Gardening the Metropolis

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Nus de la Trinitat Barcelona, Spain / Battle i Roig

Enric Batlle, founding principal of Barcelona-based Batlle i Roig, believes landscape architects should not be afraid of to use the term “garden.” Early in his career Batlle never used the word to describe his projects. He called them parks because he felt it elevated their status. But Batlle has embraced the notion of the garden, titling his book and recent lecture at the University of Virginia, “The Gardens of the Metropolis.” The title is intriguing because it connects two scales: the intimate garden and the immense metropolis.

Batlle showed us a map of the edges between Barcelona’s built environment and open spaces. His projects are bridges that connect the two. He presented a few examples of his work in Barcelona:

Trinitat Park (see image above) occupies an inaccessible location common to many major cities: the middle of a highway interchange. These spaces left over from large-scale infrastructure projects are almost uniformly forgotten. Here, his firm used rows of trees, grade changes, and a large circular “mountain” to sonically and visually shield the park from surrounding traffic.

The park acts as a bridge, allowing urban residents to access and enjoy previously inaccessible spaces. These kinds of bridges are increasingly necessary in growing cities searching for novel public spaces.

Batlle i Roig also worked on a landfill restoration project in El Garraf National Park completed in 2010 and located more than 10 miles from the center of Barcelona. Battle remains emphatic that the Garraf landfill reclamation project is in fact “urban public space” despite its distance from the city. It’s urban because the park is filled with more than 40 years of Barcelona’s waste. “What could be more urban than that?,” he asked.

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Garraf Waste Landfill, Begues, Spain / Battle i Roig

The space is public because a path switchbacks down immense terraces and eventually wanders into the city itself. The path defines the landfill as a public space, creating a sense of both accessibility and responsibility for the visitors confronted with the magnitude of urban waste production and management.

The Garraf Landfill Project demonstrates the radical nature of Batlle’s theory of the garden’s role in the contemporary metropolis. To garden is to cultivate and tend. By treating a landfill as a garden, Battle expands the traditional definitions of the term. Are landfills, highway interchanges, and other forgotten spaces that support the metropolis all potentially gardens?

This guest post is by Luke Harris, Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, University of Virginia.

3 thoughts on “Gardening the Metropolis

  1. Desert Dweller 02/06/2015 / 11:10 am

    Thanks for more articles on what LA’s are doing all over, that shows how relevant we are over being graphic designers on the land.

    When some “fellow” LA’s marginalize the importance of gardens (and plants, including one’s natives), I know what I’m dealing with. Old-guard, in need of permanent retirement and a move. They got into the wrong field.

    Even a freeway or median deisgned with local ecology, context, maintenance and some design talent, is a garden.

    • Seasoned LA 02/19/2015 / 6:15 pm

      Glad to see a renaissance of the word garden and its use embraced by the new generation of landscape architects. As the gentleman from Barcelona noted, we “old guard” shied away from that term earlier because it conveyed high end private residential design (at the time). Wonderful that times have changed, and the efforts of us oldies have ushered in a new era for for you, and for us, where the gardening of the metropolis can be discussed and embraced.

  2. Urban Choreography 02/09/2015 / 2:58 am

    Reblogged this on Urban Choreography and commented:
    Landscape architects have shied away form association with gardens and gardening , but this view of nurturing and care are slowly coming back to be manful parts of how public urban space is envisaged.

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