Designing parks : an examination of contemporary approaches to design in landscape architecture, based on a comparative design analysis of entries for the Concours International: Parc de la Villette, Paris, 1982-3 = Park ontwerpen : een beschouwing over hedendaagse ontwerpopvattingen in de parkarchitectuur, behandeld aan de hand van een vergelijkende ontwerpanalyse van inzendingen voor het ...

L. Baljon

    Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


    PARK DESIGNS Parks are planted places in which vegetation, earth, water, and constructions are cultivated in such a way through composition that they acquire a meaning beyond the significance of the single plant. Without imagination a park is a mere dry décor for people who come and go; a meaningless façade. Parks are the most artistic products of landscape architecture. It is precisely for this reason that by means of analysis and examination this study seeks to identify the artistic aspects of park design.

    COMPARATIVE DESIGN ANALYSIS Landscape architecture is a profession comprising craftsmanship, theory and artistic sense. Research enables these three mainstays of the profession to be consolidated and their mutual position and interaction clarified. The main objective of the present study is to contribute to the formation of theories of landscape design. This is done by means of a comparative design analysis, through the intellectual decomposition and examination of park designs. Park design is a subject of study eminently suited to this objective, for here the essence of landscape design is present in a concentrated form.

    This study also considers contemporary park design and the sources influencing designers. It aims to discover and reveal the qualities and the potential of recent developments in park design.

    The design analysis provides an overview of the means designers have at their disposal. The tradition of the profession offers the context for the analysis. We can learn from the history of garden design, but only with a criticism that is superior to it. A rational approach to tradition is necessary because meaningful creative activities are based on rules.

    THE COMPETITION FOR LA VILLETTE The Concours International: Parc de la Villette, Paris, 1982-3 attracted considerable international attention and provided material suitable for our research. A competition is ideally suited to a design analysis. Qualitatively varied strategies in creating park (landscape) designs can be compared since they are applied to the same site and use the same programme.

    Above all, the competition was chosen for this study because the complex brief constituted a particular challenge for participants. Designers were thus compelled to sharpen their ideas and to broaden their understanding and method of approach. They had to, as it were, enter into a battle with conventional concepts concerning parks, possibly even with their own familiar principles. A comparative analysis of design plans illustrates which strategies and themes have played a decisive role in the design and how these have been incorporated into the various designs.

    ANALYSIS The analysis covers all of the stages of the design and touches on as many as possible of the considerations that have influenced the design. The analysis reasons proceeding from the product, via an interpretation of the process, towards the idea. Much of the analysis is done and recorded in drawings. Each stage is accompanied by a series of analytical drawings: abstractions that reveal the concept behind the design. By making use of these drawings, design specific characteristics can be considered more easily and the results are easier to conceptualize and transmit.

    The analysis proceeds in four stages, from graphic abstraction via spatial reality towards compositional concepts and themes; from reaction to location and programme to traditions of form. In addition, the viewpoint in relation to the plan shifts, both literally and figuratively: from, for example, composition on the flat surface to the spatial scene, or from the practical functioning of the site to the character and meaning of the forms and materials used. The stages in the analysis are preceded by a description of the programme and the site: the conditions of the assignment (Chapter 2).

    The first stage explores the graphic composition of the plan and results in a representation of points, lines and planes (Chapter 3). This analysis reveals a diversity of patterns. The designers responded to the geometry of the site and the surroundings, either following it or diverging from it.

    In the second stage the following question is posed: 'What is the significance of the graphic composition for the spatial functioning of the park?' It considers thus how the many and various functional programmatic items are given a spatial coherence. These practical parameters of the park layout form 'the components of coherence'. These concepts are here termed access, organization, anchoring, openness, articulation, and character (Chapter 4). A comparison of the analytical drawings from the first stage with those from the second shows the use of a combination of alignments; the purpose of this is to seek a coherence in which there is space for tension and dynamism in the composition. Important qualities that result from coherence are orientation and scale.

