The outdoor space in Antwerp's suburb of Rozemaai is remarkably green. The Dutch landscape architecture firm Buro Lubbers made the design for the redevelopment, which has
recently been completed. The stream – which had long ago been routed underground through a culvert – has been brought above ground and once again flows through the area. And the adjacent patch of
woodland has been transformed into a park while retaining as much of its wild character as possible.
Buro Lubbers chose round beds and winding paths, turned the banks of the creek into natural drainage zones (alternating dry and wet), let the
grass grow all the way up to the buildings, and allowed space between the cobbles in the parking spaces to create a greener effect in the street. These soft elements contrast strongly with the
gridline street pattern and the 1970s high-rise flats.
This juxtaposition has in turn been accentuated by the attractive – and much needed – renovation of two of the apartment blocks, based on a
design by Atelier Kempe Thill. This international Rotterdam-based firm is known for its
bright, rhythmic designs and a strong feel for materials and colour. Atelier Kempe Thill is not in the business of hiding, preferring instead to prioritise simplicity and function.
During the renovation, the flats were stripped right down. But although parts were added to the sides and on top of the roofs, and the
pebble-dashed concrete has disappeared behind glass casing, the rhythm of the facades remains. The typical square staircases were replaced, which allows more light to enter the buildings.
Other improvements include the larger balconies, more feeling of space inside the flats and greater diversity in floor plans.
The entrances to each block have been made more visible by moving them – and the stairwells and lift shafts – to the front side of the buildings.
The bronze-coloured anodised aluminium cladding and galvanised steel balustrades give the buildings a classy look. The flats have been insulated and existing material has been reused, making the
renovation a success both financially as well as in terms of sustainability.
China’s economy is booming, but not everyone is benefiting from that. In the short documentary Down from the Mountains, Wang Ying (14) tries to
manage alone with her sister Wang Bing (12) and their little brother Wang Jie now that their parents have left to work in the city of Huizhou. The family belong to the Yi-minority in the region
of Liangshan in the south-west of China. In Huizhou the parents earn about 15 US dollars a day assembling headphones. The fact that they don’t speak Chinese makes it almost impossible for them to
get a decent job. The children do the work on the farm in the mountains and try their best to look after each other. During the week they sleep in the school’s dormitory.
The photography is beautifully atmospheric, imparting an almost fairy-tale quality to the life of the three plucky children in their house
in the misty mountains. Sadly, it also portrays the harsh reality of modern China. Wang Bing, Wang Ying and Wang Yie are not the only ones: the parents of nine million children in the Chinese
countryside reside in the city because of work. The film illustrates the painful dilemma this creates: the money is needed so the children can attend school and have a better future, but in the
meantime they are running wild – after all, they are children. All the mother can do is sigh ‘wouldn’t it be great if money didn’t exist’. The documentary was made by British journalist Max Duncan and won a World Press Photo prize in 2018.
It’s one of those places that are so easy to miss. Not right on the route and you’re in a hurry. And it’s still quite a way to where you’re
going. And you’re not quite sure exactly where is it. One of those places you once read about.
This one is about five kilometres south of Aarhus in Denmark, near Moesgaard Museum, about where the hills and forest begin. There’s an old
country mansion in an old park, with an old car park and old trees. And a view out to sea. A place of long-gone entertainment. The hedge is majestic – typically Danish – wide and neatly clipped.
Behind it, slightly higher, the white house in the romantic style so typical of a century ago. Neo-classical, the information board tells us: Varna Pavilion, built in 1909 as part of the Danish National Exhibition. A hotel and restaurant with a dancehall. But that’s
not what we came for.
Lower down, beyond the trees, the hedge and the grass, in the water, lies the Infinite Bridge: a circular wooden boardwalk that juts out into the
water, although ‘jut’ is not the right word to use for a circle. That’s the word that harks back to the old pier, from which boats used to leave for Aarhus and ports further away. A circle
doesn’t jut out, but bisects everything, a shape unto itself, oblivious of its surroundings. Yet it fits perfectly here. A ring that connects the land with the water, encircling the large rocks
that mark where the stream enters the sea.
To get to the circle you have to make your way down and through the sand. Modest in size, it’s well worth the detour, for the
continuously changing views: Aarhus in the distance; above you, the nearby pavilion, the garden, the woods. The water that opens up as you venture further out to sea. And then closes up again as
you approach the land. It’s a circle that gets to you, sets you dreaming… on to further places.
The Infinite Bridge was created for an exhibition in 2015 by the young architects Johan Gjøde and Niels Povlsgaard. It proved so popular that the local council bought it and turned it into a permanent exhibit. Well,
almost: in the winter it is dismantled and then reassembled each spring. In May 2020, when Varna Pavilion opens for its summer season, the circle will be on view again.
Swiss landscape architect Günther Vogt has earned his
stripes with his designs such as those for the Eiffel Tower gardens, and the roof garden and the sunken courtyard of the New York Met. In 2014, his book Landscape as a Cabinet of
Curiosities was published, in which he reflects on the separate elements of landscape and questions the importance of it as a whole. In his 2010 book Leidenschaftliche Landschaften
(Passionate Landscapes) he analyses the influence of the internet on our perception of city parks and squares, and on their design. In this era of sensational digital imagery, how can
one create spaces that are meaningful and sustainable in both a sociocultural and an ecological sense?
It is clear that Günther Vogt likes to ask questions to gain a better understanding of his field, but in the podcast recorded by Kingston University last November Louise Koopmanns and Andrew Clancy question
him. The podcast is part of the series Register - Architecture & Landscape from Kingston University London.
The interview is about Vogt’s own development as a designer and his view of what will be expected of landscape architects in the future, in other
words the challenges that lie ahead. Vogt comes across as very knowledgeable, for example on ecology and technology. However, simply visiting and ‘feeling’ places remains just as important to him
– even dreaming is allowed. Hence, Koopmanns and Clancy’s description of Vogt’s designs as ‘contextual and surreal, robust and intimate’.
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