Plant Landscape in the City

For the eighth time, the Arketips Association and the district council of the north Italian City of Bergamo organized the international event i maestri del paesaggio – Masters of Landscape. This year’s event dealt with the very basis of each and every landscape: plants. The traditional highlight and closing act was the two-day International Meeting on September 21st and 22nd at the Teatro Sociale which featured talks of renowned landscape designers.

The combination of rural and urban, of built stone and plants could not have worked better than it did at this year’s i maestri del paesaggio: there were two dominating locations – content-focused talks at the historic Teatro Sociale took turns with breaks at the green Piazza Vecchia.

The green metamorphosis of this plaza – an example of urban building culture that has grown over centuries – was the heart and soul of this year’s event with the main theme “Plant Landscape”. It is only logical that Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf was asked to design this temporary art intervention. Before starting to work on the project, the designer had doubts though: “Normally, a garden grows over time. This time, everything had to be ready at the start of the event.” Oudolf made a plan of the Piazza, dedicated space to the cafés and incorporated the fountain in the middle of the plaza. Despite all the planning, a lot of improvisation went into the design, he says. That is the great artistry of the designer that is part of the New Perennial movement: he designs in advance, plans beforehand which plants are suitable and where to crop them, he maps out, conceptualizes – and in the end it all seems perfectly natural, impulsive and vital. This organic structure is achieved by the way he arranges the plants – mostly shrubs and weeds – in so-called “drifts”. For his design, colors are important – but not as much as structure: this is where Oudolf puts his special attention.

Perception of Landscape Design

From this seemingly wild landscape in which visitors met for relaxed conversations and found recreation admidst the atmosphere of Italian building culture, it was just a short way to the content work at the Teatro Sociale, an impressive building with wooden balustrades and ceiling joists: in a panel talk, Dutch landscape artist Piet Oudolf, American garden architect and author Thomas Rainer as well as Nigel Dunnett, professor for plant design and urban horticulture at Sheffield University, discussed their perception of landcape design. Dunnett is a pioneer in the field of new ecological approaches in urban gardening and public spaces. The focus of Nigel Dunnett’s work is the integration of ecology and horticulture to achieve a dynamic and diverse landscape that matches nature with minimal effort. Despite the absence of a heated discussion or an actual counterposition, these three famous discussants laid a substantive basis.

From specific Garden Design to global Climate Adaptions

While French gardening superstar Louis Benech – the first one to be allowed to redesign a piece of famous Versailles – and Italian landscape architect Filippo Pizzoni talked about their work ethic and projects of the past, Kristina Knauf – urban planner at MVRDV – and Sandra Piesik – British architect – focused on a broader, green urban development in times of climate change. The men dealt with their specific examples while the women kept an eye on the big picture.
Kristina Knauf presented different urban projects of her renowned Dutch architecture firm. For her as leader of various projects, it is an important aspect to incorporate a lot of green in her designs. “It is of the utmost importance to cater to the climate adaption,” says Knauf. Her current project is to transform downtown Eindhoven into a green link between three park-like areas. For this, building walls and roofs will be turned into green spaces. “It’s supposed to look like we turned the city upside down and dipped it in paint.” The most important part though is to create productive green, to think about where it makes most sense. The firm acts as a consultant body for town councils, engages in dialogue with them and argues in favor of the incorporation of sufficient green areas that are financially profitable for them as well.

MVRDV urban projects Bergamo
Kristina Knauf of MVRDV referred to the urgency of climate adaptation in urban development.

Architect Sandra Piesik presented her book HABITAT: Vernacular Architecture for a Changing Planet, a big publication that brings together a team of more than a hundred leading experts from various fields to study vernacular architecture in the context of climes, ecosystems, sustainable resources and urban development.
Piesik examines ways, people have found to use architecture to create conditions worth living in. Traditional or autochthonous architecture that had been in existence all over the world up until our century is shaped by the locally available building materials. The revival of these traditions could generate some thought-provoking impulse today.

Symbiosis of Architecture and Landscape

An example for a working symbiosis of architecture and landscape is the project design “San Pellegrino Flagship Factory” by Danish firm BIG – introduced by Giulio Rigoni. The industrial park in San Pellegrino Terme, located there since 1899, is surrounded by picturesque nature, rivers and mountains. It is evident that architects have to respect the social and cultural context of cities and landscapes when realizing projects. Of course, new perspectives may flow in but cannot obscure the place and its appearance. Bjarke Ingels Group promises to keep this in mind with their design for the new Flagship Factory San Pellegrino: it does not superpose the factory with extraneous elements but combines the modular architecture of the factory with repetitive elements of Italian classicism and rationalism. Space varies with smaller and larger span lengths of the arcs and makes the architecture move and flow in the same way the local river does. Everything seems to have a flowing structure.

Bergamo – contact point for landscape architecture

While Milan is famous for fashion and Venice for art and architecture, Bergamo devotes itself to landscape architecture and gardening design. The event promotes the interdisciplinary exchange between all fields that deal with any form of landscape with the interrelationship of architecture and landscape as well as the role of plants in the context of urban growth, densification, and climate change.