Teresa Galí-Izard, International ASLA, is a woman of two minds. At the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture, where she just began her first year as chair of the landscape architecture department, she explained, “I have the mind of my mother and the mind of my father.” Her mother’s family is made up of builders and architects, steeped in urban design. Her father’s family is one of educators and lovers of nature. She explained that because of these two minds, it was impossible for her to be anything but a landscape architect.
Galí-Izard melds her two minds in a powerful way in her designs. Each design is practical, functional and logical, while also being beautiful, inviting, and didactic. She achieves this balance by letting the site tell her how to proceed. Her overarching goal is the “transmission of this knowledge.” This knowledge to which she refers, I believe, is an intimate understanding of how “living systems” work.
Galí-Izard uses the term living systems to explain her vision of nature. She talks of landscape architects as being optimists. They change how people relate to living systems.
She also believes landscape architects should better understand and work with living systems, not as a palette of paints with which to make a pretty picture, but as a library of processes that can be harnessed within a design. She says of landscape architects, “we are builders of machines.”
She studied technical agricultural engineering (there was no field of landscape architecture in Spain), before going to France to work and study with Jacques Simon, her mentor. While in France, Galí-Izard was also influenced by French biologists Theodore Monod and Frances Hallé. Upon her return to Spain, she founded an office of landscape architecture and, in 2007, opened Arquitectura Agronomia with her partner, in life and work, Jordi Nebot.
Galí-Izard explained her process through six projects in Spain and one, currently underway, in Caracas, Venezuela.
TMB Parc, Barcelona
In this collaborative design, she designed a machine for collecting rainwater (see image at top and below). The design of the park, which was built above the cisterns, revealed the system of pipes below and “translated the rain into a shape.” The goal here was to “harvest the water in a clear way.”
Parque de Los Cuentos, Málaga
Galí-Izard’s was part of a team that restored a monastery and repurposed it as a museum. She said it had to be “magical.” The irrigation was limited to the minimal rainwater that could be collected and stored in the arid climate of Malaga, Spain. Galí-Izard designed an ephemeral garden informed by the pattern of sprinklers on the site, which allowed the trees planted to build a strong root system.
This lake had become a safety and management problem. Here she deployed her technical skills regulating water levels, separating the edge of the lake from the center, creating a tiered geometric reservoir. Galí-Izard’s design provided more calibrated maintenance of the reservoir, allowing for “delicate” management of water levels. Also, the separation of the central reservoir from a wide edge of shallow water made possible safe recreation. She thickened the threshold between edge and center with an intermediate depth to increase safety.
The goal in this public park, built atop an old streambed, was ease of maintenance without sacrificing an interesting and diverse space. Galí-Izard countered the regulated pattern and geometry of the pavement with a diverse palette of plant species. With interesting paving of the path and a burst of annuals, she ensured the park would be inhabited immediately. Galí-Izard’s ability to deploy time as a design tool was at work here. Each plant group was given its moment.
In this project, Galí-Izard had to deal with three rules: only 50 percent of the park could be irrigated; topographic changes would be marked by lines of shrubs accompanying trees; and open areas would be planted with grass. The park’s form was decided by the irrigation: only one type of sprinkler was used and its radius was 9 meters, the patterns followed. The plants and their arrangement were inspired by traditional uses of plants in the countryside as windbreaks and slope stabilizers.
Currently underway, this design is a master plan for a park at the foot of a mountain. Galí-Izard approached this project as the mountain, saying “I am the mountain.” She is operating in the eco-tone where mountain meets city, developing options explaining how the mountain reacts to the city and how people react with the mountain. Here, the mountain is building the public space.
This project reflects Gali-Izard’s goal of helping people more deeply understand living systems. With her best friend’s mother as the client, she led the owner through a discovery of her garden in the Pyrenees. Not unlike how Galí-Izard would do with her students, she gave her client assignments, asking her to find the logic for the garden. This process of finding the logic through iterative design led to a space that deepened the relationship between owner and garden.
Image credits: Teresa Galí-Izard