A Big Park is only a potential. It is the possibility of significant design form…Maybe there are different types of Big Parks… The Big Park is a proposition or an educated hunch without a theory to back it up. This studio will fill in the gaps…No text book exists for this, though much has been said and done that is about the Big Park. We are creating the text. Bringing to life the Big Park.
- From the Big Park 2 flyer.
These notes are some generalities drawn from the design work and research from two semesters of Design Studio on the notion of the Big Park.
A … BIG … PARK?
1. ‘Park’ has two senses, not separate and therefore confused, as we found: 1 As a certain ’stuff’ — generally undifferentiated trees and grass, whether indigenous, native or exotic, with the occasional path etc. and; 2. as an ‘entity’, a Park, something with an identity, something valued because it can have its own separate identity.
2. History has seen the rapid conversion or degeneration of the second into the first. The first now dominates.
3. Large parks are common forms in Melbourne. A considerable number of these are also significant.
4. A ‘Big Park’ is a large and significant entity in the city.
5. The notion of the ‘Big Park’ is a design notion that looks for the potential of the ‘Big Park’. Melbourne may possibly have many Big Parks. Yet it is known for a handful of set-piece Big Parks in the inner city area. Have we lost the tradition and means of creating Big Parks? What can be done with this rather ignored type of landscape? How do we develop a rigour in dealing with it? How can a Big Park be implemented these days? What can a contemporary Big Park be?
6. Most cultural forms have a certain size range where their greatest potential is to be found. The pop song is around 3 minutes long. The dance track is around 5 or more. Feature length films are usually around 90 minutes. Novels 150-250 pages etc… Many reasons contribute to each sort-of-ideal size, some very practical. It seems that each medium or form has an elegant size that allows the viewer / reader / user to become immersed within, and the creator to have a certain freedom with, but is not too big to be uncontrollable by the creator or fit easily into the use pattern of the receiver.
7. The successful Big Park is large enough to have a certain freedom about it and yet is smaller than the Open Space ‘system’ replete with the requisite vacuous empty green spaces dotted with trees, carparks, sports fields, serpentine paths, bike tracks and low maintenance shrub-dominant plantings and mown with a slasher.
8. Big Parks seem to exist in a size range where they can be both Entities in the city and contain an abundance of the various landscape intensities and difference ( ‘more red is redder than less red’, Matisse) that are often lost at too large a scale. However, size in itself does not make a great park.
9. The Big Park may offer landscape architecture its ultimate design form.
ANTI-BIG: Abstract Space and Open Space
10. Melbourne has thousands of ‘open spaces’ and hundreds of thousands of hectares of the stuff. Only a handful seem memorable. What was once known affectionately as The Garden State may be green but that is about it.
11. Open Space, as the Melway will tell you, is being produced rapidly everyday, seemingly without intention.
12. Open Space is currently created in two principal ways. The most prevalent is as a almost random legally required byproduct or left-over of suburban development. This illustrates a legislated distribution of a certain amount of open space within walking distance of each house.
13. The other mode is via the governmental creation of ‘open space systems’, which involves not much more than colouring in maps at 1:50,000. Open Space systems value amount and contiguity as seen on maps above all else. The greener the city looks on a map, as no-one gets to see all of these things, the better.
14. The other axis of the current production of open space is the marriage of the dominance of technical rationality with the property market. This is a degraded remnant of idealistic thought about the role of parks in the city.
15. Open Space is nature re-interpreted through the abstract space of modernity a neutral, centrally referenced and whole conceptual space — which treats the world as a collection of objects, resources or ‘standing reserve’. This is a landscape world of users, amenity, visual character, green space, aesthetics, green corridors and masterplans.
16. Whilst there may be some good reasons to believe that verticality in all its abstractness is associated with or embodying ‘phallicality’ there is less visibly something ‘phallic’ about the abstractness of ‘open space’. The alien quality of much open space may be more because of its abstract treatment than the otherness and difference of nature — an otherness with which we have an irreducibly ambiguous relationship with.
17. The Shopping centre, the single family house, the individual, the separation of work and home, the traditional functional separation of genders, convenience, access, speed, the freeway and the open space system are culturally coeval, they share the same logic and trajectory.
