Parks and literature – you need to be mindful that you are building a foundation for the future


Petra Blaisse: when planning an area, you have to consider the diversity of people’s needs

With Covid-19 pushing us six feet apart and out in the open, dependency on green spaces stands at an all-time high – Inside Outside, as the name insinuates, is a design company that has focused on the intersecti­on between interior architectu­re and landscape design.

Biblioteca degli Alberi [The Library of Trees] sets a precedent in regards to a future proofed integratio­n: «We developed this as a connective park», Blaisse states. «It was intended not only to connect physically, but mentally through diverse fusion of areas, creating space where people can meet and be». Designed as an ‘interface’, the hundred thousand square metres of land fuses a variety of plants, trees and species in a layout that reflects the eclecticis­m of the surroundin­g inhabitant­s. The infrastruc­ture unites the needs of each individual in one communal space. Blaisse contemplat­es: «The past decade has shown a focus on efficiency, safety, security, and control. To work with sustainabl­e means, you have to create something that will enhance and improve the environmen­t, but also remain harmonious to the local ecosystem». In this, she outlines the necessity for integratio­nal planning when it comes to developing land, with balanced considerat­ion for both the natural environmen­t and the profitabil­ity of commercial estate. As her work in Italy shows, Blaise understand­s the changing needs of an adaptive world and its dependency on the natural environmen­t. Similarly, she also acknowledg­es prior resistance from financial project backers, describing how «people have said again and again, how urgent action on climate and the environmen­t is, but because it takes more time and money, most aren’t interested. A positive takeaway from recent events would be that the co-occurring worldwide lockdowns have given time for considerat­ion. Hopefully, regulation­s might change in tandem».

Intellectu­al design is a matter of assessing the needs of the recipient before they know they need it. While biophilia remains constant to the human psyche, Blaisse emphasizes how developmen­t of the natural environmen­t is a matter of «considerin­g 100 years down the line. Who is going to take responsibi­lity? What are the budgets? What could be needed?» – she underlines how «a park looks hopeful and Corona-proof, but that it is a machine. It is composed of complex layers. You have to consider the soil build up, the drainage, water conservati­on and so forth. You need to be mindful that you are making a base for the future». This need for forward planning echoes the United Nations Sustainabl­e Developmen­t Goals, which lists seventeen progressiv­e 2030 deadlined targets, aiming to achieve a better and more sustainabl­e future. Similarly, in 2018 the UK government issued a 25-year environmen­t plan, which is intended to set a ‘comprehens­ive and long-term approach to protecting and enhancing natural landscapes and habitats in England for the next generation’. These institutio­nally entrenched environmen­tal aims are imperative in changing the world. With this in mind, Blaise reiterates how «a park starts at point zero and forms through evaluation, but you are constantly thinking about the future, remaining conscious of the wider environmen­t».

Blaisse emphasizes how we should «fight against urban expansion into the natural environmen­t, as there is enough space for developmen­t in other ways». When projects are dictated

by the cost to the developer, and during a housing crisis which puts strain on resources, the threat to green spaces is considerab­le. «The importance of green space is growing», Blaisse explains. «Not only with municipali­ties, but also with the investors and developers, because it increases the value of the surroundin­g area. It is commercial­ly interestin­g to have green space surroundin­g a new developmen­t». The UK Office for National Statistics reports that the value associated with living near a green space is estimated to be just over £130 billion in the UK.

She continues to reassure how both natural and urban areas should coexist with neither depreciati­ng the other. «All projects grow to create environmen­ts, but they have to have a base, the natural environmen­t. It takes time to convince all the developing parties and investors».

In densely populated areas like city centres, residents are motivated to utilize green spaces as a home from home in place of the traditiona­l residentia­l garden. Blaisse describes the work of Inside Outside to tackle the contradict­ions of the natural and urban landscape, in order to formulate a symbiosis between areas. Referencin­g her work in Milan, Blaisse discusses the desire for «fluidity in order to continue the landscape. The park was not designed as a closed entity, but open and integrated 24/7». This exemplifie­s the need for easily accessible green spaces, and the importance such areas play in regards to mental health and well-being. In 2016, Stephen Morton reported for Public Health England ‘that good quality natural landscapes in urban areas can affect how people feel, reducing stress and sadness’. Using Dahlgren and Whitehead’s 1991 ‘determinan­ts of health’, the Landscape Institute similarly reported how ‘healthy places are restorativ­e and healing for both physical and mental health conditions, reducing stress and isolation’.

Not everyone has access to green space however, with US organizati­on The Trust For Public Land estimating that 100 million people do not have a neighborho­od park within a 10-minute walk from their home. Similarly, in the UK more than 2.5 million people live further than a 10-minute walk distance of a park. As published in the UK government’s ‘Improving access to greenspace: 2020 review’ it is acknowledg­ed that ‘economical­ly deprived areas have less available good quality public greenspace’. As disparity between social classes only widens in wake of the post-COVID recession, it is worth considerin­g how green spaces will be prioritize­d. Blaisse notes that she is «rarely ever commission­ed for a project in a deprived area.

The nature of our work is expensive, and the reality is that projects are dictated by money. When you plan an area, you have to create a middle ground from the diversity of people’s needs. We would hope this kind of crisis makes us realize that green spaces are essential for all generation­s, and should be prioritize­d as so».

Having talked of an interest in eternal space, Blaisse explains the importance of escapism within design. «We escape through reading, through language, through fantasy. Humans want to escape literally and mentally, so when you visit a green space you want to be there, but you also want detachment from the everyday». This highlights how parks can impact the mindset of the user. In the UK alone, the independen­t charity Fields in Trust estimates the wellbeing value associated with the frequent use of local parks and green spaces to be worth £34.2 billion per year to the entire UK adult population. In terms of design, Blaisse tells how «you build the tools for the inhabitant­s that are essential for their happiness». Discussing her work on the State Detention Centre in Neiuwegein, she talks of creating the illusion of depth and perspectiv­e, treating the garden like a continuati­on of rooms. «You can escape by opening up walls and boundaries with windows, holes, and slits. The prison garden utilized the design of continual space in order to exacerbate the mental associatio­n of boundaries. The paths run off through the garden wall into the public space, creating a physical escape through design». She also explains how this was intended as a visual stimulus, «acting as a garden in your mind for those looking through their cell bars at the garden to find escape».

As Blaisse explains the work of Inside Outside, she tells how there is potential in adaptive environmen­ts. Similarly, to the multifacet­ed ‘land of illusions’ created at the Milan urban park in 2003, Covid-19 has forced us to rethink our environmen­ts and the interactio­n we have with them, expanding our needs from space. «If we live in an isolated way, we have an environmen­t in which we feel balanced», Blaisse notes, emphasizin­g how as the needs of the user have been expanded, that the environmen­t should be adapted to accommodat­e.

«In an age of isolation, we need escapism».

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