It is undeniable that we feel a strong and deep connection with the natural elements as human beings. Almost unconsciously, we seek that interaction that allows us to maintain the intrinsic relationship we have with nature. Gardens and parks are the expression of the incessant search to constantly connect with our natural context, extrapolating the entirety of a green area to contained spaces and with specific qualities, depending on the culture and geographical area in which they are developed.

Although the cultivation of plants has a long history and is of important value for our development as a species, the fact that at some point in history, human beings used this knowledge to apply it beyond satisfying a basic need such as food is a starting point to understand it as an expression with utilitarian, cultural and artistic characteristics.

Background and Cultural Differentiators

The first known references to gardens correspond to the Egyptians, identified thanks to the fact that they were depicted in paintings and tombs. It should be noted that the geographical area where this civilization developed could seem atypical for the emergence of a plant body planned by human beings.

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Funeral ritual in a garden-The Met Collection_©National Museums Liverpool

Precisely the geographical location and the proximity of the Nile River as its only body of water generated a symbiotic relationship with it and led to the emergence of gardens as satellite elements that provided coolness and shade in an extremely arid land, devoid of varieties of trees and flowers if these were not found around the river.

Starting from the utilitarian character of the gardens, these were evolving and incorporating additional architectural elements such as; large and high walls, ponds that housed some species of small fish, as well as plant species from other areas that were seen as exotic and that formed part of the landscape of great temples and palaces.

Other cultures such as the Greeks and Romans created their versions of gardens, where the presence of other species determined that their morphology was much leafier with the presence of large endemic trees and where vegetation prevailed over architectural forms.

In Asia, the gardens of China and Japan recreated large-scale natural settings in contained and controlled environments. One of the great differentiating elements of these gardens is that they are focused on relaxation, harmony, calm, and meditation, being places that encourage introspection by putting us in contact with nature.

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Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden_©Thor Alvis

First Modern Parks

The first gardens in history were always related to religious expressions as well as economic and political power. At the beginning of the 19th century, in a city whose population was growing at a rapid rate accompanied by constant and rapid urbanization, the need arose to create public spaces that could provide physical and psychological well-being.

In 1843 the architect Joseph Paxton designed in England the first garden conceived from a public urban perspective and carried out from resources of the same nature, called Birkenhead Park. Paxton’s background as the son of farmers and later recognized in the field of gardening allowed him to combine his empirical knowledge with new research of the time, not to mention his great contributions to architecture, such as The Crystal Palace in 1851.

Just a year after the Paxton-designed park, writer William Cullen Bryant and landscape designer Andrew Jackson Downing made public their vision for the need to create a great public park for New York City’s growing population. Almost ten years later, the state government determined the area where Central Park would be developed, which continues to be a benchmark among public parks thanks to its constant evolution and renovation to this day.

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Manhattan, New York, NY_©Jermaine Ee
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New York City Central Park_©Tomas Anton Escobar

Contemporaneity

The present has demanded that the new proposals for parks and gardens have evolved in response to architectural trends and the needs resulting from population growth, as well as the environmental crisis that looms on the horizon. In addition, unlike its predecessors, professionals have emerged whose academic training and professional development has been focused on projects that we now know specifically as landscaping.

Among the contemporary exponents whose work has been a turning point, we can find names such as Martha Schwartz, whose characteristic aesthetics reflected in the Grand Canal Square project have become a benchmark for the use of colour and atypical geometries integrated as part of the furniture and lighting elements.

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Grand Canal Square_©Martha Schwartz Partners
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Grand Canal Square_©Martha Schwartz Partners

Given the current urban conditions and high population density, projects have also emerged in response to these conditions, which has led to the development of proposals that in the past could have been unthinkable, such as gardens on the roofs of buildings. One of its best examples is Toni Areal’s Roof Garden, by Studio Vulkan Landscape Architecture.

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Toni Areal_©Noemi Chow

This garden is characterized by a marked landscape that subtly combines the urban elements of the context, such as the surrounding buildings, with exuberant vegetation whose bet is on deterioration as a means for the plant species to mix and soften the landscape, integrating in a much more harmonious way to the structure and architecture.

Toni Areal_©Daniela Valentini

Today the great cities of the world have parks that serve as key spaces for the development of life in society. In addition, the gardens that appear in urban remnants and private spaces have flourished in all countries, thanks to what time we see them not only as a decorative element but as a response to address specific problems of today, through strategies of responsible mobility, accessibility, and sustainability.

References:
  1. Young, C. (2017). Encyclopedia of landscape design : planning, building, and planting your perfect outdoor space. New York, New York: Dk Publishing.
  2. Martha Schwartz Partners [online]. Available at: https://msp.world/ [Accessed date: 10/03/22].
  3. Studio Vulkan Landscape Architecture [online]. Available at: https://www.studiovulkan.ch/en/ [Accessed date: 10/03/22].
  4. Landscape Architecture (1 of 6): history of the art since 12,000 BC [YouTube video] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxcY3W-K3d8 
Author

Mexican architect, LEED Green associate & CPABE. Design lover in all its expressions with a strong interest in sustainable development and accessibility. Enrique Tovar lives through dedication and passion. He firmly believes that creating a narrative through writing and photography is a vital tool to reach a deep understanding of design.

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