18. This model or set of models is currently transforming itself beyond all intentions possibly. What will happen to open space now that it is being produced as well as reserved?
19. If open space is designed or planned it is usually done so through, or more likely after, the defensive process-oriented Landscape Site Planning model, which is more or less predicated on notions of abstract space. This is the space of a certain public and governmental style of legitimation — a style of legitimation which requires seemingly defensible, transparent, step-by-step, linear, rationalistic fact driven methodology. Significance is the first victim of the Will-to-legitimation. You cannot be defensive about a Big Park.
20. Why was Central Park created in opposition to the option of many smaller parks? Addition may be multiplication.
21. The fascination of Versailles, Central Park, Bos Park and La Villette come from their obvious scope, degree of freedom and ambition.
22. Big Parks obviously offer the potential for big spaces eg. The Long Meadow of Prospect Park, and the hill in Royal Park which almost seems to exploit the curvature of the earth.
23. Size is also proportional to the variety and contrast (number, type, size and scales) of spaces possible. Bigness does not however come from big things imported to the site, though they may aid it.
24. Big Parks contain the possibility of losing yourself in, or escaping to, another world. The close co-presence of different worlds is a key modern and urban experience.
25. Smallness comes in many guises as bodily experience, as details, as children and play, as claims and negotiations about space, glyptically and through touch, experientially, ergonomically, proxemically, as part of a micro-climate or niche or refuge or personal space etc. Smallness usually suffers first in an increase of size. Bigness versus smallness is a complicit opposition. Bigness is unavoidably thoroughly about smallness.
26. Big Parks need to go beyond uncreative dichotomies such as Big-insensitive-monumental-top-down-international / Small-sensitive-communal-participatory-bottom up local. Both act and are employed as caricatures that construct the other caricature in their own image and thereby silence other possibilities, such as a subtle monument.
27. Gardens seldom last very long. Buildings tend to be designed with a shelf life. Big Parks seldom disappear as no one would let them, and they generally improve with age.
28. Big Parks always combine the ineffable with the benign. The importance of the benign does not mean that parks are reducible to it.
29. Landscape design is a history of conversion to just the benign. Various aspects of the ineffable may retrieved from the benign — variation, difference, awe, irregularity, condensation and concentration.
30. Opposition to the sameness of much design work may turn up as an opposition to the benign. Planting may be relegated to the benign. Big planting has the ability to create worlds of an infinite difference. Seasonal, liminal and diurnal difference which may be subtle in limited settings take on a new significance with Bigness. Planting also best brings out non-planting.
BIG PARK TALK
‘animals are good to think with’
Anon. (Ancient Greek)
‘science is beyond rhetoric’
31. All languages are metaphorical. An effective language should be both precise and suggestive, have both touch and feel, be both strictly denotative and highly connotative. It should provide ‘something’ that maybe was not there before — ‘we didn’t have the words to say it’ — and a world for this something to thrive in.
32. In the drive for modern legitimation languages deny their metaphorical element, in fact they tend to deny that they are even languages. These languages may stagnate or reify or the contradictions pile up until the mess appears as fact. History is about forgetting metaphor, naturalising certain abstractions thereby neutralising the usefulness, precision, productivity, practicality and creativity of abstraction.
33. Embracing abstraction tends towards a language that is re-interpretative, reconstructive, situational, local, possibly temporary and claimed from your position.
34. The notion of a Big Park is not just a description or a world, it also prescribes criteria and value. Is this park Big? The Big Park puts a premium on judgement and responsibility. Open space takes itself for granted.
35. Big Park talk is about creating points of leverage. Talk has material consequences. Abstract space is the result of abstract talk. Big Park talk is about talking Big.
36. Particular examples of Big Parks may be significant themselves, but particular forms may take on a significance because they are distinguishable and differentiated from other forms — the crime novel, the portrait, epic theatre, shopping centres, the cemetery, the botanic garden, the civic park etc.
37. Cultural artefacts refer beyond themselves. Each culture seeks out difference at hand to create differences. Open space systems constuct a primary difference between city and nature, thereby helping to eliminate other difference and other possible differences. This type of bringing ‘nature into the city’ may actually be reducing nature. The difference and differences of a park will also be reduced.
