Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Nouvel's Parc del Centre del Poblenou

Last week when I was discussing the Parc del Clot in Barcelona, I made a reference to the nearby Parc del Centre del Poblenou, designed by architect Jean Nouvel.

Nouvel is best known for his architecture. The Pritzker-Prize winning architect designed the new(ish) Musee de Quai Branly in Paris, and is known among the Barcelonans for his Torre Agbar.

As far as I know, the Parc del Centre del Poblenou - opened in April 2008 - is Nouvel's first foray into landscape design. If you, dear reader, will forgive a tiny bit of snark in this post, let me add that I hope it will be his last.

Don't get me wrong; I'm pretty sure what Nouvel did is precisely what many architects would do if designing a park. The entire park is surrounded by large walls, limiting pedestrian passage and creating a sense that one is somewhat 'trapped' in the park. Even the cut-outs that you can see above are inpenetrable to air and wind as they are filled with plexiglass. To Nouvel's credit, the walls were intended to block out noise from the nearby traffic. However, there are many other ways noise can be mitigated. Grades can be raised or lowered, berms can be built, or (without water restrictions) white noise can be introduced.

A strange theme you discover while walking through the spare landscape is Nouvel's insistence on training or manipulating plants. Vines are trailed over large arbors, as seen above (arbors which, puzzlingly enough, fail intersect sensibly with any other landscape element. ...Why, why is this axis not aligning with the gate, argh? Also: note to self - use heavier footing for area lighting fixtures!)

Above, plants are stacked in towers raising to the sky, and below, well, I'm not sure what those nets are for.

Visitors have little choice when it comes to seating. Metal chairs are secured to the ground with footings and the absence of lawn areas (understandable in a water-deficient climate) further eliminate opportunities for improvisation in the landscape. To me, that kind of improvisation is a crucial part of a park experience. I want to walk through a landscape, survey my environment, and pick a spot to sit down that is my own special nook. It's about discovery. The fact that the seating locations are predefined by Nouvel steals some magic away from the visitor.

And, well, not to nitpick, but weeping willows (Salix alba subsp. babylonica) in a water-poor climate makes no sense to me.

I will aquiesce that I liked the treatment of this road, which bisects the park. The Parthenocissus is quickly covering the arbors and the structure seems fitting for the roadway. And I did love the use of rebar in the grillework for the vines, below.

Landscape architects love to wring their hands in despair at the thought of architects taking some of our territory. But frankly it seems unnecessarily insecure. If anything, a park like this (and perhaps to a lesser degree Tschumi's Parc de la Villette) demonstrates how specialized a landscape architect's knowledge and sensibility are and how unique they are from the field of architecture.

I used the word magic earlier in this post (and also when I discussed Vaux le Vicomte), when describing a landscape experience, but that's unfair to the designer. There's nothing supernatural in Olmstead's or Le NĂ´tre's designs. The success of their work (and many others in our field) is the result of a lifetime of study and discipline in the unique field of landscape architecture.


Susan aka Miss R said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. As a landscape designer I would never, ever think about designing a skyscraper...

Bay Area Tendrils Garden Travel said...

Fascinating to read, Jennifer. How I would love to travel around with you as my tour guide!!!

Anonymous said...

I do forgive you any snarky comments. They seem well deserved. My eyes hurt.