“Rather than endless variations, the firm underscores the importance of an order, a foundation which can cope with quite a hammering. It might It be strong, serene or sober, but always offers an opportunity for ever-changing use. Within this there is space for adventure, variation and frivolity… Our concerns are looking for a balance between visuals, significance and use”.2
This article was a way of articulating my own particular design interests, specifically public open space within cities, and their methods of production, planning and design.3 Recently I travelled to the Netherlands4 and spent an intense period visiting a number of widely published landscape design projects. The Netherlands has been extremely active in the planning and design of high quality public open space, and landscape architects have been important players within this process. My interest lies in seeking out and examining design strategies, and their significance in the creation of engaging public places. Specifically I am concerned with the manner in which they deal with a problematique5 referred to by Bart Brands as the limited amount of available land within the Netherlands and the increasing complexity of functions these spaces are called upon to accommodate.
“Space is rare”6
The Federation Square development in Melbourne has brought to Australia the Dutch landscape architect Bart Brands, a principal of the firm Karres and Brands. Earlier Brands was a member of the landscape office Bureau B+B, a firm well known within the Netherlands and Europe for their extension of the Dutch modernist, functionalist tradition into the present. A characteristic strategy of many of their projects is willingness to understand and use design as an active and continuous participant in negotiation with authorities (municipal and planning), a negotiation they see as intimately bound up with the ongoing design of the project.
Bart holds out a challenge to designers: “create your own opportunities; don’t just respond fluidly to constraints and continual incorporation”.7
This article elaborates and extends on the issues found in three sources of information: the Kerb 5 interview with Bart Brands; Brands’ public presentation to a RMIT student-run Melbourne landscape forum, ‘Nitty Gritty’, in March 1997; and three built projects by the office of Bureau B+B.
Brands’ self-effacing manner suggests that rather than the projects simply illustrating a particular design agenda, his design philosophy is embedded in the texture of the design process and its physical outcome. Brands presents the process of the projects as pragmatic. This pragmatism involves a certain political shrewdness.8 He works with an awareness of the potentially productive (for design) political collaborative process and practical skill, versus the application of utilitarian and standard procedures and treatments. This sort of “pragmatism” views constraints (or limits placed upon the project) as potentially creative design generators, within the overall design and implementation stages.
Each project formulated a different strategic approach to the Dutch “problem”: the lack of public space, and the complexity of accommodating all required functions and services. The projects also demonstrate an important cross-section through the different scales of urbanity in the country. My discussion ranges from Hilversum, (situated within the historical city centre), Kromhout Park (situated within the middle urban band of development in the city of Tilburg) to Nordwik (situated on the suburban periphery) of the city of Groningen. will compare and contrast9 each of these projects and their design strategies with similar types of public spaces in Melbourne. The aim iS to demonstrate the relevance and potential of some of these design strategies to local (Australian) conditions.
Two squares in the Hilversum Designers
Bram Breedveld, Martin van Osch & Francien van Kempen 1990-1992, implementation 1992-1994
The design in Hilversum is a series of small public spaces. The predominant design strategy is what I will call ‘simplicity’. The aim is to redefine public space within a compact commercial centre. This project will be compared to the Swanston Walk and MIT University streetscapes undertaken by Melbourne City Council. Within the Tilburg project, a strategy of combining and layering functions is analysed, in the context of the ever-increasing demands and expectations placed upon an inner urban park type. It will be compared to Dyeworks Park in the suburb of Prahran. An overall landscape structural framework into which functions are folded and integrated was used in Groningen. As a result, the designers created a park that responds to the broader issues of the provision of a public space within a complex urban periphery. These issues consist of residential, commercial, agriculture, transport and recreation land uses. Groningen is compared to a regional park, Karkarook Park, being built by Parks Victoria (formerly Melbourne Parks & Waterways) at Heatherton on the edge of south east Melbourne.
The following is a collection of terms, primers for the historical development of landscape design in the Netherlands: land reclaimed from the sea, drainage engineering, total artificial landscape, constructed topography, extensive economic and spatial planning, planned democratic landscape, interrelationship of landscape design to other planning and design disciplines, lack of land and space in comparison to population, demand for high quality open space, social democracy, Calvinist ethics, “functionalism becomes a new vernacular and an institutional landscape form language”.10
A certain kind of pragmatism and strategy is required in design to negotiate these issues. I would argue this is what Bart Brands’ and Bureau B&B’s work reveals. In these squares, there is a recognisable use of ‘spatial’ simplicity or graphic geometric simplicity. This is articulated in Brands’ comment on the imperative of public space design in the Netherlands; he seeks to “make the biggest space possible”11 out of very limited available space.
