Rosa Barba International Landscape Prize 2016

Hargreaves Associates’ Queen Elisabeth Olympic Park in London won the Rosa Barba International Landscape Prize at the International Biennial of Landscape Architecture in Barcelona on the 30th of September 2016. The project was selected from a shortlist of ten finalists.

The Public Opinion Prize was voted by the attendees of the Biennial and awarded to Atelier Descombes Rampini Architects for their project Renaturation of the River Aire.

The International Prize for University Projects in Schools of Architecture and Landscape went to the University of Virginia.

The winning project for Queen Elizabeth Park transformed more than 100 hectares of unattractive, derelict, post-industrial wasteland into a complex landscape that comprises various ambiences, offers grounds for numerous programmes and diverse habitats and features the most elaborate planting. Scope, range, complexity, orchestrating engineering, horticulture, ecology, economics, programming and beautiful design were the criteria explained in the jury statement, and they indeed describe the project and the masterful skills of Hargreaves Associates. It also seems obvious that in terms of usability, where some post-Olympic landscapes have failed, Queen Elisabeth Park will succeed.

© Hargreaves Associates
Queen Elisabeth Olympic Park © Hargreaves Associates

James Corner was, this time, the president of the jury for the Rosa Barba Prize, and he announced the winner. His New York-based firm Field Operations »led the Master Plan and Design for the post-Olympic Games transformation of the South Park Hub into the larger publically dedicated Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park«, as is noted on the firm’s website. Essentially, the jury led by James Corner awarded a project James Corner was a part of. In 2015, a year before winning Rosa Barba, the project, along with all involved offices and developers, was awarded at MIPIM.

More disturbing than James Corner’s involvement in the winning project and, therefore, ethically questionable decision of the jury is this year’s obvious paradigm shift in what the Rosa Barba Prize represents. If we look at the past winners (2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014), we see a range of simple and poetic ideas effortlessly translated into subtle, modest yet intelligent and powerful landscape interventions. It was about more than »massively transformative« – as James Corner stressed the most important criteria for selecting the Queen Elisabeth Olympic Park.

The Rosa Barba Prize was always a celebration of a curious and sensitive approach to landscape, dedicated to the playful revealing of layers of time, space, natural and social processes, the intimate monologue of the landscape architect concerning »to intervene or not to intervene?«, and the dialogue with the site. A process that gradually leads to a statement in the landscape.


Winner of the 2012 Rosa Barba Prize, Cap de Creus by EMF

A change in criteria would have been expected when the Biennial shifted from European to International in 2014. The transition was, however, smooth, and the jury, at the time, presided over by Michael van Gessel, awarded the prize to North Wharf Promenade in Auckland, New Zealand, by Taylor Cullity Lethlean. An industrial harbour area that had been transformed into a public landscape whilst maintaining the characteristics of the site by ‘curating’ and ‘translating’ Industrial elements that were found on site into a public space infrastructure.

© Simon Devitt

North Wharf Promenade © Simon Devitt

It doesn’t come as a surprise that with this kind of approach, the Rosa Barba Prize, over the years, gained the utmost respect and accumulated a vast pool of followers and supporters in the global community of landscape architects. They were present at the ceremony, and they awarded the Renaturation of the river Aire with the Public Opinion Prize.

When James Corner announced the winner, the applause began after a moment of hesitation, was polite and of a modest length and volume. A few minutes later, the Public Opinion Prize winner was announced, and the audience reacted in a considerably more ecstatic way, bringing the volume of the applause and loud cheers to the maximum.

It was later promised by the members of the Scientific Committee of the Biennial at the very end of the award-giving ceremony that the next Rosa Barba Prize will again focus on interventions of a smaller scale. The promise was given in Catalan, so perhaps the details were lost in translation, the point being that scale also should not play a vital role. Rather, it should be the power of the statement, concept and process that led to the intervention in the landscape.

As an illustration, I’d like to emphasise three projects from the shortlist of ten excellent finalists for the Rosa Barba Prize 2016 that managed to break or even redefine the rules and were exceptional in terms of the dialogue between the site, function and the designer.

H+N+S designed Buitenschot Park, a landscape that reduces the ground noise produced by planes at the nearby Schiphol airport, Amsterdam. The landscape is at the same time publicly accessible and functions as a park. The design approach for this landscape is all about experiments that resulted in a landscape as an innovative infrastructure for noise reduction and a park for people.

© Your Captain Luchtfotografie

Buitenschot Park © Your Captain Luchtfotografie

The Renaturation of the River Aire is a poetic project that introduces a structure to be deliberately decomposed by a natural process while achieving the goal of the intervention. Instead of just drawing a new channel that would look like a natural stream, Atelier Descombes Rampini laid the grounds for the river to do the rest. The process is in focus, like a homage to the river and its force. Choosing a grid now seems the only possible way to emphasise the decomposition and the contrast between the anthropogenic form and the natural water stream. The remains of the grid will most likely be visible in the landscape for a long time since not all rhombuses will decompose. The old channel was preserved and equipped with neatly designed features to host visitors: benches, pergolas, foot-path, access to water etc. Probably one of the most beautiful examples of interaction between a river and a designer in recent years.

© Superpositions

The Renaturation of the River Aire © Superpositions

Louvre Lens Museum Park: Visitors come to museums to see works of art, science or remains of the past, in order to get inspired, filled with new knowledge or to reshape the margins of their understanding. Catherine Mosbach seized the opportunity to offer a landscape that engages this mindset and is able to explain the hidden stories this landscape inhabits.

This is indeed a museum park where visitors can observe what the landscape has to say about itself and the traces of human activity on the site. One can move about as one would at an exhibition, passing through an array of different objects, each expressing its own statement … Catherine Mosbach revealed the layers of the site’s memory with all its features and debris and translated them into a language common to the building and its programme. Whether you like its appearance or not, the Louvre-Lens Museum Park project is undoubtedly a strong conceptual landscape that reaches beyond practice by the book.
© mosbach paysagistes

Louvre Lens Museum Park © mosbach paysagistes

See all finalists here.

written by Zaš Brezar

Published on October 7, 2016

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