38. A Park is certainly not just nature, nor is it ‘just a cultural construct’. it is inseparably both. Part of the fascination with a park comes from the dialectical relationship between the naturalising of nature, as natura naturans, and that a park is not nature. More nature, in a park, means seemingly paradoxically more culture.
39. Public means more than just access. Parks may embody, reflect or create a sense of the identity of the public. Just as natupe is naturalised in a park so it is in a sense a public-nature or a naturalised-Public.
40. Parks generally lack the connotations of power, exclusion, nation or statehood and glory that other public entities such as buildings and monuments may exude. Public parks are the most public of all public entities. Big Parks are even more public — and generally imply a certain public or collective ambition or self-consciousness.
41. Parks are usually seen as a Big Gift given in the right spirit. A symbol of idealism or goodwill or the valuiing of more than just material economic life. Something for the people. ‘our park’.
42. If a park presents itself as a park it is already a potential that will either be accentuated or denied in a design. The stuff of design is that it is already a park. It is about altering what a park is through the particular example. This is an engagement with culture via form which weakly may be reduced to a discussion of ‘type’. The obsessional qualities of site analysis and the world of abstract space make the mythological or sacred invisible, or seem false, secondary, separate from life or impossible.
43. It seems that for our historical parks history is the past. It can only be lost or eroded; that is, preserved, conserved or reconstructed. How can you be anything else but precious? History despises the present and cannot see lived history. Big Parks are about making history.
44. It is no surprise that abstract space has constructed history in its own image. Abstract space kills, hides or reifies history. Historians therefore get a job digging it up.
45. Bernard Tschumi notes in passing that one of the charming things about gardens is their ‘uselessness’. There is an ambiguity, not drawn out by Tschumi, about this uselessness, an ambiguity between usefulness and uselessness. Public gardens or parks seem to have a similar but different relation to this uselessness. Parks are both highly valued as a need and highly valued as being outside all use functions at the same time (though recreation and leisure may have partly eroded this ambiguity). The uselessness of this usefulness of green space suggests a usefulness that is a public usefulness not separate but certainly not reducible to any individualised functional usefulness. A Big Park is expansive uselessness.
THE CONDITION OF DESIGN
46. The search for the Big Park is an encounter with the medium of landscape design. This encounter aims to construct the ideal condition of design for a Big Park. To do this it may be useful to compare landscape design to say sculpture or painting. In the crafting up of a sculpture or a painting an action results in a change in the artwork, the effect of which is immediately obvious and immediately informs the next action. In landscape design nothing is near as direct and immediate as this. Between the designer and the landscape is a gap — the gap of representations. In sculpture there is no abstract intermediary, such as a plan drawing.
47. Im response we may be tempted to go out and alter a hill with our hands or plant a forest, but this is not very practical, nor can these things be undone easily if we do not like them. Abstraction gives us power over the landscape, especially larger landscapes. It is the separation, as much as the closeness of abstractions, which gives designing its power and just as importantly, its limits.
48. Being a medium that is difficult to represent and working at a scale that is difficult to control Big Parks test the limits of representations. Bigness heightens both the possibilities and power of abstraction and brings out all of their most limiting characteristics most clearly. With a little bit of looking the limits become visible. At once we are obligated to both critique and also fully embrace, with abandon, these representations.
49. Beth Meyer (1994) claims implicitly, not directly, to be ‘letting the landscape speak for itself’. To do this she identifies three ’repressed figures of the modern landscape’, Bigness is located in these repressed figures.
50. A key figure for Big Parks is what Meyer terms the ‘figured ground’, topography: ‘that body between the figural object and neutral field design vocabulary’. The art of this figure is site or surface transformation — which here will be used to illustrate something about the condition of design.
51. Surface transformation is a very specific art and illustrates the limits of representations. To approximate the idealised condition the representation in question should have the following characteristics topophilia ( provide for love of the third dimension or love of topography); the form should be apparent in all of its materiality, otherness and difference; it should provide both overview and detail, moving in and out and around, referenceability and transformability (from a point of reference); allow actions or rather crafting (action immediately answers action) in a variety of ways; allow ease and speed of working, allow preciousness and unpreciousness and have metaphorical possibilities etc. This is a tall order.
