Monday, December 19, 2011

Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord, Germany

The Landschaftspark in the north of Duisburg near Dusseldorf is a public park built on the site of a defunct steel mill. It seems that a lot of these projects are popping up across Germany, rehabilitating old factories into modern, multifunctional parks. As with other German landscape projects, very little information is available about this one in the English media, and I probably would have never heard of it if it wasn’t mentioned in a little article by Tim Richardson, which was also posted on thinkinGardens. In the piece, Richardson describes the park as “an absolutely extraordinary experience”, achieved “with the lightest of touches.”


The steel factory was abandoned in 1985, leaving behind an assortment of monstrous structures and polluted soil. The transformation into a public park was initiated in 1991, and was carried out by landscape architect Peter Latz, of the firm Latz + Partner. Unlike other proposals that were made for the site, his aimed to keep most of the existing buildings, and use them to illustrate and understand the industrial past rather than cover it up. As a result, everything has been left in place: the gigantic factory buildings, concrete storage bunkers of mammoth proportions, pools and canals, and the old railway. But everything has been put to new and often unexpected usage.

The factory buildings themselves provide the dominant theme for the park. They are in a perfect state of romantic dilapidation – rusted, cracking at the joints, and with signs of nature’s reclamation sprouting up everywhere. Access is allowed into several buildings through narrow and steep stairways that lead to a labyrinth of dark walkways. A little unsettling to a North American used to overly tight safety regulations. The edgy industrial feel of these buildings seemed to appeal to two groups in particular: teenage rock bands looking for a backdrop for their bad-boy cover shots, and well-equipped amateur photographers. You could find plenty of both hidden in the most unexpected dark recesses of the buildings.




The great concrete bunkers and various concrete storage structures that surround the factory buildings were also left in place. They are now put to creative use either as playgrounds featuring gigantic sand boxes and twisting slides, or as climbing walls. As a climber myself, the latter was really nice to see. And very tempting since the climbing rope happened to be in the car!


All this is well enough, but what about the green stuff that usually goes in parks? I think Richardson already described the approach perfectly when he said the “lightest of touches” was used. Most of the greenery seems to be whatever happens to grow there - it's hard to tell what was planted and what was already found growing at the abandoned site. There are a few exceptions, such a simple geometric planting of trees at the entrance to the park, and some pruned hedges here and there to punctuate the chaos. The soil was quite polluted, but Latz chose not to replace it. Instead, the very fancy-sounding approach of “phytomediation” was taken, meaning that the soil was left in place and plants are now used to do the rehabilitation work. Perhaps what seemed like a mess of random vegetation is actually a carefully chosen mix of soil detoxifying plants?


The only more ‘gardened’ area, if one can call it that, is across from the factory buildings on the other side of the canal. Here, there are a series of gigantic concrete bunkers, which look like boxes with no tops. There is an elevated walkway which allows visitors to look into the boxes from above. Given the viewpoint, the planting patterns are kept simple and obvious. Several boxes are planted with straight rows of identical plants, which I thought worked quite well. In one box, the only one you can actually walk into, tightly clipped hedges were used to create a strong geometric pattern which was both striking from above and effective below. Although the hedge pattern is not classical, the garden contained mostly traditional plants, such as roses and hydrangeas.


The Duisburg Landschaftspark is certainly a very interesting experiment, and a park unlike any I have seen before. But personally, the feeling I got walking through it was one of uneasiness, of being on edge. There is no sugar coating the industrial history here, no softening of the landscape with pretty plantings. Certainly many elements are original and may provide important inspiration for the future. But to me, it felt a bit like a very modern house – nice to see and visit, but just not comfortable to live in.

14 comments:

  1. I'm amazed there have been no comments on this post! I've read of this park, and seen a few photos, but your photos provide a much more detailed view not available before. This is a very important garden. I hope to be able to get to it in the not too distant future. Thanks for this one too (in addition to your Hermanshof posts).

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  2. Hi James, so nice to hear from you. I was hoping to get some discussion going on this one, but maybe it's because like me, others don't quite know what to make of this type of garden. It's hard to get the real atmosphere of the place across in a blog - I'll be curious to find out what you think of it if you come over for a visit.

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    1. Looks so large you just have to "be there." Strangely, parts of it remind me vaguely of the Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey. Very different, but some of the "garden rooms" have a similar feel. I wonder if anyone has done a large format gook on this park. It is a hard one to understand from a blog. Anxiously awaiting your next post!

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    2. Thanks for the encouragement James! I'm very behind, I haven't even had a chance to read blogs lately, but I will try to do a new post soon.

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  3. I too love this park - hugely important to all designers and a real must see.

    Tim has written a really interesting editorial in the current Society of Garden Designers journal - hope you can also pick up on this and spread the word further?

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  4. Hi Rachel. Thank you for visiting and for the tip on Tim's editorial. I would be very interested to read it, but it doesn't seem to be available online and I'm not sure I could get my hands on a copy of the journal here in Belgium. It looks like a good publication though - might have to consider a subscription!

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    1. HI
      I was writing a Thesis about industrial parks,I wondered if I can use your pics? And I will write your name there, thank you a lot!

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    2. Wei - feel free to use the pictures. Good luck with your thesis!

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  5. Hi! I've never heard of this park before, and stumbled on this post completely accidentally. I just want to say thank you for such an great report. It really is an unusual and slightly disturbing place. It brings back the memories of walking though abandonded sites like this when I was a kid.

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  6. Hi!
    You blog is lovely and you cover exactly my prefered regions (Belgium, Netherland, GB and Germany.)Thanks for that!

    It is really amazing that the Landschaftspark Duisburg is nearly unknown outside Germany. I live nearby and I was not aware of that. One reason can be, that it is not a park in the sense of "garden", it is more a cultural center. It is used as a concert hall, a open air theater, for bicycle races, scuba diving (yes indeed!), climbing, parties etc.

    The Landschaftspark is illuminated by night. It's worth seeing it.
    http://en.landschaftspark.de/the-park/light-installation

    I fully agree with your opinion regarding the Grugapark in Essen. It is a nice spot for locals, especially families with kids (it offers a lot of small animals and playgrounds), but not for garden lovers.

    I have two recommendations:
    The first is the Museumsinsel Hombroich. It is a combination of art exhibition and park near Neuss. A little bit strange, but interesting.
    http://www.inselhombroich.de/main.htm

    The second is one of the most popular gardens in Germany,the Gartenreich W├Ârtlitz in Dessau.
    http://www.gartenreich.com/en/index.html

    All the best
    Donatella

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    1. Hi Donatella! Thank you for the very nice comment. It's interesting to get a local's perspective on such parks. And I really appreciate the garden recommendations, I will try to fit them in during my next trip to Germany. If you have any other suggestions, I am always happy to find out about new gardens.

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  7. Hi!
    I am sure that you know Bingerden, near Arnhem in the Netherlands, but in case not... http://www.bingerden.com/
    Especially the garden fair in June is lovely (sometimes a little bit crowded)

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    1. Hi Donatella. Thanks very much for the recommendation - I actually didn't know of this garden, so great to find out! I can imagine that a garden fair on the grounds there would be fantastic.

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  8. Garden Wanderer...

    Fabulous post. I visited Landschafts Park in 2007 as part of a garden/green space tour of Germany. I am now doing a research project on the site and hence, discovered your blog...thanks for refreshing my memory! Looking forward to checking out the rest of your blog.

    Mark

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