Thursday, May 7, 2009

Open public space for stimulating creativity

Innovation. A word spoken so often. At least, nowadays. But how do I fit in? What can I do? How do I wreathe myself into the currents of change and leave my mark in them? It is easier than one would imagine. The beauty of innovation is that its process of creation is exceptionally inclusive. It provides room for everyone wanting to create, co-create and move forward. Crossing the borders of the known, if possible. What is the role in innovation space of those who directly create and expand the limits of the open public space? Important, highly important. But it is not because they would be more important than other stakeholders in the innovation space. The reason is that so little has been done in this area so far. Which in itself is not surprising for creativity, and consequently innovation, have only recently become the key generators of value creation in our society. Consequently, the topics such as “the role of public space on creativity of people” found themselves in a centre of attention. Below are views on this topic by Davorin Gazvoda, DSc, Associate Professor and Head of Department of Landscape Architecture at the Biotechnical Faculty, University of Ljubljana.
Born in 1965, in Novo mesto. BSc and MSc at the Department of Landscape Architecture at the Biotechnical Faculty, University in Ljubljana. In 1996, DSc at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University. Employed at the Department of Landscape Architecture at the Biotechnical Faculty since 1989, currently as an associate professor of Landscape Architecture. Since 2006, the Vice-dean for Landscape Architecture. In addition to teaching in Slovenia and abroad, he is active in the field of landscape architecture design, participates in national and international urbanism and landscape architecture design competitions and is an authorised landscape architecture designer. Some of his wining design contest projects were implemented. His most successful project, the Srebrniče graveyard in Novo Mesto, won him and his colleagues the Plečnik Award and was nominated for the European Mies van der Rohe Award in 2001. In recent years, he has been cooperating with the Bejing University of Technology as a visiting professor and participating in various landscape architecture projects in China.

Davorin Gazvoda
Photo: Blaž Bratkovič, Zavod Big

VB: What is the history of the open public spaces?
DG: Speaking strictly about green open space and the history of the garden art, the park and garden spaces were historically always designed as exclusive spaces with greater value and significance than other open spaces. However, they were mainly the privilege of the wealthy. Their gardens had to be prominent, providing a highly comfortable living environment. They were described accordingly, e.g. ‘heavenly’ or ‘heaven on earth’. Once planted, they also served creativity. They were venues for artists – poets, painters, actors.
Such spaces are rare today. Our green public spaces are mainly dedicated to sport, recreation or walking, and these spaces are often lacking maintenance funds, often failing to keep pace with the changing habits of the population in each specific environment and are not restructured and redesigned according to need. For example, some children’s playgrounds are neglected or not appropriately maintained, while on the other hand, there are communities without them. And spaces to encourage creativity? They are very rarely even considered nowadays.

VB: What is the history of the green public spaces in Ljubljana?
DG: During the French rule of Ljubljana, a committee for the ornamentation of Ljubljana was formed and designed a plan for a central park in Ljubljana, with the characteristic alleys of the Tivoli Park of today. The plan was later implemented by the Austrian Governor Latterman, who appreciated the significance of the French plans and planted the trees for Tivoli’s alleys. The industrial revolution period that followed also left its mark in the landscape architecture. Complex geometric shapes were gradually disappearing. Simplicity and functionality became more important under the influence of the so-called English landscape design style, according to which the Tivoli Park was also finalised.

Market in Šentjernej

VB: What are the trends today?
DG: The current trend is erasing the border between the closed and open space. Designs again incorporate more (too much) geometry, the needs of the individual and of specific user groups are becoming more important. Landscape architects also endeavour to design the space according to findings of environmental psychology. Professor Marko Polič from the Faculty of Arts is teaching course on environmental psychology at our Faculty. The most interesting topics in the field regard entirely practical aspects, such as arrangement and shape, for example of benches in public parks or around schools and retirement homes; it is important to understand when the space is encouraging violence, individuality, dialogue, etc.

VB: What about rural areas?
DG: In the rural areas, the forms of the public and private spaces has always been related to the daily existence of the inhabitants. Thus, old villages and houses had been built according to the highly popular feng shui principle for ages – otherwise they wouldn’t have endured. The mountain farms of Gorenjska are an excellent example of such construction – energy efficient and utilising natural resources. The logic of sustainability was possible 1000 years ago, but nowadays it is limited and pushed into the background.

