Strategies for new urban landscapes
Date:June 23, 2016
by Alessandra Coppa
The practice LAND, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, has always adopted an approach to the design of open and green spaces based on a large-scale vision of the landscape. Even in their earliest projects, the group’s leaders Andreas Kipar and Giovanni Sala successfully combined their work on urban design and the landscape with a strong focus on the human and social scales. Today Kipar has fully embraced his role as an urban landscape architect, bringing together a German sense of practicality with the Italian inclination for theoretical and disciplinary reflection. After studying at the University of Essen, the historic capital of the Ruhr district, and then at Milan Polytechnic, he worked on urban masterplans with Giuseppe Campos Venuti in Emilia Romagna, Vezio de Lucia in Naples, Roberto d’Agostino in Venice, Federico Oliva in Milan, Bruno Gabrielli in Sardinia and Gian Carlo De Carlo in the Republic of San Marino. After moving permanently to Milan, he contributed to Milan’s first experiments in urban forestation as part of the BoscoinCittà project, followed by Parco Nord and most recently the Raggi Verdi (Green Rays) project, which includes such important urban areas as the Porta Nuova and Portello districts. These projects reveal his outstanding ability to observe the landscape with a view to repairing the urban fabric through a kind of “microsurgery” that listens to and takes account of the needs of citizens. This approach engenders a participatory process that is aimed not so much at designing greenery as creating a new aesthetic based on improved functionality of public spaces.
What does practising landscape architecture in Italy involve?
Practising landscape architecture in Italy – and especially in the quintessentially European city of Milan – means first and foremost cultivating an ability to listen, honing our powers of observation so as to establish a continuous dialogue between solids and voids, between past and future, between consolidation and transformation, between public and private, between our everyday lives which absorb our energies and our capacity to dream. But it also means contributing to the debate on contemporary urban planning so as to develop proposals for the most urgent needs. LAND has been involved in projects to redevelop the abandoned areas of post-industrial Milan, including the Bicocca area where the old Pirelli factories are located, the former Maserati, OM Fiat and Alfa Romeo factories, and the former Garibaldi Repubblica railway station.
Landscape architecture is a discipline that by its very nature must look beyond the narrow confines of individual projects in its investigations. This was the concept behind the Green Rays project, which represented a response on the part of civil society to the ever greater fragmentation of work on the urban fabric. More than a project, it is a vision that seeks to promote the continuous process of transformation towards greater urban permeability.
What is the urban strategy behind the Green Rays project?
The Green Rays are slow mobility paths that radiate out from the city centre towards the large parks to form a continuous system of open urban spaces. The project was incorporated into the Milan city council’s PGT (Land Administration Plan) as an urban development strategy. Implementation is subject to the availability of resources and the capacity of sites. The Porta Nuova project and the Portello project are both part of the Green Rays strategy. They both address issues of slow mobility, central greenery and continuous, fluid open spaces that serve the surrounding neighbourhoods. The mission of the Green Rays is to create a sense of spatial permeability within a well constructed urban fabric.
This “European” vision of strategic landscaping, which sees the city and landscape as an integrated whole, would appear to be very different from the American approach known as “landscape urbanism”, a kind of cultural or urban renewal strategy that is more formalistic and detached from the context. Where is your work positioned between these two extremes?
I would say that the European school is more effective today than its American counterpart as it invented the concept of “urbanity”.
This is why I love living in Milan, one of the most densely-populated cities in Europe. Landscape urbanism detests urbanity.
But as I grew up in the Ruhr region, I have a vision that is deeply rooted in urbanity and am now promoting a European policy called “Green Infrastructure”. Green Infrastructure, in which Green stands for Nature and Infrastructure stands for Technology, is a major step forward and a meeting point between natural and artificial.
This new philosophy stems from the consideration that today human beings generate greater biodiversity in cities than nature itself. As people now mostly live in cities, paradoxically more trees are planted in cities than elsewhere. This marks the transition towards the new geological age called the Anthropocene. Green Infrastructure means greater environmental comfort, it means pure landscaping outside small boundaries so as to connect, bring together and monitor ecological systems. A new human scale landscape aesthetic is coming into being based on the real needs of society.
What form do Green Infrastructures take in urban landscaping projects?
For landscape architects like myself, this new aesthetic presents a fresh set of challenges in terms of urban planning. It is no longer applied by constructing new buildings but by reorganising the existing large-scale system. Green spaces are a vehicle for nature and, driven by the efficiency of new technologies, are forming into a new network. New city management uses an “invisible technological toolkit” to optimise services while minimising the impact on the landscape. The new Green Infrastructure aesthetic is the result of a new kind of “technological honesty” which generates a new form of urban design. This in turn creates a completely new kind of landscape, where wounds are not erased but remain partly open, where the rusticity of history is not trivialised, where there are no allusions to the language of the garden borrowed from someone else.
