and East River, is the largest artificially created park in the world. Its construction started in 1859. Central Park has about 3.5 km² of recreational space and rest areas for the Big Apple’s residents and visitors alike. An incredible 25 million people visit Central Park each year. And it’s no wonder - here they can do whatever doesn’t bother anyone else. They could be playing baseball, jogging, inline skating, bird watching, identifying plants or attending various events. And, with a bit of luck, they might win one of the 50,000 Green Cards at the annual Green Card lottery.

Yes, they can

Of course a great deal of design goes into every park. Not only because parks don’t just pop up on their own, but because they require thorough planning - as attractive spaces with multiple functional layers. Chicago’s Millennium Park is one successful example. Created as late as the 1990’s on the site of a former Illinois Central Railroad station with support from the architect Frank Gehry, it became one of the most ambitious projects in Chicago’s history. In just a few years, this 10 km² space was turned into a vibrant combination of architecture, landscape design, cultural spaces and outdoor theatres, appealing to local residents and visitors alike. It is the perfect stage for a merger of meetings and communication, one that is inspiring and innovative, liberal and intellectual.

Urban culture meets design

Sometimes parks can even turn experimental, such as the Dongdaemun Design Plaza & Park, which is currently being built in Seoul according to a design by Zaha Hadid. The entire project, spanning 85,000 m² and having a futuristic touch, is meant to appeal to both designers and residents. It contains a Design Museum, a multi-purpose park, a library, and various educational facilities. Nestled inside, the 30,000m² park is a green oasis in the dense urban environment. It addresses all elements of traditional Korean garden art, integrating pools, gravel paths, lotus ponds and bamboo groves.

The goal is for the plaza and park to become a central cultural location, providing joy and inspiration to the city’s residents. The design’s flowing shapes represent the movements of thoughts, interactions between all design disciplines, innovation, and boundary-breaking ideas. The historic city wall was also integrated into the overall concept. The plaza and park merge into a shared landscape that makes the boundaries of architecture and nature disappear.

Similar ambitions can be seen in Miami. Located along the coast, the Bicentennial Park is currently undergoing a redesign that is intended to turn it into Florida’s most attractive park. This is not so much about size as about quality - in 2013, this park is expected to be transformed into the Museum Park Miami, integrating the Museum of Science as well as the Miami Art Museum.

Artistic parks

There is already a history of parks being used for artistic installations. A classic example: the Parc Güell in Barcelona, named after someone who wanted to give Barcelona’s Catalan residents a green oasis. Antoni Gaudí was responsible for the architectural and artistic design. His curved lines, organic design, preference for colourful ceramic tiles and slanted columns turned this into a timely document of Spanish Art Nouveau and an imaginative biotopic retreat in the centre of the bustling city.

Change of scene. "I’m glad that there’s finally a hotspot here", Melanie says to the person sharing her bench. Hopefully the laptop battery will last. "Let’s see how long the weather stays pleasant enough to sit outdoors."

How nice to know that Bene’s PARCS, this multi-functional furniture line, is weather-proof... ;)


Brigitte Schedl-Richter

Texterin, freie Journalistin,