“I think the main thing is that everything we do is simple”.12
The Hilversum project is a comprehensive public space and streetscape development for the inner historical precinct of Hilversum. Within this project, special attention is given to the requirement of restructuring transport access to the centre of the town. The existing squares had become colonised by an ad hoc collection of streetscape elements, bicycle parking and varied landscape treatments, which obscured the overall geometry of these public spaces. The first square, Keiplein, marks the periphery of the historic centre and the second is a square along the major street, the Groest. It appeared that the agenda of the two squares and the project brief is a rationalisation of the space; redefining a recognisable public significance within the town centre. An aspect of this ‘publicness’ is the design’s response to public functions such as marketplaces, outdoor eating, performance areas etc.
Keiplein is a triangular space adjacent to the inner city ring road. A new raised paving surface was inserted into the site and long stone benches edge the square and divide it from the ring road. A historical stone memorial was repositioned in the new surface. The square on the Groest is also triangular, and a new a elliptical paving form sits centrally in the space. Paving materials in both squares differentiate the inserted ‘public’ surface and surrounding pedestrian shopping pavements.
The project demonstrates three possible meanings of the idea of ‘simplicity’ as design strategy: the first, a formal type of approach to the design problematic; the second, a recognisable ‘spatial’ simplicity; and the third, a physical combining of landscape functions and meanings through the gesture of geometric forms and elements. “What we strive to do in our designs is to capture it in a logo, and we check our design against this logo as the project develops”.13
In the interview, Bart Brands refers to the office use of a logo or simple diagram. He describes how they draw one diagram that crystallises their main intentions for a project. This becomes the reference against which they judge all further processes and designs. This methodical design approach is important; it maintains control over any impact that political and planning developments could have on the design form. Because of its clarity of representation, the logo or diagram registers any changes which can be clearly recognised. There is a danger however, in using a graphic diagram to control the design process, that the design outcome will be a diagrammatic. This diagrammatic quality is clearly visible with the geometric character of the inserted new surface areas. This quality extends the compositional simplicity from a non-one-dimensional space to an on-the-ground functional complexity.
Both designs insert a recognisable or strong geometric paved surface into the a space as a strategy to reclaim a ‘public’ space within the fabric of the city. This allows a clearer reading of the square’s built facades and the volumetric characteristic of these inner-city spaces. The surface planes are simple in form and not designed to express more than one particular function. They address the problematique of the continual changing of functions required for cafés, performances, civic celebrations and markets, usual within inner square types.14 The architecturally framed geometry of the spaces is made publicly recognisable oy these surface planes and graphic spatial form gestures (i.e. ellipse and triangle platforms).
“The way that we design space has to a be a lot of things. We put layers of function on function. A seat has to be also a retaining wall for a garden and the entrance way to the metro. But at the same time you have to allow the people to use to the space to define the use of the space.”15 In these designs the layering of functions occurs through the combining of two or more functions into one element. In the Groest square, an extruded ellipse platform sits on the rim of the triangular surface ellipse of the square adjacent to the Groest. It operates as a performance platform, referring to the traditional stage and bandstand. Another function is to integrate and frame existing trees and provide public seating within the main square.
A long stone hybrid wall-seating bench in Het Keiplein marks the edge of the square and the adjacent inner city ring road. It registers the symbolic edge of the historical inner town, whilst also being a bicycle stand. The bench screens the bicycles from the square and allows the space within to be relatively free of other street furniture.
In these two designs, the arrangement of the surface plane and the main landscape element creates a strong spatial and sculptural dialogue. History has been interpreted with simple respect, not overly nostalgically. The designs produce a meaningful spatial geometry that respects the entirety of the urban square spatial experience. These squares resolve complex issues by simple surface and functional elements.
Melbourne is not a medieval city like Hilversum. Melbourne’s inner urban form, however, raises issues requiring similar levels of thought as applied in Hilversum. The point of comparison is the problem of creating appropriate design strategies for streetscapes in the creation of a city visual image. Melbourne City Council actively pursues this within Melbourne’s city grid, streets and laneways. Two projects demonstrate the range of streetscape design, from the classical and responsive renovation of RMIT University’s laneways, to the highly bureaucratic and municipal showpiece of Swanston Walk. A plethora of issues are presented by these projects. What I am concerned with is ‘standardisation’ within street design. Hilversum’s standardisation strategy is embodied within surface materiality, street furniture and form. This is similar to Melbourne City Council’s approach, but with Hilversum there is an explicit design agenda to integrate commercial and public requirements, while creating public spaces that respond to their location functionally, generating a site-specific urban form. Swanston Street’s standardisation is bound up a with a systematic, but non-specific distribution of “aesthetised” functional elements. Swanson Street’s design use of standardised street furniture and streetscape elements, is a dominating homogeneous logic. Swanston Walk lacks the awareness of the opportunity to use the ground plane as an articulated surface, rather than a neutral datum a for placed objects. The ground plane (or the human scale of the footpath space) is relatively ineffective at revealing the street’s (and therefore the city’s) spatial qualities.