These wounds that are part and parcel of history become elements to be interpreted and exploited, a form of sedimentation. They create an aesthetic that dialogues with the existing fabric without erasing it, but instead manifesting even its most brutal aspects.
There’s a strong component of “participatory urban planning” in your approach to the design of urban greenery. In other words, you aren’t a landscape architect of forms but a landscape architect who works on urbanity and the humanity that lies behind it. How does all of this take place at a disciplinary level? Unlike in Italy, German society participates actively in urban strategies. How do the German and Italian sides of your training interact with this component of urban planning, which is a kind of participatory land strategy? How is this expressed in your work?
I believe that attention to the human and urban scale is essential, it’s a way of perceiving the landscape. Like Goethe on his Italian journey, I perceive the landscape by trying to give an exceptional character to normality, by seeing the extraordinariness that lies behind ordinary, even trivial things. The difference with respect to the romantic traveller in search of subjective emotion is that the landscape architect observes the landscape and society in order to understand where problems lie. As Goethe wrote, the landscape is a “shaped form that can evolve only by living”. A project must keep the landscape alive because the landscape is an energy field, a social construct of space. Our role is to reveal the constructive and innovative energy of the landscape by solving problems. To do this, we must observe the landscape in order to understand the people who live there. Without this kind of participation, we will never get to the heart of the problem. For this reason, when I talk to the mayors of the cities where we are involved in projects, I now put forward the idea of “urban walking” as a way of making direct observations.
What’s needed in the age of postmodernism would no longer appear to be a planning ideology but a new strategy for perception.
What interests me is to perceive the landscape through the eyes of others. I can have a perception, but it counts for little because I don’t have to live there. By observing society you can understand the way other people perceive things. This allows you to develop a project that conveys unexpressed needs such as naturalness and comfort. In this respect, landscape design interprets change and reorganises the urban landscape by combining old and new elements. The responsibility for this lies with the landscape designer, who must be capable of combining greenery with routes, materials, furnishings and services, but also with less tangible aspects such as memory and emotions.
Public spaces in cities from the Renaissance onwards have always served as a kind of arena for urban rituals. Do you believe that landscape architecture should interpret places such as public squares based on the tradition of the European city or does something need to be rethought?
I’d say we need to rethink everything because, unlike in the past, we no longer have to fulfil a representative, ornamental urban need. Today we use city public spaces as part of our working and leisure activities. The new Piazza Gae Aulenti in the Porta Nuova district offers a new interpretation of the square, which is at once boulevard, infrastructure, lake, play area and transit zone. The Porta Nuova Varesine project is characterised by a high degree of permeability of urban spaces and is a good example of “urbanity”. Key aspects include the continuity of the public space and connections and the diffused nature of the greenery and the way it is integrated with the building systems. LAND’s work has involved connecting two main squares – Porta Est and the Podio – by means of a large walkway called the Promenade, flanked by a large roof garden, the “garden of maples”, to create a continuous pedestrian space. The main landscape design elements used to repair the urban fabric consist on the one hand of the pavings and furnishing elements serving the city, and on the other of the green elements associated with the future project of the Biblioteca degli Alberi (Library of Trees). I believe that all our projects are part of a broader process and arrive in sections or fragments. Our art must be that of mixing: the spaces of the future must not be merely decorative but capable of telling a story.
“Not merely decorative but capable of telling a story” is one of the main characteristics of ceramic, a material that is increasingly being used by contemporary architects in public spaces. What do you think of this material?
I believe that ultimately ceramic represents Nature herself and expresses a renewed relationship with the earth and the land.
Born in Gelsenkirchen, Germany in 1960, he graduated in Landscape Architecture from the University of Essen in 1984 and then graduated with honours in architecture from Milan Polytechnic in 1994, where he has been teaching Public Space Design since 2009. In 1985 he became an independent practitioner and founded the practice Kipar, which in 1990 was transformed into KLA Kiparlandschaftsarchitekten milano duisburg. The same year, he founded the company LAND – Landscape Architecture Nature Development in Milan together with agronomist Giovanni Sala.
Credits include the drafting of the green masterplans for the cities of Milan, Cagliari, Assemini, Piacenza, Reggio Emilia, Ravenna and Vercelli in Italy and Essen in Germany, as well as the Arcipelago Verde urban strategy in Rome and the Green Rays project in Milan. Completed park projects include collaboration from 1985 to 2000 on the Parco Nord (600 hectares), the Parco Rubattino (former Maserati factory), the public park of the former OM industrial area, the Parco Portello (former Alfa Romeo factory) in Milan, Krupp Park in Essen, Parco della Spina 3 in Turin, Parco delle Sabine in Rome and all the external landscaping for the Porta Nuova Project in Milan. In Russia he recently won an international competition for the design of three large parks in Moscow. Kipar is one of the founders of the association Green City Italia.