52. For instance, plan tends to be topophobic and section makes the third dimension two dimensional and forgets the overview. Representations with all three dimensions given tend either to be difficult to craft (CAD, most models) or crude, imprecise or lack reference (clay, sand, MDF). None really approaches very directly or easily the necessary conditions for design. This makes surface transformation seem relatively difficult.
53. The renewed art of the imposed order, intervention or collage has received a good deal of attention in recent years. The importing of fragments or the overlaying of form onto a pre-existing order may have the advantage of an instant, ready made, subtle and very specific borrowed order; speed; instant testing and contrast amongst other things. An intervention has the potential to provoke or invite very specific interactions with the existing order and may readily change the understanding of the site or design or scale. The intervention has the characteristic of suggesting possibilities that would not be available to traditional site planning, with its tendency to sameness as its methods tend to imply one legitimate way of designing the land.
54. Common side effects of an imposed order, are that the imposed order is just overlain on top of the existing order orelse obliterates the existing order. It also results in pattern, object or thing-fetishism and virtual topophobia.
55. The ideal condition of design for the topographic would be one where there is a free and immediate interaction between the imposed and prior order in an uncompromising way.
56. Representations are not foregrounded by Meyer (1994) but are essential for her critique. Representations play an important role in the repression of the ‘repressed figures of the modern landscape’. Meyer seems to suggest that the existing abstractions are limited and that what we need are better abstractions, ones that ‘let the landscape speak for itself’. This is not false but the truth is that landscape design will always rely on abstractions and the abstractness of representations — and representations are not pictures of reality. For all intents and purposes the landscape approximates the representations.
57. The notion of the ‘medium’ of landscape being the real landscape is somewhat misleading. The medium is and is not the real landscape. This notion of the medium is borrowed from the world of art. The medium of landscape design being what the designer works with is as much about what falls in the gap between the real landscape and the designer via representations, discourse and practices. The condition of design we are seeking should not be exactly modelled on the sculpture paradigm outlined above. It has more to do with constructing or reconstructing your own medium.
58. Design is about artfully confusing abstractions with reality. Design is an art of doing, and the bigness of Big Parks multiplies the effects of abstraction, for good or evil.
SCALE AS DEVICE
59. Landscape designers have a strong tendency to design similarly for a small site as for a big one. This ensures emptiness and generality for one thing. Landscape design tends to deal confidently only in two scales — the abstraction of planning or the concreteness of detail. Big Parks deal in the space in between these a mid-range set of scales the scale of the relation between the small and the Big.
60. There are many types of Big. There are great differences between 5 10, 20, 50, 100, 120 and 500 ha. The shift from 10 to 50 ha is a shift out of most designers’ capabilities to manipulate in any way apart from the abstract. Words do not easily permit an understanding of different scales for the same area. Our language is restricted to quantity or quality and does not deal with a quality of quantity. Big differences lurk behind abstracted similarity.
61. Big Parks allow for the parallel existence of different scales in the same park, scale compression, scale contrast, nested sets of scales etc.
62. If we follow the Big Park rules that limits should be identified and any limit can become enabling, scale can be used as a device.
63. Collage becomes more useful at a larger scale, for instance it may allow instant and specific scale control or provocation. This helps avoid abstract scale.
TOWARDS HYPERPARK and beyond compositionalism
64. Parks may be expensive gifts or legal requirements. They may also be armatures or catalysts for urban change or feasible or near feasible or projects in themselves. Recent urban design strategies have explored how to free up the programmatic for the possibility of new combinations, new arrangements and configurations. A quantumn leap needs to be made in the control of the programmatic in landscape design. This is essential in the development of the Big Park. The celebrated schemes for Parc de La Villette, by Tschumi and OMA and Bos Park are recent examples of this exploration, however the tradition actually goes back much further. ie. Birkenhead Park, Central Park.
65. We only have to look at recent parks on the periphery of Melbourne to note a rapid evolution of the park program with many new park hybrids appearing i.e. cemetery park, shopping centre park, carpark park.
66. This all leads to the notion of the hyper park. More functions potentially means more functions means more people means more money spent means more potential means more people etc. Bringing everything up brings everything else up.