There are more noticeably constructed ‘public spaces’ along its length, particularly in front of the Town Hall and Cafe l’Incontro. Otherwise the majority of the street is clothed with a constant array of furniture and equipment with too few moments of simple space, formed by the standards. The most site-responsive arrangement of standardised elements exists around intersections. To a certain extent these are successful, because they engage urban commercial activities, e.g., nut sellers and newspaper sellers. Where these activities interact with tram users, an urban space is generated. I would argue that it is not the waving of colour banners, potted plants, and other municipal merchandise, but this activity interaction that creates urban space.
The streetscape within RMIT University by Peter Elliot Architects (in association with MCC) takes the standard vocabulary of MCC streetscape elements and reconfigures and manipulates them to site-specific building and open space conditions. For example, a standard building entrance treatment for Bowen Lane was developed from the standard material of bluestone. It is a not a field of objects (such as Swanston Street) but a landscape platform of a ramp and steps (which also act as sitting platforms). This hybrid platform is low and horizontal, re-articulating the linear form and function of the street. The standard is modified at some points to accommodate an existing street tree or a change in grade level.
The comparison of these two projects investigates another strategy of design within the typical standardised systems, both in its economical restrictions and the production of a consistent image. Hilversum’s differentiation from the dominant standard system is present through a visual consistency of treatment. Hilversum also addresses specifics by manipulating the standards through multi- functional combining and re-configured distribution patterns. Swanston Street has an inflexible standard. When a new street condition is generated, it is responded to by the addition of another object standard.
Kromhout Park, Tilburg Designers
Bart Brands, Michael van Gesel & Jos Jacobs 5.7ha, implementation 1993-94
This project, Kromhout Park in the city of Tilburg also deals with a contemporary insertion into an historical precinct. This project began by questioning the conventional understanding of what a park is and how one increases and accommodates, the functional possibilities of a park within a city of limited space. This project is an exercise in editing and juggling the many needs, desires, uses and programs suggested for the public space. Unlike Hilversum, here no one simple gesture can accommodate all the functions or act as unifying forces within the space. Bart Brands describes this design as “a park within a park”.
It is a contemporary insertion within a former army barracks site. The barracks already had its own internal formal landscape structure: a ring of rectangular stree trees and an inner rectangle of linden and plane trees. The principal form of the landscape design is a perimeter of grass areas around a gravel promenade, providing the frame for a rectangular depression within which is accommodated a lake and an island, edged by thick bamboo planting. The decided functions of the park were integrated along a series of pathways or ‘programmatic lines’. These lines originate from the park edges and intersecting on the central island. The integrating lines are: the ‘climbing line’, a children’s adventure play path; the ‘art line’, a graphically paved path (which also accommodates the mayoral busts of Tilburg); the ‘water line’, which acts as a drain, water tower and bridge; and the ‘pergola line’, which is a detailed path and bridge structure.
Brands has observed in relation to another project “that the design process for the space is more than just talking about the space. It has to do with how everything relates and affects each other, how the city will function.” Rather than attempting to generate the design from another ‘imported’ agenda, Brands design approach to this park derives from the relationship of the park to city of Tilburg, and the connections of its functional systems. Framing of the questions (but not problems1) is important when dealing with these broader issues, i.e. what type of park should it be? What sort of relationship should it have with the existing city? What sort of functions should it contain? How can contemporary park functions be accommodated within a traditional park structure?
The problematique of defining the type of the park in relation to its urban context is further articulated when combined with the bureaucratic situation, as expressed by Brands, of “no program, no brief for the park”. Rather. what Brands had to deal with was a whirlwind of wishes and demands from the community and local government, “e.g. roses, animal farm, playground etc.”17 The process of re-examining what an urban park should be, specifically with respect to the general “lack of space within the city”,18 generates a line of questioning. These questions become a possible generator of the design of public open space. The problematique can be paraphrased as how to contend with the list of demands of local government and community in a limited amount of space, without producing a space that incomprehensible in its accommodation of different functions.
