Parque O2 is an experimental public space project realized during the Fundamental program, a design-build initiative, organized by Taller KEN every year since 2016. The program invites 10 early-career architects and designers from all around the world to further develop their approach regarding architecture in general and to experiment at the intersection of design, social space, and landscape while working on a public space project along with local students, local communities and various organizations, during a three month period.
Project name: Parque O2.
Location: Polideportivo de Aranjuez, San Jose, Costa Rica.
Organizers: Taller KEN.
Team members: Sheryl Wadehra (India), Benjamin Hakimian (USA), Carmen Chee (USA), Li AnHong (China), Laurence Von Lignau (Haiti), Waddah Dridi (Tunisia), Serkan Ates (Turkey), Riccardo Zocche (Italy), Hrabrina Nikolova (Bulgaria), Florence Méthot (Canada), Andrei Seredin (Costa Rica), Diego Blanco (Costa Rica), Johana Vargas (Costa Rica), Valeria Murillo (Costa Rica), Kéndary Rojas (Costa Rica).
This year’s edition was held in San José, the capital city of Costa Rica, a leading country in the sustainable and environmental realms. The project aims to activate the existing public space within the area of the Polideportivo Park through creating new gathering places in order to blur the spatial boundaries between the different users and to connect the various components of the site which are situated at different topological, social, and environmental levels. The site represents a high degree of complexity being at the intersection of a contaminated river, an informal settlement, a railway train track, and the lower part of the park that hosts a weekly luxurious organic market (Feria Verde).
The main concept behind the design of Parque O2 was to establish a spatial and visual connection between the different levels of the site by installing a spread field of colorful bamboo sticks linking the main nodes of both the Poliodeportivo Park and the railway path near the informal settlement in the upper part. All this while reshaping the terrain and landscaping the whole intervention zone by creating 11 mounds of different shapes and sizes that will also work as the foundation for the bamboo sticks.
In order to form all the mounds, the amphitheater, and the retaining walls for the whole project, which covers a total surface of approximately 2000 square meters, more than 600 tiers were recycled and around 1200 linear meters of bamboo were used for the sticks field.
In addition to being colorful and playful, the bamboo field of sticks has also a very sophisticated environmental purpose, since this parameter was one of the major design considerations during the development phase of the project, as stated by most of the team members. The problem is that people think the area is free from contamination because it’s a green park, so they automatically assume that vegetation would take the burden off air pollution, which is not true because of the proximity of the train that runs with diesel and the high traffic road nearby and both sources produce a massive amount of highly contaminated emissions. In order to raise people’s awareness about this issue, the color palette used for the bamboo sticks actually works as an indicator of air pollution levels, varying from yellow (very low) to purple (very high). The colors of each area were based on accurate air pollution measurements done by the environmental designer of the team Hrabrina Nikolova during the early phases of the project.
The project Parque O2 doesn’t stop at being only informative about air pollution but rather takes the experiment even further trying to mitigate the polluted air by mixing the paint with Titanium Dioxide (TiO2) which is a highly photo-catalytic and reactive chemical. Under UV sunlight, TiO2 gets activated, and when exposed to particulate matter and pollutants, it has the power to convert them to organic molecules, which then can be washed by the rain off the surface of the bamboo.
TiO2 has been used successfully in prototypes in Mexico and Europe before, mainly as an ingredient to the concrete façade, however, this is the first time that it’s being used in a scattered surface (field of bamboo sticks) in an irregular area. The final measurements on-site showed improvement of the air quality on some days and no change on others. This comes to show that the installation might take more time before achieving its full potential and that further experiments and monitoring need to be conducted to be able to fully understand the “cleaning” power of this chemical. Hopefully, better readings will be recorded in the next few months.
Regardless of the results deriving from the titanium dioxide experience, the installation itself has already succeeded to make a difference, as the Parque O2 was very appreciated by the local community, of whom many were involved through the whole design-build initiative and worked together hand in hand with the Fundamental team. That was a very important component of the adopted participatory design process in order to ensure that the locals appropriately well space and continue to take care of it and improve it in the future.