The future of public parks in Europe; the role of landscape architecture in design and research –

3. Conservation and development of public parks


(From previous issue No.35)

This article is based on a presentation at a conference on urban parks organized by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Faculty of Landscape Architecture of Corvinus University in 2013. It is part of a series of three articles (see 1. and 2. articles in 4D No. 33 and 34) that gives a broad overview of the design of urban public parks in a European context. This article focuses on conservation and development of urban parks.
Three case studies of conservation and development are analyzed in the first part; the historic park of Stowe in the UK, the Afrikaanderplein in Rotterdam and the axis of the Louvre and Champs Élysées in Paris. In the three cases, a different approach to the historical situation has been developed that gives an idea of the scope and range of thinking in planning and design.

The development of the Louvre between 1190 and 1981

The development of the Louvre between 1190 and 1981
1: 1190 the Louvre as a castle outside the city walls, 2: 1380, 3: 1590 the castle of the Tuileries, 4: 1610, 5: 1640. 6: 1715, 7: 1848, 4 8: 1866, 9: 1981

In the second part the design means are analyzed to show how the concept of structure can enable new types of use while at the same time its historical character still remains. In the last part the focus is on the relation with research; structure and change, the concept of flexibility based on structure, the role of typology and design experiment in historic situations and problems.
One of the conclusions is that structure is a key concept in conservation and can be a basis for contemporary functions and use, instead of focus on the historical image. Applying these principles to the Városliget park at Budapest the idea could be to insert a new function in the park in the form of water conservation and add new uses to that. The design approach should focus not only this new function but also the park as an icon of the city both for local people and tourists.


The role of historical elements and structures in contemporary development is always an issue in landscape architecture projects. The key issue is what qualifies for conservation and what should be developed for the future? Since there is always an existing situation in landscape architecture, all interventions are a form of transformation. So in all projects the relation between conservation and development is at hand. The core of design is: how to give form to the relation between past, present and future?

The term 'historicism' is often used in the context of conservation and development but sometimes in different meanings. Colquhoun defines historicism based on the description in the Oxford dictionary which gives three interpretations:
(1) The theory that all socio-cultural phenomena are historically determined and that all truths are relative;
(2) A concern for the institutions and traditions of the past;
(3) The use of historical forms.
In the context of architecture and design he interprets them as follows:
The word historicism therefore can be applied to three quite separate objects: the first is a theory of history; the second, an attitude; the third, an artistic practice. There is no guarantee that the three have anything in common.
In this article we use the third one, the use of historical forms; a phenomenon we see often in the architecture of new residential buildings, new dwellings designed in old style or 'retro architecture'.
In the approach of historic buildings and gardens we distinguish between conservation, restoration, reconstruction and renovation. Conservation is directly related to preservation. In the case of restoration the idea is to restore the historical given of the building. The historical given is brought back as much as possible, both in the structure and in the exterior. In the case of reconstruction the historical situation might still be distinguishable but not necessarily; a total transformation can also be the case. In the case of renovation the historic given is improved by repairing and partly rebuilding. The historical situation is still visible but has changed.
The Florence Chapter on the preservation of gardens published in 1981 by ICOMOS / IFLA speaks of gardens as 'living monuments'. In public parks and landscapes the different forms of transformation are comprised in the principles of 'insert', 'adapt' and 'total change'. Contrary to architecture, in parks and landscapes complete restoration is hardly possible due to their dynamics and changes in society. Other terms: modification, intervention, transformation.

History, use and meanings of urban parks

Public parks and open spaces have been part of the urban landscape since early history, albeit with different functions; parks have been made for domestic use, for pleasure, exercise, hunting, or as a piece of art and also for celebration of the owner’s or ruler's status. Before the industrial revolution, in many cities there were open spaces, even farms for production of food, for instance in Paris. These were not parks but did play a role as open space in the city.
We will analyze three cases – the historic landscape garden of Stowe in the UK, the Afrikaanderplein in Rotterdam and the Louvre axis in Paris – on the transformation of a plan over time and see how existing situations have changed by making use of different design means.

Development of Stowe (1694-1780)

Stowe is a park of about 160ha. It is located at roughly 40km northeast of Oxford in the UK. It was redesigned as a typical example of the landscape style starting in the turn of 17th -18th century and now it is one of the historic examples of that style. It used to be an entirely rural setting, but the proximity of Oxford and Milton Keynes makes it significant in the urban context and use. W. Reh did an analysis of the plan development of Stowe and showed us the process of transformation over a period of about 75 years by three designers; Bridgeman, Kent and Brown.
Baroque layout was gradually transformed into the landscape style during the 18th - 19th century. The transformation is not only stylistic but also in the content of the plan; a defined plan for a house and a park is changed from Baroque layout to landscape style with an adapted structure, insertion of new elements and put into a new context, the surrounding landscape. This can be illustrated by the transformation of the formal axis of the Grand Avenue, into a new approach to the house, a series of sequential views and experiences of the surrounding landscape. Reh speaks of the 'pictorial tradition' in landscape architecture where design deals not so much with change of use but with staging, creating different context and thus new experiences; a 'landscape of illusion'.
Three major changes have taken place in Stowe; the change of the garden next to the house, by creating new elements, by the change in experience of the context from new viewpoints and view lines to the surrounding landscape, the approach of the house. Note that design means are largely visually; comprising staging, creating lines of view and new viewpoints. It is remarkable that the geometric basis in the baroque ground plan still can be made explicit and experienced while the visual impression is that of a 'natural landscape'. Reh considers Stowe to be one of the most interesting examples of landscape architectural transformation in that period because of the intensity and complexity of it. The process of transformation was based on a series of design experiments that resulted in a plan of this scope and complexity.
In fact Reh considers this experimentation, in this case by different designers, as a fundamental way of acquiring new design knowledge. Thus we can learn from the analysis of this process how design means have been applied and how new interventions into an existing situation and plan can work out.

