Autumn is the loveliest time of the year for a walk enveloped in foliage, but there's no need to leave the city to do this. Urban parks ‒ also known as 'green lungs' ‒ have evolved in recent years to become much more than simple recreational green areas. And if on the one hand they actively contribute to lessening the effects of climate change, help regulate water flow patterns and foster biodiversity, on the other they are emerging as places of attraction with ever-growing appeal. This is because architecture has understood how necessary creativity and imagination are to designing them well.
Today linear parks, or greenways (another name commonly used), are invaluable havens where users can read, go for a stroll, do sports, listen to a book presentation, or view a touring exhibition ‒ all surrounded by vegetation that often has little to envy of mountain forests or Mediterranean clifftops.
Here are four projects that will make you want to set off straight away for a walk through these settings: the future Linear Park in Trieste, designed by Atelier(s) Alfonso Femia, the new Skypark in Shenzhen, by Crossboundaries, the wonderful Green Mile in Amsterdam, by UNStudio, and the Moongate Bridge Park in Shanghai, by Höweler+Yoon.
The Trieste waterfront project has been described as 'a connecting park'. Conceived and designed by Atelier(s) Alfonso Femia in conjunction with the landscape architect Michelangelo Pugliese and the Trieste-based Damiani Architettura+ studio, the new Linear Park of Industrial Archaeology was presented by the local city council last September. It promises to assert itself in coming years as a prime example of urban waterfront conversion, a green incubator unfurling for three kilometres, from the city centre to the Barcola seaside district, passing through the old port area of Porto Vecchio.
So it will not be just a park but also a connector between history, city and sea: an evocative itinerary linking Trieste's trading past with its present, still dominated by Habsburg buildings, squares and the old port.
The park's three-kilometre length means it will extend even further than the High Line in New York. It is therefore an ambitious project not only in size but also for the value and importance it will embody in terms of landscape.
As a whole, the park will be subdivided into two interconnected areas: one will include Viale Monumentale ('monument boulevard') and the other is the stretch that will connect the Barcola neighbourhood with the old town, extending parallel to the coast, passing through the old warehouses of Porto Vecchio and following the line of the railway tracks.
It is a far-reaching project in keeping with the city council's outlook and the masterplan set out by Andreas Kipar of the Land studio: during this first stage of the project, public spaces are the departure point for connecting parts of the city, by creating uninterrupted spaces equipped for outdoor activities. A welcoming place that attracts and prompts exploration of the coastal zone, while preserving the historical Habsburg urban layout, Alfonso Femia commented.
The concept of eco-sustainability is at the core of the entire project thanks to energy efficiency and urban redevelopment. The spaces are seen as contexts for socialising and cross-generational interaction, as places for physical exercise and as connectors between zones of the city and identities. Six landscape areas are the heart of the project: the bamboo glade, the floral crags, the mineral garden, the stonebreaker, the hills, and the meadows. The cable-car stations positioned at the two extremities of the strip mark the physical ends of the Linear Park.
Again from a standpoint of environmental safeguarding, the impervious paving will be replaced to expand the surface area capable of draining water, also contributing to reducing the heat-island effect. In fact, 30,000 m2 will be repurposed with a pro-active role, where 700 new trees comprising 13 native species will be planted.
Water too is a key project component and it is incorporated as a unifying and constant presence: running parallel to the lengthwise axis, it is a connector dotted with locks, waterfalls and 11 pools, providing a total of 2,450 m2 of water surfaces. Water management for the entire area is structured in an underground system bringing waters from various sources ‒ rain but also groundwater and mains water. A network of channels, cisterns and pools collects, stores, retrieves and treats water before it goes back into circulation.
Pedestrian and cycle paths will pass through Trieste's strategic points and hotspots, generating new meeting places, squares and sites where the public can gather, to become "a cross-section of landscapes in a sequence that reinterprets the nuances of the history and geography of this city, but also a safe and vibrant place for socialising. The park will invert the relationship between the urban context and growth of vegetation, gradually becoming a sort of nursery for plants, which will colonise the town's public spaces". (Landscaper Michelangelo Pugliese).