67. The urban programmatic — as a social, commercial, civic amalgam — is really a collection of rules of thumb. The feasability of a major urban complex may be worked out on the back of a restaurant napkin. Knowing these limits leads to control over them.
68. Limits are synergistic. The more limits taken on board the greater the potential freedom. Not knowing the limits tends towards a stylistic compositionalism that denies the potential of compositions.
69. We tend to have a limited notion of the functional as utilitarian-banal, being separate from an aesthetic which is seen in the image of beauty or individual taste.
70. There is no separation between function and aesthetics. There is no way we can separate the artefact from its function, as Aldo Rossi suggests, for the architecture of the city. There is nothing like a ‘decorated shed’ in landscape design. Form and function are somewhat useless terms for landscape design. A Big Park explores how form and function drive each other.
71. A Big Park is generally dominated by functional considerations, whilst at the same time being functionally open. This is a luxury that is not appreciated enough. Instead it is interpreted as a romantic freedom-without-limits.
72. Big Parks may incorporate or absorb many functions. What does, does not, could and could not exist in a Big Park? That parks are such a mystery in this respect is a source of redemption.
73. Each thing, function or amenity in a park claims its own space. Claims may be too great, not great enough, competing or contradictory, flavoured and friendly or unfriendly. Park design re-direct claims through marking and limiting.
74. Each technology has its own strategies. Technology presents itself in the form of problems. Problems become imperatives that may consume any present intention if it does not exist as ambition. Big Parks convert any problem into a set of limits, and limits are the stuff of design. Determining limits is part of the construction of the medium. The medium does not naturally exist.
75. Prevalent materials must have some redeeming qualities, and no doubt redeemable and repressed traditions possibly the richest traditions? The prevalent is very worthy of redemption. Big Parks have lots of the prevalent.
LANDSCAPE AS URBANISM: The Return of the Particular
76. The Big Park is really an exploration of Landscape as Urbanism, a rich and largely unspoken language.
77. Allessandro Ponte, in Mosser and Teyssot’s The History of Garden Design argues that the English Public Parks of the mid-nineteenth century, were urban design projects replete with associated housing, infrastructure and vision, such as Birkenhead Park in Liverpool.
78. This was also the moment of the rise of the idea of the ‘greening of the whole city’. The excitement that these parks caused also suggested more could be achieved if attention was refocused more widely. The whole city became the object of this greening. Street tree planting and open space were born. These far more abstract landscape urbanisms were a move away from the single project and specifics, and signify the rise of the open and the general.
79. Ponte not surprisingly sees this as signalling the demise of landscape design.
80. There has however been a recent return of the project, for instance the ‘Projects not Plans’ approach taken in Barcelona, Spain where the comprehensive general plan was eschewed in favour of the implementation of projects held in relation to one another by a common tradition and discourse amongst designers about the city rather than a unified image in a report.
81. Various notions of the particular have been put forward ie. pressure points, metastasis, intervention, armature, collage etc. This language of the particular in the city has arisen in different places at more or less the same time. The particular in these models always implies the particular nature of the general as well.
82. Open space is often anti-urban, in that it ignores, divides, and lowers intensity. Parks can and do have an escalating effect on urbanity. Parks often support an urban focii by attachment or cause attachment by other functions.
83. Big Parks contain trade-off potential — between different portions of the same park, for contrast — or with other urban functions or between parks — or else one part may be sold off to improve the rest.
84. Big Parks are about the city in the site. The city is embedded or present or implied within a park. The site focus of site planning tends to be blind to the urban within even though it may see ‘the region’ within. Planning, infrastructure etc. naturalise themselves.
85. Location, frontage, exposure. Location is everything. This cannot be overemphasised. The more significant parks in Melbourne are generally significant as much for location as for their own qualities.
86. Big Parks exploit and are driven by sites. The quarry, possibly the most dramatic found landscape, almost invariably controlled by technicians, only needs a twist to go beyond being a technical object, as some of the great parks of Melbourne show.