Change of use; plan development of Afrikaanderplein (1904-2003)

The plan development of the Afrikaanderplein in Rotterdam is a good example for various design solutions based on development of use and change in needs of the urban population. The site is located on the left bank of the river Maas that flows through Rotterdam.
Bakker describes the sequence of interventions that took place in design and use of the Afrikaanderplein between 1904 and 1985.

The development of the Afrikaanderplein between 1918 and 2003

The development of the Afrikaanderplein between 1918 and 2003

A returning issue is the demand for a (too) large number of functions and types of use in relation to the available space. By allowing all demands and compressing that in the available space just next to each other, the result is that all demands are taken care of but nobody is satisfied. In all plans it leads to fragmented space and space out of use.
The type of problem of the Afrikaanderplein is not exceptional. The conclusion is that this can only be solved either by leaving out functions or enlarging the space. In the case of the Afrikaanderplein the last option was impossible. Even the increased and intense user participation starting from the 70-s did not contribute to any solution in the long run. Intelligent design approaches that separate certain functions / types of use and reorganize functions and use spatially, can lead to lasting solutions as it is shown in the most recent plan. In 2000 the landscape architects of the office of OKRA started an interactive planning process together with the municipality and the surrounding users. The result was an enclosed green space ('park' area) separated from dedicated functions around like the market, sports, gardens ('square area').8 Since its realization in 2003 the square functions quite well.

Urban development and changes in the urban landscape; the extension of the Louvre axis in Paris

The development of the present axis from the Louvre to La Défense is an example in which conservation and development is integrated and still plays a major role in the structure and the functioning of the city.
This linear structure, now more than 10km long, did start in the Louvre and has been extended since the Louvre got included in the city walls.
The Jardin des Tuileries designed by Carnesse, an Italian landscape architect who worked for Catharine de Medici (later was redesigned by Le Nôtre for Louis XIV in the 17th century) was the first extension of the axis westbound. Originally being a garden for the Louvre and the palace of the Tuileries, it was opened to the public just before the French Revolution. The Champs Élysées is almost two km long and originally was an extension of the axis of the Jardin des Tuileries. In the 17th century it was enlarged and developed into a large boulevard. The Arc de Triomphe was built in the 19th century and in the 20th century the axis of the Champs Élysées was extended towards La Défense. Mitterand initiated a project to erect a new arch, this time for humanity which was called 'La Grande Arche'. The creation of the 'Grand Louvre' after the Ministry of Finance and Economy moved to Bercy, was the most recent addition and change. The Caroussel gardens and the Tuileries were redesigned by Jacques Wirtz, a Belgian landscape architect, who won the international competition.
The case of the 'axe historique' shows that historical structures can be used in contemporary situations. This axis shows three transformations since it has been established by Le Nôtre as the axis of the 'Jardin des Tuileries'. First there was the creation of the Champs Élysées in the 17th century, secondly the extension to westbound and the creation of the Arc de Triomphe in the 19th. Finally in the 20th century it was extended towards La Défense and the 'La Grande Arche' designed by Spreckelsen, a Danish architect.
During the entire course the line of the axis has given opportunities for development and changes, yet keeping its character and role in the urban structure of the metropolis. The development of the world exhibitions with the creation of the Grand Palais, Petit Palais and the axis to the Eiffel tower was finished in 1889. A century later the La Défense was built and the 'La Grande Arche' and finally the creation of the 'Grand Louvre' with the extension of the pyramid as the new main entrance and the redesign of the gardens by Jacques Wirtz. In all cases the historical axis remained a historical line and was even strengthened and enhanced by changes and new developments. New elements were inserted while maintaining the historical continuity.

In all three cases the concept of structure plays a major role. In the case of Stowe the ensemble of house and gardens is related to the structure of the topography defined by watercourses, valleys and historical buildings in the surroundings. New view lines and approaches of the ensemble were created on the basis of an existing structure. In Rotterdam, the Afrikaanderplein was part of a changing context of the surrounding urban fabric. First the creation of the new ports on the left bank demanded new large housing projects close to the ports for the workers. Now, while the port of Rotterdam is moving westbound and the port logistics are largely mechanized and computerized very few workers are needed in the port. Most of the people now living around the Afrikaanderplein are no longer working in the port, hence a new situation of role and function made necessary the redesign of the square. Place, location and orientation in the existing urban fabric remained and have been incorporated into the design of a new urban square where separation of certain functions play a key role. In the case of the historical axis that started at the Louvre, we see a continuous change and adding, extending new elements over time. Yet the historical axis remains readable and can be experienced; it has even been enhanced by the subsequent design interventions.

/read the rest of this post in issue No.35/

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