The Garden of Forking Paths

The Garden of Forking Paths

BEALS + LYON Architects
Project Year
Urban Green Spaces

The Garden of Forking Paths

BEALS + LYON Architects as Architects

Nowadays, being always online, connected and available, mobile technology has mostly erased any space for leisure and quietness. If we compare the ‘Flanèur’ -the bohemian, daydreamer or cultured person who had time to stroll in the city- with the ‘Commuter’, the person who has to travel every day from home to work with the pressure to convert that time into a productive space, it is possible to see that what is lacking is really that space and time ‘in between’, now converted as an imperative space for production by modern society. The otherwise ‘unproductive gaps’ somehow need to be filled.

We believe that slowness can be promoted by a certain darkness or blurriness of the boundaries that limit a space. Thus, if a sharp line that clearly defines and divides is blurred, it can be converted into a buffer zone or liminal space, limen signifying ‘threshold’ in Latin (Turner, 1969). A feeling of being in two places and in neither at the same time; an environment whose diffuse or blurred condition promotes the existence not only of space, but also of time, in-between, allowing an intense and bodily experience. We find in the obscure woods of Francesco Colonna’s ‘HypnetoromachiaPoliphili’ an example of liminal space. Poliphilo, the protagonist, dreams that he is in a quiet and solitary desert. Looking for his love he enters unadvisedly a dark and unfrequented wood (Fig. 1). He gets lost, and in his search, stumbles on mysterious temples and Dionysian rites (Coates, 2012). This dark wood creates the medium to start perceiving with the whole body, where the sensual experience is at the centre of the narrative.

Similarly, in our proposal for the YAP-Constructo 2012/13, ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’, by means of constructing a maze, we aim to create an environment of slowness; a new scale for leisure and the unforeseen in a park that is otherwise insistently being pushed and transformed into a productive and lucrative space. Just as Poliphilo in his dream, we would like the visitors to get lost, leaving the rush of the city behind. This quietness will eventually allow them to perceive on a different way: slow, paused, useless,thus establishing a connection with their bodies through an unexpected sensual experience.This couldbring a whole new understanding of space, capable to locate the body,back at the centre of architecture.

The site of the intervention is found in the Southwest corner of the ParqueAraucano, at the highest point on a hill, surrounded by native trees. Its position is ¬inscribed within a perimeter path, and itself implies a certain distance and discovery of the park. In this trail we have attempted to create a knot, a series of consecutive bifurcations;a system that proposes new rules, a new pace; an instrument that promotes a multi-sensorial perception and experience of the landscape that surrounds it.

A pavilion in the park is usually seen as an isolated form read against the landscape, built to be perceived only visually from the outside. On the other hand, typologies like the enclosed garden, the grotto and the labyrinth are conceived from within, demanding a certain exploration and experience of their understanding. They have an ambiguous nature: they are simultaneously natural and artificial, interior and exterior, public and private, leaving space for the interpretation of both their significance and the situations that can occur within them.

With the labyrinth as a medium, the project creates a narrative of situations of discovery and surprise, exploring the possibilities of public space by introducing a series of new atmospheres and ambiences. To achieve this, we use a vegetal mass that creates a blurry or low-resolution environment, promoting perception through all the senses. This cornfield is explored through a system of timber paths built with recycled scaffolding planks. The whole structure is painted yellow, distinguishing it from the predominantly green landscape. Its geometric layout is borrowed from the labyrinth in the gardens of Versailles (Fig. 2), which we have deformed and adapted to include a series of spaces in the form of rooms or ´follies´, openings in the path, spaces for unexpected and unforeseen situations and events. The trail begins and ends in a larger, yard like space, a meeting place from which slight views give clues as to the happenings within the interior. This space along with the system of pathways simultaneously allows for the potential of both collective activity and personal experience and exploration. Watering systems in the four corners of the maze are activated at certain intervals, suddenly changing the atmospherical conditions. It is this as well as a central pool and light materials floating in the interior spaces, which freshen the atmosphere.

The vegetal mass will be literally eaten by the visitants, its remaining degrading in the ground below. Also, the whole structure is modular, allowing for its dismantlement and re-location in another site permitting, perhaps, that another overlooked section of the city can be rediscovered, and the potential for its public use, explored.

Winner Proposal for the YAP-CONSTRUCTO 2012/13 (MoMA–PS1 ‘Young Architects Program’)

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Project Credits
Zwemcentrum Rotterdam
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