Brands defines the design strategy of the programmatic lines as “the stacking of functions”:19 a strategy of combining many conventional or desired park functions. instead of delineating them evenly across the site. The significance of this strategy is that the process of integrating them into one coherent or comprehensible form does not subsume them into a singular use. I found that the reality of these ‘programmatic lines’ was significantly different from their heightened graphic representation (see figures 6 & 7). They did not visually dominate the park, but integrated into the overall form of the park. These lines were integrated especially through their orientation towards the urban context, generating another circulation system. The lines are critical to the overall aesthetic form and life of the park, but they do not play the ‘feature’ role that the drawn representations of the project might suggest.20
The lines also comprise structural form for the park. For example, they start as horizontal, surface-oriented forms (i.e. different path materials) within the outer promenade ring, and become vertically expressed only once they enter the central lake space. The consistent bamboo edge around the lake also provides a monochromatic background to the visually stimulating aspect of these elements. The subtle responsive manoeuvres of the ‘lines’ in relationship to the other park forms, reduces the visual competition between all the programmatic areas of the park. The inner space, because of its ‘formal robustness’ (which has an association to a conventional park structure) can cope with the ‘intensive’ intrusions into this space.
This strategy compresses an array of functions within a smaller spatial area. This increases the openness within the rest of the park. This is Brands’ way of addressing a desire for trying to make the largest space possible design”21.
In summary, I read the basis of this design as the investigation of park type in relation to a pre-existing urbanity. The design strategy deals with the complexity of program and achieves coherence through the ‘stacking’ or integration of many functions into a series of fairly simple, conventionally readable park elements.
A similar park type within Melbourne that has also been publicised in terms of a strong design graphic is Dyeworks Park in inner urban Prahran, by the firm Mark McWha. The similarity of these two projects is the use of a history of former use as a design strategy, and their method of integrating park functions and services. From the outset Kroumhout Park was designed to engage the council and locals in the creation of a new park type. There was a list of ‘needs and wants’ from the council and community, but no idea of what type of park could commodate such requirements within the spatial limits of the site. Dyeworks was one of the first parks in Melbourne to challenge conventional ideas of park types and urban park aesthetics and it sought to engage the support of the council in pursuit of this aim.
Dyeworks uses the graphic to create a continuity with its a history, a factory that produced dyes. This is interpreted specifically through coloured concrete paving strips which surface the park. The site’s history is turned into a surface graphic. Kromhout’s interpretation of a prior history is represented as a three-dimensional functional transformation. The remnant outline of the parade ground is spatially reinterpreted and forms part of the new park promenade, operating as an enclosure device for the centre of the park. The vivid aesthetic scheme of Dyeworks forms an interesting surface pattern composition, however the vivid surface treatment in Kroumhout is part of the overall strategy — three-dimensional integration of functions and programs. The Dyeworks Park functions and services: play area, bosque, pond, hill, carpark, basketball court, BBQ, all sit independently of one another. The park’s elements exist within a functionalist tradition of separate areas for separate activities. Everything is a visual feature in Dyeworks. It remains within an assemblage design strategy, while Kroumhout reveals a more sophisticated layering system that recognises new methods of integration. Kroumhout hybridises traditional and contemporary park forms, challenging the traditional boundaries of behaviour and park use22. Dyeworks looks contemporary, but I would argue it has only begun the process of re-examining or reconfiguring the contemporary park type for urban Australia.
Park Norddijk, Groningen Designers: Bart Brands & Mathieu Derckx, implementation 1990-1998, 70ha first stage, 350 hectares total park size, approx. 3km long and 1km wide.
The next project, Norddijk Park, jumps tenfold in scale and complexity of program. The park also utilises integrated functions and expands upon the idea of a ‘landscape framework’ or ‘structure’.
Norddijk Park is situated on the eastern suburban periphery of the northern city of Groningen. The site is a former polder23 of agriculture and farming use and is totally flat. It is positioned between two suburban residential areas: the edge closest to the historical centre of Groningen is adjacent to the Groningen ring highway; the outer edge converges with the surrounding agriculture and farming district. The park has a number of references to other types of parks; for example, a traditional Volkspark or Bos park, an urban park, a nature reserve, and a business park24. The edge of one of the residential areas absorbs two pre-existing parks: the local park for that suburb and a fauna park. It incorporates both private and public forms of recreation. Programs existing within the park today are a bus station interchange point, indoor swimming pool, ice stadium, lake, ski hill, commercial indoor motor car racing and theatre. Proposed additional programs are intensive specialised sports areas (e.g. soccer), a forest zone, and parkland golf. Walking, running and bicycling are constant activities within the park; the pathway systems and dominant landscape are the structural matrix.
