European Biennial of Landscape Architecture

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Published on October 2, 2012

This year’s Rosa Barba Prize went to Martí Franch (EMF) and Ton Ardévol (J/T Ardévol i Associats) for the project Tudela Culip – Cap de Creus. Congratulations!

The 7th Biennial, as expected, offered a thematically rich program to those in attendance. Lecturers from Europe, the USA and Africa presented the narratives behind their respective projects, explaining different approaches to design and discussing both outstanding problems and successes. They thus attempted to define the present as well as speculate about the future of the profession. The beautiful Palau de la Musica Catala, situated in Barcelona’s Barrio Gótico, gave the event a special character. Here is a very brief review of the Biennial, enriched with important links, videos and other captured moments of the event.

On the first day, finalists for the Rosa Barba Prize were presented by their authors. The first of the presentation sessions was given by Michel Desvigne (FR), who showed how his gardens on Ile Seguin, in their present form, inherit the memory of the previous industrial usage of the site. Here is a glimpse from the site:


João Ferreira Nunes (PT) presented his project Etar de Alcântara, an effluent water treatment station located on a river island near Lisbon. The main design feature of the project is a green roof that holds to the pattern of the surrounding cultural landscape in the form of small orthogonal gardens; the building accordingly demonstrated an ability to better communicate with its surroundings.


The next project was arguably the most poetic. It told the story of an old abandoned holiday village in Cap de Creus, which has since been removed, the current area now restored as a natural landscape with gentle interventions intended for recreation as well as for observation of the surroundings. As mentioned above, this project by Martí Franch and Ton Ardévol (ES) was awarded the Rosa Barba Prize.


Marianne Mommsen (DE) presented her Christian garden, a “Garden of the World”, which was based on the creative reinterpretation of a cloister subtly mixed with contemporary interventions. The surrounding walkway was defined by a pergola-like construction made of “gold” letters.

Film by Architecture Films (Richard Cameron & Hanns Joosten)


Jacqueline Osty (FR) presented Martin Luther King Park in Paris, a very successful public park with diverse typologies of micro spaces, good connectivity, complex water management system and a set of features that make visitors returning to the park.


Steffan Robel (DE) from A24 Landschaftsarchitektur presented a park in Rosenheim. Robel conveyed that the park’s design intended to reveal qualities of the river Inn’s and its Mangfal’s banks within the new development of a recreational area along the waterfront.

Film by Architecture Films (Richard Cameron & Hanns Joosten)

The final presentation of the day was made by Michael van Gessel (NL), who, in a somewhat lighthearted style, described the seven hundred year old park Twickel Estate. In its long history, the Estate has been redeveloped every hundred years, the latest redesign belonging to Van Gessel himself. He described all phases of his redesign, from cleaning up the space to modernizing old features and redesigning spatial structures. He emphasized that new interventions in historic sites should always be recognized as contemporary in form, yet nevertheless be in harmony with their overall historical context.


After these stimulating presentations, we moved 300 meters south to COAC – the Association of Catalonian Architects vis-a-vis the Cathedral, where the opening of three exhibitions took place: the Rosa Barba entries and nominations, the Collserola Gates Competition entries, and the European Landscape Architecture Schools exhibition. Furthermore, it was possible to visit presentations of two books: “Topographical Architecture” by Arriola & Fiol Architects and LAE’s third book (after Fieldwork and On-Site) “In Touch, Landscape Architecture Europe 2012“.


The second day of the Biennial was titled “Biennial Vs. Biennial”, and aimed to discuss innovation in education and professional practice through two roundtables and four lectures. Marieke Timmermans (NL), from the Department of Landscape at the Academy of Architecture in Amsterdam, presented her approach. Students of the department made a series of posters for public space, which promoted the profession through images, questions and statements relating to the topic of what landscape architecture actually entails. With this approach, they informed the general public about the profession, whilst also questioning themselves about their work as future landscape architects. Marieke Timmermans stressed the importance of the interdisciplinary connectivity (politics and science) of landscape architects and how, in most examples, solutions for future interventions are found in the understanding of present and past states of a landscape. These claims were furthermore illustrated by practical work at various seminars.

