December 11: Bonjour, Decon

2016/12/11 § Leave a comment


On this day in 1982 the first round of competition for the new Parc de la Villette was coming to a close.

The finalists were announced on December 11; on 25 March of the following year, Bernard Tschumi’s design would be proclaimed the winner of the huge international competition that attracted almost 500 entries from around the world.  Projected for a 125-acre site reclaimed from former slaughterhouses, the project was proposed as a new kind of park for the twenty-first century, challenging designers to think beyond all those fusty old greeneries with grass and trees and fountains and stuff that people had somehow been getting along with lo these many centuries.  Tschumi’s proposal challenged the paradigm by presenting a park that he claimed was based on “culture” instead of the old-fashioned idea of “nature.” Instead of the cohesive compositions designed with longtime strategies that brought natural features into harmonious design with manmade elements to enhance an outdoor experience–as seen in the Tuileries or Luxembourg for example (which is not, apparently, “culture”)–Tschumi proposed three distinct systems.  Conceived independently, the “points” (bright red cubic follies, assigned functions later), “lines” (paths and bridges) and “surfaces” (gravel, grass, paving stones, etc.) were superimposed with a resounding crash that echoed the true tone of the zeitgeist.  Indeed, Tschumi portrays the park not as a scattering of buildings across a landscape, but one “discontinuous . . . single structure” (that’s what the website says).

Villette was the first great public Deconstructivist project.  The architecture community lost its collective junk over this thing, and although it is visited by lots of people every year, somehow even more millions get it wrong and keep going back to those out-of-date gardens with the alles, parterres, terraces, box hedges, centralised fountain displays and pretty sculptures.  Little do they know they are supposed to, like Tschumi, “oppose the landscape notion of Olmstead [sic].”  Yet, then again, maybe they know something that the great Swiss-French thinker-architect missed in Olmsted’s work (along with learning how to spell that great American gardener’s name correctly).  (Yes, we are picky that way.)

Image: the park (from this source)


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