In 1984 Bureau B+B entered the Parc de la Villete International competition. I would like to suggest that this competition signalled a shift in the philosophy of landscape design. This shift was manifest through the interest in the theoretical and physical ideas of urban culture, redefining notions of structure, structuralism and flexible systems from the previous concerns in environmentalism and zonal planning. Bureau B+B’s design statement for their entry referred to the concept of a landscape structure: “the spatial structure of the park is determined by the following: a framework of spaces and public networks, open or intimate spaces and accents… The basic structure provides for unpredictable developments, concepts, technical and scientific break-throughs, changes in the organisational structure, the management of the park, or the habits and numbers of its visitors”.25 Bureau B&B’s subsequent design further develops this sense of shift in the emphasis of landscape design.
The landscape structure in Groningen emerges from a formal inter-connectedness of program at a range scales. These programs vary from the constructed land, regional infrastructure, city laws and regulations, to adjacent circulation and transport systems, commercial land uses and local public space networks. B&B utilise the structural principles formed from the historical and ongoing artificial construction of the Netherlands landscape process within landscape design strategies for this park. The process of constructing a topography or park form is viewed through the useful concept of ‘structure’. ‘Structure’ and ‘structural’ are well utilised terms in modern thought.26 They come from the 15th century and according to Raymond Williams were probably used as a noun of ‘process’, specifically the action of building. This process of building extended to include more figurative applications such as “the mutual relations of constituent parts of the whole as defining its particular nature”.27 The argument is that ‘structure’ has both a relation to the physical (i.e. the building of the landsacpe and the methodological (i.e. the process of building an appropriate design strategy). This includes the importance of the relationship between the overall structure which translates in landscape terms as the contextual scale; and the internal structure, which refers to the detailed scale.
Brands refers to another large mixed-use project in the interview, he states that ‘structure’ is the “framework”.28 which he sees as the overall controlling mechanism for the design. The critical moment of this strategy is to know where to reiterate it [the structure] and when to let it go”.29 The probleatique in this project is the desire to have a framework which provides moments of other functions; not singular and purely aesthetic. The design should also be a comprehensible form provides a reference system throughout the park. The aim of the framework is to allow for integration and dialogue between the urban regional scale and site specifically.30
The stucture within this design is manifest as a recognisable matrix of pathways (vehicular and pedestrian), dykes and water lines connecting parts of the large expansive site. Elevated landforms and large buildings provide a referential profile for the park, both internally and externally. The program within the park is accommodated by a linear framework of permanent public circulation lines that cross its length. These lines are the device, and become the parks primary spatial definition. This structure allows for the diverse provisional programs to be “slotted in”31 without disturbing the overall form and character of the park. The strong aesthetic form of this framework allows other non-public uses to be inlaid, without shifting its meaning as a public park.32 The thoughtful and precise use of scale within the of landscape and built elements allows for these conventionally defined oppositional functions.
In all cases, what is interesting is how the structural framework incorporates regional systems into a smaller scale transforming regional structure to become localised and specific. The incorporation of a bus depot demonstrates how the structure responds to a broader planning scale, while the pathways respond in the design more to local scale networks.
How Groningen’s framework works on a detailed scale will be examined through three specific parts of the framework: that of a central pathway, a lake edge, and the front edge of the park.
The major component of the framework is the pathway forming a main circulation line through the body of the park. The linear structure is approximately 1 km long, linking the more suburban end of the park and the adjacent agriculture landscape. It comprises a double row of poplars on a dyke elevated above adjacent land.
This component of the pathway also works as an expansionist device for the framework. Because the park extends into the agriculture area, it is complicit with and acknowledges the foreseen extension of the city’s periphery. It becomes a landscape-colonising element initiating and awaiting the transformation of the landscape for another use. The line is a catalyst for the change in the use of the agriculture landscape, but it is not dependent on the development for its form and meaning.
“Where to reiterate it and when to let it go”, when to “lose it”33
The significance of this framework component is that the designers did know “when to lose it”. The line stops becoming a dominant axis device by not being one continuous line running from one end of the park to another. This large-scale linear division would have generated a singular reference structure, an axis, a dividing element that would have reduced the inter-relationships and crossings possible within the park.
