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Designing A Visible Landscape

By Brian D. Goldstein, Crimson Staff Writer

Whether as retreats from the city, compliments to the bustle of city life, or as forces guiding the growth of cities, large parks play important roles in urban locations across the world. In “Large Parks—New Perspectives,” a new exhibition at the Graduate School of Design’s Gund Hall, curated by landscape architecture professors George Hargreaves and Peter Hornbeck with help from students, many questions about these roles are raised as twelve such parks are analyzed in detail.

Each case study is the result of examining a park in terms of the history of its site, its relationship to the surrounding city, the places made within a park and the forces that change those places, the public that uses them and the park’s ecology. Wall texts that examine each of these attributes are juxtaposed with historical and present-day images and maps of the parks, showing their respective evolutions and their varied relationships to adjacent cities.

This approach, curators say, will create “inquiry at multiple scales and through diverse frameworks that may give rise to fresh perspectives on the development and meaning of the large park.”

These fresh perspectives come in response to the questions posed by the exhibition, including “How do the roles parks play in cities adapt as visions of the city change?” and “Over time, how have these parks been made and remade?”

Indeed, despite the geographic differences—parks range in location from San Francisco to Sydney and origins from the 16th century (Hyde Park, London) to the future (Fresh Kills Reserve on Long Island, N.Y.)—seeing the parks together allows a viewer to recognize their similarities and brings about the new interpretations of the roles and possibilities of large parks that the exhibition’s organizers seek.

Both the Chain of Lakes located in Minneapolis, Minn. and Centennial Parklands in Sydney have directed the growth of their respective cities; two recent parks, the Parc de Sausset in Paris and the Landschaftspark in Duisberg, Germany have kept the unique histories of their sites as key elements in their design.

The exhibition also allows displays the many different factors which impinge on urban parks of this scale, ranging from encroaching development and crime to lack of use to total destruction as a result of war.

As the accompanying brochure points out, all these factors cause the emergence of the “idea of place” as the most interesting of the characteristics of “large parks.” This idea, the curators argue, is what ultimately makes parks such as these so important to their users in terms of contributing to cities, expressing cultural identity, and showing “the importance of the role of ecology.”

The exhibition is also interesting for the quality of its images, which not only show a global chronology of parks and, perhaps more interestingly, a history of urban recreation. But also consist of many large-scale, well-executed photographs of the various parks taken by George Hargreaves.

—Large Parks—New Perspectives is on display until May 26 at the Graduate School of Design.

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