Square or Park?

This week the International Landscape Architecture Festival kicks off in Melbourne Australia. The theme of the conference is The Square and The Park. The festival curators see it as a contentious issue between these two landscape typologies which dominate our cities that haven’t changed in the past hundred years.

Klyde Warren Park – Office of James Burnett  | (Image Credit: Thomas McConnell)

Many cities across the world are grappling with the decision of whether they create a square or a park. Which one does the community need? What will be best in the long term for the city? Many parks and squares have been resilient to our ever-changing cities, providing open space for citizens but they offer different benefits.

SQUARES
Perceived by the public as a civic space with hard surfaces one or more open sides as a forecourt to a major building (Trafalgar Square in front of The National Gallery) or closed central plaza with active edges of retail, restaurants and a church or town hall (Piazza San Marco).

Kungsbacka Square – White arkitekter (Image Credit: Per Kårehed)
Grote Markt – OMGEVING (Image Credit: Hannelore Veelaert, OMGEVING)

There are many squares across the world from the small squares in Italy and town squares of the USA (often under 1000 square metres/10,000 square feet) to the large squares of Moscow, Beijing, Madrid which are often in the hundreds of thousands of square metres (millions of square feet). They serve a variety of purposes from central squares, markets squares with a few hundred people up to parade squares with thousands of people. Squares are gathering spaces that are often in a highly urban context with large areas of hardscape that also for a multitude of program and placemaking. Although they can also be very stifling in summer and cold in winter. Squares are often seen as places of activity and commerce allowing for various groups to gather and congregate to shop, dine, people watch and enjoy the life of the city.

The Piece Hall – Gillespies (Image Credit: Paul White)
Victoria Square – Hansen Partnership (Image Credit: Andrew Lloyd)

PARKS
Parks are often seen as soft spaces that create green lungs for the city offering an urban forest with large expanses of planting and grass for the public to seek respite from the hustle and bustle and heat of the city. A place that can be passive and allow people to relax, but also engage in various activities (active and passive sports) that often could be seen to be out of place in a square (or often banned in the square).

Chulalongkorn University Centenary Park – LANDPROCESS | (Image courtesy of LANDPROCESS)
ZilArt Park – !melk| (Images courtesy of !melk)

SQUARE OR PARK
The conundrum that city planners, urban designers and the public often faces is do we need a square or a park? This question has become more fraught and tenuous as the density of cities has increased at the same time that open space and the urban forest have been lost.  

Leicester Square City Quarter – Burns + Nice | (Image Credit Burns + Nice)

The answer is not always clear as cities endeavour to strike a balance between civic and environmental needs of the community. The most important element is understanding the site context to determine the best use of the place. Often in highly urban environments, a central park may not be the answer due to the micro-climate (orientation, shading, scale, available space) whereas a plaza may be more suited due to the ability to create a multiuse area with active building edges. Whereas, an open plot in medium-density family housing lends itself to a park with a variety of uses and able to serve a wider demographic.

Cities have also recently built hybrids typologies with a park in a square or square in a park that incorporates hard and soft spaces (a periphery or central green or a square with a small area of green) which allow for a variety of passive and active programming. These squares also integrate water sensitive urban design such as Water Square which allows for water retention and storage during rain events.   

Water Square – De Urbanisten | Image Credit: De Urbanisten
Yagan Square – ASPECT Studios (Image Credit: Peter Bennetts)
Berczy Park – Claude Cormier + associés | (image Credit: Industryous Photography)

Having a discourse about these hybrid spaces is often hard as they are not often clearly called a park or square with squares called parks and parks are called squares. In the end, is it of consequence? or is it all academic and the true value of the space is that a successful space is created that suits the community needs who have taken ownership of space and enjoy to the full.

Warrior Square Gardens | (Photograph Copyright: Colin Philp)
Warrior Square Gardens | (Photograph Copyright: Colin Philp)
Dilworth Park | (Image Credit | James Ewing / OTTO)
Dilworth Park | (Image Credit | OLIN / Sahar Coston Hardy )

The key is to design a successful central place for the community is to ensure that it responds to the context of the surrounding environment and provides a place for the community to thrive. Any park, square or hybrid must be resilient and allow for repurposing for future uses and communities with little rework and expenditure.