87. At a glance there are two generations of parks in Melbourne. Those that are reserved and the more recent ones that are produced, in this era of the production of space. If reserves have anything at all to offer it is that often quality sites were reserved, ones that did not lend themselves to other uses or did lend themselves to a reserve or park. Many recent parks deny the reliance upon the city or the basic structuring of topography.
88. Big Parks may assert themselves on the city. Central Park orders Manhattan as much as the grid, vertical zoning, the boundary of the island or any buildings or groups of them.
89. If we ask what things order, orient or re-orient the city, then a non-object monumentalism (for want of a better name) can be thought of. Monumentality is inherent in the Bigness of landscape, it is just not so dumbly obvious.
90. Park shape creates and / or defines neighbourhoods, boundaries, barriers, and porosity. It also directs roads, makes connections, provides other worlds and creates focii. A long thin park is different to a short fat one. Size and shape are irrelevant in abstract space. We just want access to the stuff, and more of it.
91. Different parks have different boundary-to-area ratios and relationships. Not to mention different boundary, area and topography relationships.
92. Big Parks make claims on their neighbours. Big Parks negotiate with and are flavoured by context, surroundings, neighbourhood, contiguity and opposites. An important aspect of the negotiation is how Big Parks may choose to incorporate or ignore surrounding landuses. This makes them exemplary urban entities.
93. Entities need to mark themselves, distinguish themselves. Entity-ship is the art of distinction, of difference. Difference is more demanding than sameness. Sameness fits into the path of least resistence that is often taken. Big Parks seriously explore difference for difference sake.
94. Infrastructure marks, redirects and accentuates topography and topography re-directs infrastructure. Bigness begins with primary process. Primary process is the first forgotten.
95. If any language is ‘unheard’ it is the language of relationships. This hidden world is by definition much Bigger than the visible object world (objects are actually collections of relations not separate from the non-object). Relationships cannot be about smallness, as relationships are by their very
96. Everything distinguishes itself by difference, difference requires division or marking or differing. Every landscape and every landscape effect could be interpreted as a relation between edges (or boundaries, margins, transitions, confines, frames…) and what they edge. The entity is a study in edging. Big Parks need framing, distinction. Edging has a rich history in landscape design.
97. Surface transformation has to be done within limits and this calls for strategic transformations. Edges and corners are the most economical means to transform surfaces and define entities.
AN ART OF AMBITION
98. Experience structures expectations in its own image. The Big Park project aims to go employ or turn around the following limitations:
- Low expectations.
- The budget spent per area s usually somewhat inversely proportional to the size.
- Lack of urbanity or density of population to justify significant attention given to a park.
- Inability to design Big projects.
- Existing management and planning imperatives.
99. As has been stated Bigness is to be located through the many ‘unheard’ languages. Meyer (1994) asserts that ‘once we split open the closure of binary oppositions…many alternative ways of seeing, describing, and evaluating the landscape are seen’. However presenting one set of repressed figures, as Meyer does, may hide others. She makes a connection between ‘unheard languages’, the other guys (art and architecture) game and ‘making the landscape visible’ according to art and architectural models. Meyer suggests obligatory connections between these. So that making the ‘landscape visible’ is following’the other guy’s games. However making the landscape visible may be done in many ways, and some value may be gained from the ‘other guys’ game. Meyer is not against art and architecture per se, but a certain knee-jerk appropriation of it. Making the landscape visible is a fine occupation if it is not attached to what Meyer calls landscape-for-architecture.
100. Nor is she against visibility, just a visibility in the image of architecture and art, one that represses the ‘visibility’ possible with landscape.
101. Big Parks are about the Art of Ambition, which is seriously lacking in landscape design.
(Web) editor’s note: the original article was accompanied by speculative projects and precedent analysis produced for the Big Park studios. This work was by Kirsten Bauer, Penny Allen, Deb Pullyblank, Michael Wright, Judi Stevenson, Tim Nicholas, Scott Adams, Tony Russell, and Steve Ireland. We hope to add this material to this article in a future update.
- Meyer, Beth, ‘Landscape as Modern Other and Postmodern Ground’, in Edquist, H & Bird, V, eds. The Culture of Landscape Architecture. Edge Publishing, Melbourne. 1994
- Lefebvre, H., translated by D. Nicholson-Smith (1991) The Production of Space. Blackwell UK