Because The Netherlands currently experiences the lowest temperatures in decades (-15 to -20), my thoughts automatically went to a warmer time: last summer. I visited Paris and some parks there in september. Only later I connected a garden feature I saw there, with a new Dutch garden design presented earlier in the year.
The garden feature can be seen in the westernmost corner of Parc André Citroën: a long wedge-shaped parterre (if one can make that reference) filled with box, clipped in the shape of blocks of irregular height and size. It is one of the more interesting modern features of the Parisian park. It is a strong visual element, in part because of its size and shape, in part because it is still a playful feature despite of the sharply defined shapes.
This part of the park, designed in the early 1990s, must have been inspirational for a design of a ‘keurtuin’ by Michael van Gessel. In old Dutch, the word ‘keur’ refers to a certain set of ‘regulations’ imposed by the local government. A ‘keur’ typically specified the maximum height of fences between gardens, where the supports should be placed, how far from the fence a building could be situated, which maximum height that building could have, etc. In this case it refers to the regulations drafted for the areas enclosed by blocks of houses in Amsterdam’s inner city canal area. ‘Keurtuin’ seems to be a relatively new term for the gardens (I can’t find historical references calling them this way).
Presented with the task to create a new design for one of the gardens in such a block (Het Grachtenhuis), Van Gessel decided to recreate the surrounding housing block, using a combination of corten steel and box for the houses, and flowering plants that represent the gardens within them. The work was presented on the Cascade weblog in 2011. The result is a rectangular area with irregular blocks of clipped box, with an open area in the middle where the flowering plants go.
The photo by Lonneke Stulen, compared with my own photo made in Paris, shows the similarities between the two. And although there are many differences, I cannot imagine that Michael van Gessel never visited Parc André Citroën or saw pictures of it. The image must have stuck in the mind and -probably subconsciensly- influenced the designer.
An inspirational garden indeed
And while I was thinking about the subject, I realised that a very different design in another European capital may also be indebted to this relatively simple garden feature. From a formal perspective, the Memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe (Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas) in Berlin bears remarkable resemblances with the blocks of box. Peter Eisenman won the design competition in 1997 (after a long selection process that had started in 1994), only five years after the completion of Parc André Citroën in 1992. The similarity lies not only in the use of blocks placed closely together, but also in the undulating surface area of the total element -the result of using blocks with a height difference.
Scale, meaning, impact and materials used are quite different of course, and architect Peter Eisenman may not have been familiar with the relatively isolated part of Parc André Citroën where the box blocks are. But the landscaping in Berlin was supervised by landscape architect Laurie Olin.1 I do not know how the artistic process evolved, but somewhere in the process Olin must have realised he had seen something like this before, in a relatively new park that received much attention from landscape architects in the first years after its completion. If not, he may do so now, together with the rest of us.
- A less mentioned fact, but it is mentioned in the margin of the rerelease of one of his essays on landscape architecture: Laurie Olin; ‘Form, Meaning and expression in Landscape Architecture’, in: Marc Treib [ed], Meaning in Landscape Architecture & Gardens. Four Essays, Four Commentaries (Abingdon/New York 2011), pages 70 and 80, image 1.10. [back]