First published on World Landscape Architecture

Can landscape architects take on the challenges of Climate Change?

In their latest report Climate Change and Land, the IPCC has stated that land is a critical resource under growing human pressure through Agriculture, forestry as well as other types of land use that collectively account for 23% of human greenhouse gas emissions. According to the IPCC, the critical for food security, but this needs to be balanced with protecting biodiversity and reducing risks of land degradation.

This report adds to the growing noise around climate change as well as the impacts that our cities, lives as human beings and everything we can possibly do in order to facilitate adaptation, mitigation and sustainable development.

Over the past decade, landscape architects have been working on solutions for increased urbanisation; however, they have been often far too focused on activation and been seduced into creating modern-day follies, intensive landscape on structures(bridges/walkways) and brightly coloured hard surfaces, as opposed to working with existing land to create sustainable landscape networks that help cool our cities, utilizing the core principles of landscape architecture of designing with nature, art and science for the benefit of our cities, towns and communities.  We would do well to realise the benefits that can be derived through working with landscapes and create urban forests that treat and store water, create natural cooling, and sequester carbon.

We can make all the pledges and declarations that we want. However, they are all hollow claims if they are not backed by action. As landscape architects, we may be equipped to deal with climate change, but we are only part of the solution. We need to work with our cities, clients, communities and allied disciplines in order to take credible action through education and then create solutions that will adapt our cities for the imminent changes to our climate and planet.

Every time we have the chance to speak to a client, community member, or government official, we have the opportunity to make a difference. Every time we take on a new project, we are equipped with the skills and knowledge to create a landscape that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. A landscape that respects the land and its place in the ecosystem, that looks to conserve ecology, increase/maintain biodiversity, reduce degradation, abate intense natural events to reduce erosion, recycle materials, utilise alternative energy as well as reduce stress on ecosystems. The impact of our work may not always be immediate, but it is sure to deliver immensely beneficial outcomes for decades to come.

I call on all landscape architects and members of design communities to take heed of the increased warnings surrounding climate change and to take on the challenges that we are faced with. I also implore all of them to facilitate mitigation and adaptation so as to limit the adverse impact of climate change.

Send me an email (damian@damianholmes.com) with your thoughts

Not every project is a landmark competition winning project

Recently, I have been surveying World Landscape Architecture readers for their feedback on the design, content and user experience. I looked at some of the responses today and overall the feedback was good with some great insights on how to improve WLA. However, I think there are a couple of readers who miss the point of World Landscape Architecture with some reader comments about the level of design and build quality and also less projects from unknown designers.

When I set out to publish projects from across the globe the intention was to publish as many different projects from across the world – varying scales, qualities, and from different types of firms (landscape, urbanist, engineering, mega-firms to single designer shops). I feel that whether a small garden or large regional park or a urban masterplan that there is a need for landscape projects especially conceptual designs to published rather than linger on a shelf or hard drive somewhere never to see the light of day. Of course, there are some submissions that are of very poor quality and they are rejected, however I feel that we all need to see projects from across the globe to understand the profession and see how it is developing. Developing countries and design firms often don’t have the same finish as projects in developed countries(this is due to the skills of the builders) however, sometimes the designs and finished project give an insight into the culture and landscape of that place and nation.

Publishing work of various qualities allows the public and profession to see landscape architecture at it best and worst. I don’t make editorial comment or critique on projects as I feel that the text should be written by the designer or design firm. Should there be more project critique…of course, but there also needs to be a platform for work to be published by the designer unhindered by journalists, and editors. Although, I have made mistakes in the past by publishing text that was not of high-quality, often this was due to the text being written by the designer in their second or third language. I have also published text that was too much like a PR announcement, I am endeavouring to curtail these types of posts.

World Landscape Architecture will continue to publish projects that are not to everyone’s liking and expectations, but that is the beauty of the web and my publication; not all the projects are beautifully photographed places, some are raw places that we all experience on a daily basis.

Landscape architecture needs a voice that shows projects from not just the well-known design firms but also designers who are creating places across the world of varying scale and quality.

Thankyou to the readers who have given feedback for our annual World Landscape Architecture survey. If you would like to give feedback please fill out the survey or send me an email damian@worldlandscapearchitect.com with your suggestions.