VB: Does this mean that nowadays we do not take into account the influence public spaces have on creativity?
DG: Not in the way you would like to hear. However, some research has been performed on the topic in developed countries, especially in Scandinavia, dealing with the influence of spaces, including open public spaces on creativity.

Cemetery Srebrniče
VB: Which are the key elements on which the design of a creative (open) space can be based?
DG: They depend on the aspect. Concerning the user, they are subject to meeting the users’ needs and providing the experience of space (attractive scenery). For example, you visit Tivoli because it is pleasant and neatly arranged, without any specifically designed spaces that would stand out. Clearly, some of the attraction of a green space lies in the still important primal relationship between man and nature which we seek in neatly arranged green surfaces of the city, the city forest or park.
The users’ aspect is also applied to the design aspect. Landscape designers place motives within a space, plan movement and views as will be seen by visitors. They also incorporate attractive and unusual landscape elements with the natural. Man has always added water motifs, sculptures, etc. into spaces. However, this is an area where we tend to exaggerate. I am under the impression that a sort of “Barcelonisation” of Europe is going on. We get solid modern formalistic arrangements which are accomplishable from the technological aspect, but empty in essence. Unsurprisingly, people still like visiting city parks designed in the manner of the natural landscape.
Furthermore, we must be aware that a number of aspects are important with space, such as ecology, climate, soil structure, growth conditions, etc. Landscape designers endeavour to make use of natural beauty of the landscape, water, relief and vegetation as much as possible.

VB: In which ways does a space influence creative thinking? What would an ideal space look like?
DG: Let me illustrate with an example. The ideal scenario would be: I am sitting at the edge of a forest, treetops (roof) above me, my back supported (tree trunk), water nearby; a vast open space in front of me (lawn, glade), plenty of light. In such an environment I have a sense of control over space. I feel safe and comfortable. Designing space which people will know how to use is therefore also an art. But at the same time, such space must also be manageable and straightforward yet sufficiently mysterious to invite exploration.

Davorin Gazvoda
Photo: Blaž Bratkovič, Zavod Big

VB: But physical image of the open public space probably isn’t all there’s to it?
DG: True. Utilisation of space, its essence and content are also very important. This is what we lack in our environment. We have become overly bound by architectural determinism: we create spaces for socialisation and wonder why they are empty. We have become unable to incorporate the evolution of habits and attitudes. The socialist neighbourhoods with arranged outdoor spaces, picnic spots, tables and benches are a typical example of that. They were suitable for the dynamics of the period, when people worked until two or three o’clock in the afternoon and spent their free time gardening, chatting, socialising and made use of these spaces in general. This is no longer the case in modern urban neighbourhoods. The benches and tables are neglected for the working hours and lifestyles in general have changed.
The other extreme are the modern investors who try to market each and every square foot of land and have no sense for open spaces. In the 1970’s a recess was dug in the Nove Jarše neighbourhood to create sport grounds surrounded with a grassy natural auditorium. Ideal setting, but requires a lot of space. Nowadays, no complete programme areas or specific parts of open space can be found in neighbourhoods such as Mostec; there are only the “remains” of open space between buildings.

VB: Where in Ljubljana would it make sense to start developing elements of an open public creative space?
DG: The new National Library complex should provide space for creative charging. Sadly, no one has yet started considering this option. Another example is the south end of the “alternative” Metelkova complex which was originally designed for this purpose. However, funding went dry and the idea gradually dissolved. There are many opportunities; all we need are open-minded investors. But open-mindedness is currently in short supply.

VB: What about the Internet Generation? What sort of space would have to be designed for them?
DG: I can’t say, really. We are dealing with users who have a need to constantly modify space. Green spaces can hardly adapt to such changes (plants need time to grow). Therefore, I cannot provide you with an answer yet. Artificial elements, such as holograms are offered as a possible solution; however, their impact on people is not equal to that of the living nature. As I have said already – in the end, everyone regardless of generation still loves to go to Tivoli, because it is simply enjoyable.

Does this mean that people have not changed significantly? Probably so. Only our responses are different because the stimuli from the environment have changed. This means that for the benefit of creative innovation-based society we all need to make a step forward. Sustainable development is not a privilege of a single area or an individual pillar of the society. It calls for a comprehensive lateral approach and the public open space plays an important role in this. When creating it, you might want to keep this in mind.

Violeta Bulc

The interview was conducted by Violeta Bulc, in March 2009. A part of it will be published on the pages of Zavod Big

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