A 1.2-kilometre linear park covering the old roof of the metro train depot: this is the new Crossboundaries project for Shenzhen, in China. With its 77,000 m2 of recreational and sports area, Shenzhen Skypark will entirely transform the cityscape of a metropolis that is attracting a constantly increasing number of young residents in search of places offering a high standard of living. Meanwhile, an ever higher population density has gradually drawn attention to the need for green public spaces given over to leisure time and social contact: this too was a reason prompting the Shenzhen district council to pursue this project.
Shenzhen Skypark connects with the existing buildings on its west side through sky bridges, which bring students and sports enthusiasts to a specially created platform. This space is in fact set out with a series of innovative sports facilities including basketball courts, five-a-side pitches and tennis courts. Instead, for park-goers not interested in sports activities, there is a separate route that nevertheless intertwines ‒ also on various levels ‒ with this platform, running the entire length of the park.
Despite the park's size, its design is extremely detailed, from the urban furniture to the signage and through to the choice of materials: all the components encourage people to use the park, as simply and freely as possible.
The Green Mile is the name of a project aiming to transform the Stadhouderskade ‒ one of the most polluted and dangerous thoroughfares in Amsterdam ‒ into a green, safe street to become a meeting place, designed for people, animals and nature. The idea stems from a group initiative developed by UNStudio with the city council and with other entities such as the Rijksmuseum, Heineken, De Nederlandsche Bank and Hogeschool van Amsterdam.
One of the interesting aspects of this project is its communal approach, in the sense that as many stakeholders as possible were involved right from the outset, so that the Green Mile has become an actual movement: its guidelines have been condensed into a manifesto that includes a social events programme and an organisational approach representing Amsterdam inhabitants' interests. A project that will physically be built up step by step, depending on the available resources and existing needs.
In this sense, the avenue will become an authentic common space, with various areas for pedestrians and cyclists. A place for walking, for sitting and enjoying the surrounding vegetation, for playing and for practising sports. A road that invites locals to come down into the street, as underlined by its slogan: a street that connects.
Designed by Höweler+Yoon, Moongate Bridge Park is an excellent example of urban conversion and transformation: standing in the Houtan area of the Pudong district of Shanghai, on the former 2010 Shanghai Expo grounds, it is now a culture park offering a busy and innovative recreational programme. The area has evolved and changed use over several decades, from natural wetland to farmland, to a heavy industry site, through to trade exhibition venue.
Reworking traditional Chinese moongate motifs, the design modifies the sides of Moongate Bridge through a series of round openings, framing the water as it spans across a man-made waterway. The architects opted to incorporate this circular form also as it evokes an important link between past and future.
And so the bridge also becomes a meeting place and a platform offering a different and unusual viewpoint, inviting pedestrians to observe the surrounding context with fresh eyes. In fact, the emerging mood echoes a historical Chinese garden, but one with a contemporary edge. The curved geometries of the bridge are created through a series of cobblestone areas, layered and overlapping one another to form a stepped crescent that climbs up to the balustrades.
Parco Lineare Trieste
Architects: Atelier(s) Alfonso Femia, Damiani Architettura+, Michelangelo Pugliese (landscape design)
Client: Ministero della Cultura, Comune di Trieste
Renderings by AF517 & Diorama, courtesy of Atelier(s) Alfonso Femia
Client: Shenzhen Nanshan District Government Investment Project Preliminary Work Office
Photography by BAI Yu, Shenzhen Luohan Photography Studio, courtesy of Crossboundaries
The Green Mile Amsterdam
Client: Amsterdam Government in cooperation with The Rijksmuseum, Heineken, De Nederlandsche Bank, the Hoge School van Amsterdam
Renderings by Plomp, courtesy of UNStudio
Images by Wu Tao / Shrimp Studio, courtesy of Höweler+Yoon