In this blog Oakleigh Manor Landscape Architect, Victor Grennan, explores what influenced the design of one of his favourite Parisian landscapes, Parc Andre Citroën. Victor also reflects on how the designers’ saw the park fitting into the Parisian landscape and how they intended visitors to interact with it.
Parc Andre Citroën, in the 15th Arrondissement of Paris, is located on the south bank of the River Seine, just two miles from the Eiffel Tower. The park was built in 1992 on the site of a former Citroën automobile factory, and is named after the company’s founder Andre Citroën.
The main intention behind the parks design was to create a transition between urban and rural but in reality it became a mediator zone between city centre and residential. The design theme focused on four main areas, Artifice, Architecture, Movement and Nature.
Throughout the design these themes are introduced in different ways. Architecture and artifice plays a big role in the design and are evident at the entrance of the park. The park’s entrance is set in an urban environment, and as you enter the design begins with very strong geometric lines reinforcing the architectural and urban feel, Figure 1. In the centre of the park is the Great Lawn. At one end of the lawn sits two giant architectural green house structures, they give the park its architectural presence like parent figures up high overlooking the park, Figure 2. These giant forms link beautifully with the granite cube architectural forms running parallel to the Great Lawn displaying great rhythm and repetition, Figure 3
Movement is evident in a large diagonal pathway that cuts its way right through the park from the entrance to the exit. The path connects and allows movement throughout all the separate areas of the garden. As the path enters the main central axis it meets the Great Lawn. There is only one way to enter and exit the Great Lawn, controlling and encouraging the direction of movement through the space. Movement is also introduced through the use of rhythm and repetition in the architecture and the geometric shaped planting that surrounds the Great Lawn. The idea was for architecture and nature to move in and out of one another.
Nature is introduced mainly through planting. The designers’ gave plants a geometric treatment to reflect the architecture as seen in the square planting next to the Great Lawn and the surrounding intimate gardens. The six Theme Gardens, located on the east side of the Great Lawn, is where nature has been given freedom. The philosophy behind this is that each garden is related to one of the five human senses: sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing and a sixth sense ‘intuition’. These gardens involve and encourage the interaction between the visitor and nature. The garden of movement is located close to the far end of the diagonal path and is left to seed by itself, allowing nature to have its freedom. Sometimes you feel at one with nature in these small private gardens but on the other hand you feel like a visitor at a zoo viewing plants trapped between geometric conformity, Figure 4.
General Historical Context
Deconstruction in the 1990′s
Parc Andre Citroën was built in 1992 and Deconstruction was the ‘buzz’ word of the time. Parc Andre Citroën expresses this desire for simple no extra decoration notion of the deconstruction concept. Through its desire to have architecture and nature co-existing as one it acknowledges the need for soul and emotion that was so lacking in the 1980s. The nineties seemed to look back to the modernist international styles of Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn and gave it back its emotion – what Luis Barragan called ‘emotional architecture’.
Architecture in Paris in the Nineties
At this time there were many other areas along the Seine that were being redeveloped. Another example of redevelopment and architecture at this time is The National Library of France (Bibliothèque Nationale). This is another demonstration of an attempt of architecture and nature co-existing. It is debatable whether this really is a success or whether nature is a caged animal to be viewed for our entertainment. It almost seems cruel to see the trees in the central space low down (in what seems like a dark pit) struggling to reach the light while cables reach across to support their unnatural slender growth. Parc Andre Citroën achieves the balance to a much greater effect. At the Bibliothèque Nationale buildings are still truly modern and the overall effect is one of amazement and the space is full of visual excitement, Figure 5, 6.
The Social Use of The Park
The park’s design was intended to draw people from the busier parts of the city to play and use the open spaces. There are many mixed reviews on its success. Many people complain of the lack of seating and resting points in the park where people can observe social life, there is also only one area where you can walk dogs. Having said this, many sources report great activity on the Great Lawn from the time it was built to the present day. The restriction signs telling people not to play in the water fountains have been ignored, with people playing in them since the park’s opening, Figure 7.
Aesthetic Character of the Style
From looking at the park’s layout and details it is clear it has been designed in the Post Modern style with influences from leading modernist figures like Bauhaus. The plan of the design shows patterns, repetition, functionality and simple geometry of modernist designers. The play of light and shadow is also apparent in aerial views. Parc Andre Citroën is also designed in a formal style which harps back to history and the great designs of past French gardens such as Versailles and Vicomte.
Construction and Planting
There are 2,500 trees, 70,000 shrubs, 250,000 hard perennials, 25 fountains and 8 greenhouses in Parc Andre Citroën. Planting has been used in the open spaces to reflect boundaries, divide spaces, introduce movement, intimacy and nature. Where the themed gardens line the main law shrubbery is used as a barrier between the user of the space and what is going on in the urban setting that surrounds them. Planting is used to make the user aware of the changing seasons. Planting in the park connects with the past by linking the orange trees in the orangery and the construction of the canal surrounding the great lawn to that of Versailles, Figure 8.
Drawing Parallels with Historical Landscapes
We can draw connections and contrasts between Parc Andre Citroën and the garden at Versailles. The garden of Versailles (designed by Andre Le Notre) reflects the philosophies of Greek and Roman times by basing the concept of the garden on mythical gods (the Sun God in particular, as Louis called himself); whereas, Parc Andre Citroën looks more to nature and the natural cyclical changes of seasons. Parc Andre Citroën is based on reality and Versailles is filled with myth, Figure 9. At the same time the movement of the sun is important to both. In Versailles the sun is used to light up the canal a golden colour and Parc Andre Citroën needs the sun for movement and seasonal change.
There are many other connections between these gardens. Versailles offers an over whelming sense of grandeur, with the enormous scale of the palace overlooking the vast open space of the garden. We also get this sense of grandeur when entering Parc Andre Citroën’s central space, where the two big greenhouses sit up high like the palace at Versailles overlooking the open space of the ‘Great lawn’, Figure 2 and 10.
This grandeur is also reinforced through the fountains at Versailles and the fountains between the greenhouses at Parc Andre Citroën. Water plays a central feature within both gardens with fountains and large canals at the centre of both spaces, Figure 3 and 11.
Standing with your back to the two large greenhouses facing the river walk, on the left hand side you will hear thunderous water, here we find two large fast flowing waterfalls. These features are a contemporary take on how the fountains at Versailles are used for dramatic effect, Figure 12.
Parterres are used in Parc Andre Citroën, but instead of baroque style swirls used in Versailles they are clipped into square shapes.
Though Versailles and Parc Andre Citroën are designed in different styles they both conform to a certain formality, with geometry dictating their layout. This formality gives both designs power and strength.
Versailles combines geometric formality with the curves that are identified with the Baroque style; whereas, Parc Andre Citroën combines geometry with the free flowing movement of nature, Figure 13.
One very obvious connection that can’t be denied is the connection between the main path that cuts through Parc Andre Citroën and the Grand Alles of Versailles. They both connect spaces and create long views across the space, helping to emphasise the grand scale of both spaces.
The social uses of both of these gardens are very different. Versailles was used as the centre of government and court residence, used by only the upper-classes. Parc Andre Citroën is Public Park designed for all the citizens of Paris.
List of Figures
This article was written by Leigh