Next up in the morning sessions was Julie Bargmann of D.I.R.T. Studio, who argued that design plans are not the best way to do design. Rather, Bargmann suggested the concept of “action plans”, pointing out that we should consider design as an act in itself, i.e., as a verb, instead of merely the presentation of “design plans”. She concurred with the claim that we should design within existing materials, and, furthermore, always accurately verify what are the minimum interventions required to realize a successful landscape.


After the round table entitled “Innovation in Education”, Manuel Ruisánchez (SP) presented selected projects, mostly related to public parks that he had encountered in his practice. Gilles Vexlard (FR) of Latitude Nord then occupied the stage, with a somewhat emphatic presentation. Those in attendance witnessed an approximately half hour-long slideshow of projects by Vexlard, accompanied by loud music. Some “jurassic rock” classics mixed with early electronic music gave the images a “Koyaanisqatsi-like” epic touch.


After the round table “Innovation in Professional Practice”, the winners of the Rosa Barba Prize were announced. The Department of Landscape at the Academy of Architecture Amsterdam won the International School Exhibition prize, and – as mentioned above – Martí Franch and Ton Ardévol took the Rosa Barba Prize and the Public Opinion Prize for the Tudela Culip project.

There was a celebration party afterwards at COAC, with free beer, champagne, snacks and an excellent choice of music, which ultimately drove some of the landscape architects in attendance to dance.

The last day, Topos took over. Chief editor Robert Schäfer opened the sessions with reflections on the beginnings, past experiences and future possibilities of the magazine. He presented both the new Topos Landscape Award and Topos Jubilee Awards and their recipients, who won their prizes earlier this year.

The first of the prizewinners was Sébastian Penfornis (FR) of the emerging French / Belgian studio Taktyk, who was awarded with the first Topos Landscape Award last June.


The following presentation was by Per Ritzer of the National Tourist Routes in Norway, who outlined in further detail this wonderful on-going project, which takes tourism and landscape in Norway to a new and interesting level. Rieulf Ramstad explained the design for the famous Trollstigplatået, his novel contribution to The Routes project in Havoysund, while also including a few more architectural projects to his presentation.


This was followed by the second winner of the “Topos” Jubilee Award 2012, the agricultural project Abalimi Bezekhaya – Farmers of the World – from Cape Town. The presentation by project members Bridget Impey and Christina Tenjiwe Kaba generated an emotional response from the audience, who awarded the initiative with a long and thunderous applause. The following video provides more about this project:


The next presentation was by Herbert Dreiseitl from Atelier Dreiseitl, who focused on Green-Blue Infrastructure in the context of water sensitive urban design. Dreisitel described the importance of the ecological layer of effective water management within the design of urban environments. He furthermore emphasized that we should strive to implement green and blue infrastructures in cityscapes, thus making healthier ecosystems. As a demonstration of their own individual adherence to this principle, Atelier Dreiseitl has in practice often re-used collected storm-water through various types of water features.

The last presentation of the final day belonged to Kathryn Gustafson (US/UK). She spoke about concept and design in general, as well as her framework to create “landscapes that fit”.


Throughout the biennial, it was clear that a general paradigm surfaced, which the majority of lecturers were very passionate about: how to design a landscape that corresponds to spatial, historical and social contexts. It could be prima facie said that this is “nothing new”; yet reality reflects the fact that this remains a decisive topic, one that is arguably more relevant than ever before. To see good landscape architects illustrating this paradigm with their diverse projects made under equally diverse circumstances underscores why, I feel, it was necessary to visit this event. This year’s biennial succeeded, with excellence, in discovering new ways of action, as well as providing new ways to rethink old certainties.

The Biennial has once again proven that it is truly “the” place for landscape architects to meet, discuss and share valuable experiences. The next Biennial in 2014 will leave Europe and spread its consciousness to an international level; we are looking forward to it!

Congratulations to the team of the Biennial and keep up the good work!


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