17. October 2012 /

Democratic Green

A conference on “Democratic Green – 40 Years Olympia Park Munich” will be taking place soon at the Technical University Munich, October 25-26 (in German). In the current 80th issue of Topos Prof. Regine Keller writes about the park’s designer Günther Grzimek and his vision of creating a user–orientated park; a symbiosis of architecture and landscape. Listed in the bibliography were Grzimek’s seven theses of the Taking Possession of the Lawn exhibition, 1983. In the lead-up to the conference we present them again for you below:

1. The park as representation
Current open space planning methods have their roots in the representative gardens once created by princes. The parks of the past were considered to be works of art, designed instances of nature, and outdoor settings for the enlightenment and ethical encouragement of one’s subjects. Open space planning in cities is now used to create designs for the recreation of urban residents. Much of the land in these parks, however, is used purely for the decorative design of pathways and planting beds 
2. Managed recreation
Urban open space planning is subject to the competence of municipal planning authorities. The usability of public open space is also determined by these same administrative bodies. In a park in which individuals and groups of people feel free to go about their various activities, however, any anonymous paternalistic and regulatory power the authorities have is virtually eliminated. By taking over responsibility for the general maintenance of parks, public administrators also tend to claim overall design authority. It need not stay this way.   
3. The grass will be walked on
A progressive occupation of parks has occurred since the beginning of the 1970s. The grass, which was long off limits, is now being used in a variety of ways. Residents have discovered parks as open space for unrestricted activities. Open space in public parks has taken on a new significance. First viewed as being little more than undeveloped space, it is now interpreted as open space that is free of constraints or excess discipline, and as a place where users can express themselves as individuals. The profoundly democratic notions of personal responsibility and self-help can also be applied to citizens with regard to their attitudes toward the use of public parks.   
4. Better open space for less money
Usable open space is less expensive than decorative beds of plants. In conventional parks annual maintenance costs run as high as a tenth of the initial cost of building the park: In ten years the price of the park doubles. In comparison to this, maintenance costs for a user’s park are practically nonexistent.  
5. Isar-Süd
Munich’s Isar-Süd has become an exemplary model of a metropolitan user’s park – due to (rather than in spite of) the fact that garden planners were only occasionally involved there. Planning from the top down is complemented with design from the bottom up. Users determine the contents and the form, and the role of park management has been reduced to that of a learning, guiding assistant. Dictated planning has been turned into guided deliberation. A user’s park such as Isar-Süd in Munich does not have to be understood as a public park in its purest form. Technical structures that help regulate floods, for instance, tend to enhance the character of this usable open space more than they infringe on it.
6. Spontaneous vegetation
Thinking about the uncontrolled growth of plants in a controlled manner is indeed possible. The use of spontaneous vegetation is especially important when planning for functional open space. The types of plants in Isar-Süd, and the ways in which they are used, make many of the plant forms in classical parks now appear inappropriate. The era of flower beds, clipped hedges, and prefabricated plazas is over. Vegetation in a user’s park is not overbred or a composed form of nature; it is instead spontaneous. Even where external intervention has occurred, the vegetation remains self-regulating.         
7. An aesthetic of the self evident
The aesthetics of the park should not be determined according to a planner’s artistic wish to express his or her ideals, but rather according to the needs of the park’s users. Management does not have the right to formulate these needs; they should be formulated by the users themselves based on their own activities within the park. A park for users creates a new kind of aesthetic that does not have a representative function, but instead shows its substance, conveys utilitarian values, and acknowledges the people it is conceived for: An aesthetic from the bottom up.

Image: Archiv Günther Grzimek

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