Classically new: Central Park in Prato

In October 2016 the winners of first prize in the international competition to design the new Parco Centrale (Central Park) in Prato, Italy were announced: OBR Paolo Brescia and Tommaso Principi and Michel Desvigne Paysagiste. In the context of the many competitions that have been grandly celebrated in Italy over the last few years, the decision in Prato really stands out. This initiative generated significant interest at home and abroad during the spring and summer of 2016 – especially because it appeared likely that the successful proposal would be realised by a winning applicant with responsibility for the complete planning process.

The new Parco Centrale is to be built in a strategic position on the outskirts of the historical old town, on the site of the former hospital that, as an eyesore from the 1960s to the 1980s, is more than ready to be demolished. In addition to a socioeconomic renewal of the inner city, the area is to be made more attractive for tourists, while discussions will also take place about sustainability and improved access to the old town.

Renowned studios as consultants

Ten finalists were selected for the competition. However, leading landscape architects were conspicuous by their absence from both the shortlist and the jury, chaired by the architect Bernhard Tschumi, whose Parc de La Villette is the epitome of the 20th century vision of park architecture. Renowned studios such as Michel Desvigne or Coloco from France, Petra Blaisse from the Netherlands and even Turenscape from China only featured as subcontractors or consultants to Italian architectural firms. As a result, the winning project from Paolo Brescia (OBR – Open Building Research, Milan /Genoa) was referred to generally by the jury and in the press as the work of consultant Michel Desvigne from Paris. It has by far the most scenic strategy and stylistic language of all the entries, fusing contemporary and traditional ideas and offering the greatest range of possibilities when it comes to potential functionality. By superimposing formal geometrical layers, the medieval city wall is brought into focus using classical and creative garden concepts, establishing a vivid modern landscape zone with historical cultural tinges.

Second place: Ferdinand Ludwig 

The second-placed design by Ferdinand Ludwig (Baubotanik, Stuttgart) suggests preserving the stairs and elevator cores of the former hospital as a torri viventi – living, green towers – and injecting a wilder feel with a series of tree nurseries, in contrast to the elegant, classic modern language of the ORB/Desvigne plan. It was wise of the jury to recognise these two projects and to move away from questionable misinterpretations of what constitutes “scenic”, like the disconnected organic concept of Benedetta Tagliabue (EMBT) and MAXWAN or the minimalistic architectural structure of Emanuele Barili (with Alejandro Aravena). It is now to be hoped that Prato will quickly implement the new Parco Centrale as planned, while consciously retaining and further developing Desvigne’s signature as landscape architect for the project.