Part of this notion of the importance of the dialogue between larger scales and smaller scales is the connection is between the linear line and the sky. The double row of poplars forms a visual screening from the surrounds, and a provides a tactile edge wall to the space. The space is separate from its context, drawing one along a very long expanse of space. Geographically this central pathway is another linkage line within the It park. It also harbours an intimate human spatiality. The high landscape corridor frames the sky. As a landscape element, the path connects both functionally and horizontally with the park, also formulating its own vertical spatiality and dialogue with the sky. This edge reiterates the structural (framework) strategy; on the level of a design detail, it represents the strategy of “adding up functions and going for long lengths”.34 The lake edge comprises an entrance road bordering the office park, a nature strip, a two-way bicycle path, a seating terrace, a water promenade, and the lake. These components are aligned and compressed together to form a continuous edge. Though generated through pre- dominantly circulatory systems, the edge creates a strong landscape form, thereby giving the water body the urban quality of an occupiable edge. The latter demonstrates a precision of integration through ‘compaction’ of regional and site-specific functions.
The value of the framework is its ability to accommodate private or commercial developments without compromising the ‘publicness’ of the overall park. All the major built structures are positioned at the freeway edge of the park. Their scale visually impacts upon the adjacent freeway, without dominating the horizontal scale of the landscape. The built forms, like the elevated line, generate an internal horizon line, or a reference for the park. Rather than overshadowing; they redefine the flatness of the site. The hill was constructed by left-over soil, available from building sites within the centre of Groningen. The hill is still in the process of construction. Through this transferral of soil from the centre to the periphery, a pragmatic mythological relationship is with the generated historic centre of Groningen. It also establishes an interdependence between building and landscape economics, as the hill itself is a product of the functioning historic city. e.g. The public landscape form of a lake (used for free skating) is positioned in relation to the more privatised ice stadium and aquarium centre. This placement of function promotes a dialogue between the seasonal uses of both spaces. This creates a formal dialogue between the mass, the surface element, and the sky. This is one example of the use of scale as a mediating device between two quite divergent landscape scales.
“He [dutch urban planner J.B. Bakema] was born and bred in Groningen, a northern city in the middle of peat bogs and polders, which caused him from early age to be fascinated with space; space which forces itself on the mind in the Holland landscape more than anywhere else”,35
In Tilburg the ‘programmatic lines’ form the main events and result from the integration of particular park functions. However, in Groningen the park functions and other landscape elements form the structural framework and provide long-term infrastructure for the park. The design is an experiential dialogue with the ever-changing sky. The sky completely dominates the experience of the flat expanse in the park. The main movement line, lake, ski mound, lake edge, buildings, and pathways consciously frame the sky, through their position on the ground plane and horizon line. The structure is responsive to the context, site and park orders. This response ultimately enforces the experiential relationship between the landscape spatiality and form with the scale of the sky.36
Groningen Park utilises the flexible structural approach to negotiate between the private and public realms of public outdoor recreation within the city. The flexibility also formalises a park form that engages with regional, and metropolitan orders thus producing meaningful local space. These conditions, and the challenges that they bring are not dissimilar to the conditions that act upon Melbourne’s (and other Australian cities’) periphery; regional park systems. The issue behind the development of these parks is the re-integration of the private and public realms within public space, historically separated throughout the 20th century.
Most suburban parks in Australia are produced by legislative action. For example in Melbourne the major method of the production of open space is the requirement that new housing developments etc. must keep 5% of the total land as public open space.37 Historically Melbourne Parks & Waterways has been conservative in its relationship to commercial and private activities. There has been a strong push from successive governments for these park authorities to generate considerable income from park usage. The conventional (standardised) design models used to create regional parks are ineffective in developing innovative and productive relationships with the private realm to design economically and socially viable, contemporary parks. The challenge for periphery parks is to be able to transform themselves and to generate new public space forms within changing social and economic conditions. in specifically in light of commercial speculation (both public and private). Such a park is Karkarook Park, in the suburbs of Moorabbin and Heatherton, in south eastern Melbourne.
Karkarook Park, already half completed, is a combination of former agriculture land, a retarding basin, freeway reserve land and a future mining site. The collaboration being undertaken involves the authority leasing the land to a mining consortium, who must then as part of the lease entitlement and under the design guidance of the authority return the land in the form of a park. The design will be established by utilising and tailoring mining technology to produce a recreational lake. In addition the lake hybridises into part of the local flood mitigation infrastructure and water cleansing processes.