    The third stage considers which design principles direct the designers' approach to the conditions, potentials and meanings, both of the site and of the requirements of the programme. The following design strategies have been distinguished: firstly, strategies relating to use and time (historical continuity, functional relations, flexibility); and, secondly, strategies with regard to design and layout (wholeness, fragmentation). In the designs wholeness was rarely employed as a strategy. It is uncertain whether this is a consequence of the diversity demanded in the programme, or because the designers have no clear idea of the form of the park in the future. In general designers employed a combination of design strategies; this can lead to multifacetedness, but also to complex composites that are difficult for the visitor to understand.

    The fourth stage explores which concepts of form have been used in the design; how is styling used to concretize the spatial structure? It is an exploration of design tools and themes. The stylistic elements are based on a division into three archetypes of landscape architecture: classicism, landscape style and modernism (Chapter 6). By means of this characterization an attempt is made to comprehend the logic of the spatial forms and patterns. The adaptation can be inventive and spiritual (innovative), virtuosic and ingenious (mannerist), perfunctory and unimaginative (cliché'd), indolent and sensationalist (populist), austere and clinical (formal), or artless and unpretentious (informal or pragmatic). Pure styles are both out of fashion and were in any case emphatically rejected by the client. Mixed styles have been much tried in the solutions submitted, partly because of the requested pluralism and polysemy.

    The method of analysis presented here can be deployed in many cases, particularly in complex situations. Its step-by-step structure is directly and universally utilizable. The concepts will need adapting or expanding in some cases though; they have, after all, been chosen and defined on the basis of what was encountered in the plans considered in this study, namely principally those for La Villette (Chapter 7)

    CONCLUSIONS Part 3 of this study tries to draw together the results of our analysis of La Villette in particular, and of park design in general. It presents a series of conclusions relating to the plans for La Villette, and especially to what is reflected in the designs, the 'literary' in the designs: signs, images and references. This is something one tends to lose sight of during the analysis itself (Chapter 8). By tradition, symbolism is an important phenomenon in garden and park. The appreciation and utilization of the possibilities offered by symbolism is not always a matter of course however. The superficiality of meaning in many plans arises as a result of designing without considering meaning. The symbolization can result from the character of landscape architecture: the relationship to nature. And the symbols can be derived from the programme of requirements: the representation of cultural pluralism and innovation in park design (La Villette is to be the park of the twenty-first century).

    The study concludes with a series of reflections on composing in landscape architecture: the form and content of the urban park in general, and the idiosyncratic in the Parc de la Villette in particular (Chapter 9). Here a number of aspects relating to the architectural principles of park design are dealt with (the effects and meanings of the interplay between components) under the headings spatial illusion, order, unity, line patterns, literary figures, musical compositional figures.

    In view of La Villette's exemplary function, both with regard to the programme and the design, we conclude by sketching a vision of what is just as important for the city's future: the 'ordinary' park. The openness of a grassy or scintillating space is the most important quality for the ordinary park: long sight lines to dream away in, the tranquillity of simple spaces in which to entertain one's thoughts, and the enchanting rhythms of the regularity and repetition of interconnected trees and hedges. Deserted and empty on a rainy morning and animated and shining on a sunny day. It is a field of sensual experiences that are complementary to work and consumption; that is, the voluntary, primary and sensual, versus the controlled, organized and useful. This requires a relaxed, reserved and natural design, rather than one that is forced, insistent and affected. The design of the ordinary park gives rise to careful observation, an observation in which the eye grows restful and contemplative. Slow and serious perhaps for the rhythm of this age, but because of the quality of intimacy and, at the same rime, unemotionality, a unique moment of beauty.

    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Vroom, M.J., Promotor, External person
    Award date19 May 1992
    Place of PublicationAmsterdam
    Print ISBNs9789071570100
    Publication statusPublished - 1992


    • green belts
    • public parks
    • amenity and recreation areas
    • public gardens
    • agricultural land
    • landscape
    • planting stock
    • gardens
    • design
    • landscape architecture
    • landscaping
    • physical planning


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