numéro 85 janvier 2000Paysages en ville
Mediation by landscaping
For some years now, French landscaping practice has been helping to reconstitute a form of urban art. This involves guiding the urbanite’s gaze by calling on memory and the imaginary just as much as it involves inventing new material art forms. By their very diversity, public parks, green walkways, housing project renewal, or periurban charters reflect the multiplication of landscape fragments materializing today’s idea of citydom.
With the boom of large housing projects,
the new landscape architects of
the post-war years threw up the bases
of their profession on a dual heritage of
modern town planning and landscape
gardening. The main thrust of their
concept involved integration of plants
into urban hardscapes. Then, as the profession
developed and expanded, spatial
arrangement, thinking on the ideas
of location and urban landscaping
extended their scope beyond simply
improving collective housing.
For several years, work on environmental
qualities and values has been
developing in parallel with theoretical
thinking on what constitutes an urban
landscape. Growing concern over the
meaning of shape in urban development
ties time and memory into the space
designed, the landscape to be experienced
into the landscape to be admired.
Urban development is replacing the still
life of yesteryear’s landscape with the
dynamics of symbols.
While Paris has its boulevards and
Venice its canals, Montreal could be said
to have its vacant lots. The vacant lot -
a tear in the city fabric - symbolizes the
tension between present and future, void
and solid, static and dynamic, visible
and invisible. Urban wastelands abound
with future potential, condensing the
image of urban substance burgeoning
with change. They beckon to townplanners
or landscape architects, inviting
homeopathic modulation of space
in counterflow to the vision of programmed
time and controlled society.
Filming a neighbourhood in Saint Etienne
As a perpetually changing, atomized
universe, the city does not constitute a
readily accessible landscape. In the
Marais quarter of Saint Etienne, a disused
inner-city industrial site is destined
to be converted into a hub for technology.
To film its transience is to recognize
the multiplicity of movements,
peoples, and ongoings that vitalize a
place. By bringing together preterite
and conditional, the present reveals the
temporal breadth of an urban landscape.
Cinema and urban development
Unlike the spartan or sometimes purely
notional sets of stage plays, cinema has
gradually integrated the geographical
context of its action as an essential operator
in imagery and meaning. The
urban backdrop thus becomes an attractive
or repellent element in drama,
depending on the individual case and
genre. From the typical backdrop serving
simply to establish unity of place, the city
can become a protagonist in the
intrigue, or even take on an ultimate
role determining human destiny.
The Corniche road running several kilometres
along steep cliffs, linking the
inner city to the southern residential
districts, is a key element in the Marseilles
landscape. Built as part of a major
campaign of public works in the mid
19th century, it made it feasible for
people to have two homes, one in the
city and one at the beach. Two reference
landscapes have developed as a result :
the « Marseilles Corniche » cultivating
the popular activities of bathing and
fishing, and the « Riviera Corniche »
with a grandiose view over the port.
On æsthetic construction of a public space
In the Tunisian town of Tozeur, the local
administration’s undertakings to maintain
and enhance public spaces and to
rehabilitate frontages are modifying the
city dweller’s outlook towards the urban
landscape. A general trend towards
æsthetic and economic improvement is
creeping onto the streets. However the
administration’s desire to co-ordinate a
certain architectural coherence is being
countered by residents’ desire to individualize.
Bristol remembering slavery
_nThe notion of urban landscape verges on
the paradoxical, but reworking collective
memory can give it meaning. In
Bristol, the West Indian community is
trying to take the wraps off the city’s
past in the slave trade. A number of
achievements, like the Slave Trade Trail,
are transforming the Bristolian’s perception.
Be they active or more reserved
participants in this process, members
of the City Council are expiating a racial
demon haunting the shadows.
From the end of the war to the 1980s,
statues celebrating the Liberation of the
People by the Red Army proliferated in
Czechoslovakia. The change in régime
gave rise to debates over the future of
these monuments. In Hranice, statues
commemorating the big soviet brother
were removed from key locations and
relocated out of the public eye. The
younger generation prefers greenery to
stone and bronze, would commune
with nature rather than with the past.
South Africa’s urban landscape is split
between the « matchbox houses » regimented
in black townships and the chic,
airy homes of white towns. With the
decline in apartheid began diversification
of this landscape. The hotchpotch
of the squatter camps is invading the
townships while new subdivisions for
the middle classes emerge alongside.
African city dwellers are torn between
two reference spaces : the village ‘concession’and
the small house in the town. In
the former, there are a number of
concentric sub-spaces, from the ground
around the huts to the inner courtyard
with its very strict rules of access. In the
latter, there are multiple thresholds between
different places of unclear status.
The progress of the western model with
the nuclear family under its own roof is
accentuating the upheaval of reference
standards for both bush and city.
Peau de la ville à l’esthétique plus ou
moins heureuse ou cicatrice plus ou
moins douloureuse, le tag montre un
geste, un cri et un désir. Il se fait le symbole
de l’éphémère et du mobile ; il
signale au public une singularité sortie
de l’ombre. Mieux accepté par les citadins,
le graff, nouvel art mural, aide à
faire comprendre le langage des tags.
More and more people move from place
to place, and this mobility changes their
impression of the city. Both real and virtual
landscapes scroll by, layer upon
layer, during regular or occasional journeys.
The development of walking
routes along narrow twisting paths or
broad, straight boulevards through a
heteroclitic agglomeration multiplies
the images, reference points, and viewpoints
of the city.
Thoroughfares mark out the city skyline
by aligning buildings and giving perspective.
Contemporary town planning
no longer designs roads solely for their
functional or practical functions. The
requalification of streets, avenues, and
major routes into versatile public spaces
stamps the character of a city, albeit at
the risk of appearing a little passé.
The creation of a tram line, a technology
park, or a rose garden in the heart of the
city transforms the landscape for the
passer-by. Sudden development of certain
sites can detract from the appeal of
adjacent spaces. But what has been left
aside - vacant lots or industrial wastelands
will not be long in coming to the
fore through inventive landscaping.
After a long period locked into its utilitarian
function, architecture is resuming
its æsthetic role in the city. The
Grand Louvre project brings together
the monumental creation of the past
and a present of memory and innovation.
The Grand Arch of La Défense
matches technical prowess with the symbolism
of hospitality. The Axe Majeur
esplanade of Cergy-Pontoise new town
confirms that semantization of the city
necessarily involves establishing interrelations
between common spaces made
singular by the imaginary.