These principles are not contemporary.38 The park structure in Groningen is established though the hybridisation of the polder landscape with the park’s recreational functions. The question for Karkarook is: will the same act of utilising prior history be performed here? Will the resultant lake retain any of the mining landform characteristics, or will its own means of production be smoothed over by neo-picturesque landscape mounds - the standard treatment? The standard regional system of design tends to dominate site specificity, such that parks in different suburbs and landscape systems are uncannily similar. Rather than being an isolated entity, Groningen’s landscape structure was a method of interconnecting the regional scale with the local scale. The park was a force in configuring the boundaries and character of the local suburbs. We have yet to see what type of relationship Karkarook Park will form with its suburban and industrial neighbours.
Norddijk Park demonstrates to local designers of periphery parks that it is possible to incorporate the prior production history with the kind of design issues relevant to the periphery. The issue here is the infrastructural nature of suburban, periphery systems and the transitional nature of the social and economic forces. A localising and transformative structural design approach is one possible design strategy, and thus one of the lessons learnt from B&B’s Groningen project.
How is this useful in design terms?
The main design strategies abstracted from the 3 projectsabove of Bart Brands and B&B address the problematique of building up a complexity of functions (both physical, programmatic and political) within a specific scale of public landscape in the urban structure.
The Hilversum design is multi-functional, it uses singular interventions within the compact, not-unified nature of the historical city. The design is not centred upon itself: it defers to the structure of its historical space. Kromhout a Park is a series of multi-functional pathways that work vertically and horizontally within the rectangular volumetric form of the park. Expanses of free space are created within the park through the “stacking of functions” or compaction of programs. The design references the pre-existing and contextual urban structure of the site. The Norddijk Park at Groningen is a large, landform-moulded, structural framework, linking visual references. Defining the internal functional surfaces and spaces for the entire 3.5km-long park. The framework is robust enough to accommodate all of the required contemporary park functions and to generate new possibilities. Simultaneously this framework respects all accommodated entities and its own characteristics within one comprehensible landscape form.
What does this suggest by way of conclusion as a series of questions in relation to the Australian context? While in the Netherlands the issue is how to best utilise limited space, here in Melbourne (Australia) designers face of another kind of problematique.
In investigating what ours might be, it would first be appropriate to understand the operational reality of the Dutch design; specifically that the quality and design of public open space is an object of discussion at a heightened level within social, bureaucratic and urban administrative realms. By way of comparison, the question could be asked: is there is too much inarticulate39 public space within Melbourne (Australia)? Is this our problematique? This is not as simplistic as the myth of too much space. Perhaps there is thoughtlessness and lack of understanding of the design potential within the inter-relationship of production, context and scale; that it is this design potential that leads to the creation of vital, engaging public spaces. If this is applicable, what obligation do these forces of a ‘reality’ impose on designers in this country?
My suggestion is that the profession perhaps does not see this ‘reality’ as a a challenge, as a productive creative element, but mostly only as constraint to the discipline of design, to be overcome and put aside.
At one stage in the interview, Brands was asked, “do you see law (regulations, planning laws, statutory codes etc.) as sort of a design generator?”, to which he answered, “The first stages of this [design] strategy, is just playing with laws, existing laws, and changing them a little bit”40 In the Dutch context there is a particular pragmatism that can deal with the political realities. Design comes out of an involvement with a political process. Political process in the Dutch context is the involvement with planning authorities, statutory constraints, engineers, planning and social policy and the architecture and housing industry.41There seems to be a lack of firms in Australia who choose to take on political forces and demonstrate adept negotiation and manipulation. There is an enjoyment of the negotiating strategy but at the of ‘end of the day’, the political process is divorced from the design process. The approach taken to the negotiating process is not seen as itself a possible design strategy, coming out of the design engagement with these forces. The ‘challenge’ to heighten the level of sophistication between the political and design process is not confronted.
This article suggests a possible method of approach to this ‘challenge’; the design potential of typical landscape elements to negotiate with the increasing complexity of relationships within the city; creating new possibilities of significance, use and experience for public open space. However, it is salutary a to remember a general cultural difference: in the Netherlands, authorities, the public and designers all seem to feel an obligation towards design, they are a part of a the entire process of building the built environment. Here this is not the case.
- Bureau B+B, ‘Twelve projects, 1977-1991’, Bureau B+B Urban Planning and Landscape Architecture, Amsterdam, 1991.↩
- see ‘A Melbourne Conversation’, Kerb 3, 1996.↩
- Netherlands is the official name of the country, while Holland is both an area within The Netherlands and a colloquial term sometimes to describe the Netherlands; ‘Dutch’ is used more as a cultural adjective of Holland.↩
- I am trying to move away from the use of ‘problem’ as ‘problem solving’ to describe significant design issues. Rather want to emphasise the design process as a framing of the appropriate questions (or strategy) for the design. ‘Problem’ will refer to more practical issues, while problematique, [after Foucault] will be used in reference a to a methodological and theoretical issue; to indicate the framing of questions of a weighty natur,. worthy of reflection on many levels.↩
- Brands, B., Nitty Gritty lecture, Melbourne, 1998.↩
- ‘Interview with Bart Brands’, Kerb 5, 1998.↩
- R., Williams, ‘Keywords’, Fontana Press, London, 1988.↩
- Comparison of park types as developed within the masters of Landscape Architecture program at RMIT under the tutelage of Peter Connolly.↩
- F. Strauven, ‘The Dutch contribution: Bekema & Van Eyck’, Rassegna 52, ‘Vol. 4, 1992, p 48.↩
- ‘Interview with Bart Brands’, Kerb 5, 1998.↩
- ‘Interview with Bart Brands’, Kerb 5, 1998.↩
- The population to public space ratio is higher than Australian cities, and thus the pressure is more intense upon public space.↩
- ‘Interview with Bart Brands,’ Kerb 5, 1998.↩
- Brands, B, 1998. Nitty Gritty lecture, Melbourne.↩
- ‘Interview with Bart Brands’, Kerb 5, 1998.↩
- ‘Interview with Bart Brands,’ Kerb 5, 1998, and the Nitty Gritty presentation.↩
- This gives insight into the symbiotic relationship between B&B’s representation and site strategies. The graphic is part of the design process; it is not just a representation or device. Is the project assessed through representation of elements within the park, or through an actual on-site visit? Published material suggests the “programmatic lines’ would visually dominate the park. This was not found to be the case during my visit to the park. This is not to deny the graphic, but to question its position in the process of design, conception and execution.↩
- Bart Brands, Nitty Gritty presentation, March, 1998, Melbourne.↩
- Areas where functions could hybridise or be multi-functional are minimal. The major spatial multi-functional form comes from the internal green hill that acts simultaneously as a screening device for the carpark.↩
- A polder is a piece of land reclaimed from the sea or an inland lake and thus is an area of land below sea level.↩
- “Volkspark” is the name for the “people’s park”. Developed in Germany from the late 19th century, such parks usually contained large scale social recreation in a ‘natural’ forest setting. “Bospark”, Amsterdam’s equivalent in the early 20th century, refers to a combination of ecological principles and large scale recreation. Business park is the collection of commercial business and/ or light industrial-type buildings within a unifying natural park-like environment.↩
- Bakker & Bleeker, ‘L’Invention du Parc, Parc de la Villette, Paris Concours International Competition’, Barzilay, C., Hayward, L., Lombard-Valentino, Graphite Editions, Paris, 1984.↩
- R., Williams, ‘Keywords’, Fontana Press, London, 1988.↩
- ‘Interview with Bart Brands’, Kerb 5, and the Nitty Gritty presentation, 1998.↩
- Brands, B., Nitty Gritty lecture, Melbourne, 1998.↩
- For a detailed examination of site specificity, see Julian Raxworthy’s article, ‘Specificity impossibility of not projecting’, Landscape Review, 1998.↩
- refers to a specific strategy used in Melbourne’s parks, see ‘A Melbourne Conversation’, Kerb 3, 1996.↩
- i.e. divergent ideas add diversity to the park, but not weakening the public nature of the space.↩
- Brands, B, Nitty Gritty lecture, Melbourne, 1998.↩
- ‘Interview with Bart Brands’, Kerb 5, 1998.↩
- F. Strauven, op. cit., page↩
- This is relevant to the Australian condition, and exemplified in the Royal Park Masterplan in Melbourne, by Lacework Collaborative (Ron Jones and Brian Stafford).↩
- Other large bureaucratic authorities create the other types of public open space, in particular Melbourne Parks & Waterways, now part of Parks Victoria, which has created the major regional and large scale parks in Melbourne, outside this 5% legislative function.↩
- see Boston park system by F.L. Olmstead in the 18th century, which utilised town planning and ecological principles.↩
- i.e. the level of intensity and density within the space verges on boredom.↩
- ‘Interview with Bart Brands’, Kerb 5, 1998.↩
- there is also a difference between the Dutch and Australian context, especially since in the Netherlands topography is totally constructed, such that a whole range of disciplines are involved with the planning, engineering, design and environmental management of the landscape.↩