Constructing Landscape by Engineering Water

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In his paper, ‘Constructing Landscape by Engineering Water’, Antoine Picon states that, “Technology used to be defined as an action exerted by man on nature. Nowadays we may wonder, especially in the urban context, whether man is adapting the very concept of nature to cope with the challenges we face.”  

Picon, Professor of the History of Architecture and Technology at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, refers to “techno-nature”, a phrase he uses to describe the blurring between nature and the modern day, man-made urban realm. He claims that this is most prominent in the design of remedial landscapes . Historically, engineered hydraulic designs made clear distinctions between natural and man-made interventions – canals, aqua-ducts, locks and water treatment and storage was visibly constructed and segregated. Nowadays however, projects are often a combination of hard and natural engineering with a stronger reliance on nature based solutions for water management.

“Blending the natural and the artificial is not easy to reconcile with the public’s desire for close contact with natural elements and ambiances. Part of the challenge for landscape designers is to propose sequence that function with a harmonious combination of natural appearances and unavoidable artificiality.” Antoine Picon, ‘Constructing Landscape by Engineering Water’

Source: Institute for Landscape Architecture, ETH Zurich (ed.), Landscape Architecture in Mutation: Essays on Urban Landscapes, Zurich: gta Verlag, 2005, pp. 99-115.

Such as the project on the banks of the River Seille at Metz, France.  Here everything is artificial – the project focuses on the development of a new water catchment basin created by a new branch of the river – ‘giving the Seille River an extra arm’ – to assist regulating the Seille River’s hydrography. The project provides a new ‘natural element’ on the edge of the city.

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Parc de La Seille – METZ (Moselle)

Completion year 2003
Contracting Authority Municipality of Metz
Mission Creating an urban park featuring an advanced environmental approach
Project Management Team Landscape architects and designers Jacques Coulon (mandated agent), Landscape architects and designers Laure Planchais, Ecological engineers Sinbio, Civil works engineers Ingerop, Light designers Coup d’Eclat
Surface area 20 hectares (excluding the Seille River)
Budget €6m exc. VAT
Ratio €30 exc. VAT per m²

The Parc de La Seille was intended to be a space widely open to the skies, highlighting the topographical features of the banks of the river that runs through it by forming links with the surrounding existing and future urban landscape. Significant levelling has been performed to open up the Seille River which had until then been channelled, as well as shaping the hills that link the park to the future slab-mounted Amphitheatre district. A vast prairie stretches at the foot of the hills, which is used to host various activities.
The park has a number of purposes:

  • “Reclaiming” the riverside environment
  • Regulating the Seille River’s hydrography
  • Collecting water for the future Amphitheatre district
  • Forming a key area in the city, suitable for hosting sports and cultural events.

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By increasing the areas liable to flooding, and giving the Seille River an extra arm, the park solves all hydrological issues and gains an alluvial setting. The water gardens provide a contrast with the dry hill gardens, encouraging some diversification among the possible biotopes in the area.
As a more urban feature, the esplanade hosts those sports and cultural events that are more spectacular. It starts out inside the Amphitheatre district by the Metz Centre Pompidou, and ends up as a platform overlooking the Seille River, thereby accentuating the bond between the district and the river.

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Over 20 hectares, the park offers areas of flowering plants, wet and dry meadows, vineyards and hop growing on hillside, fruit trees and others, sports and play areas plus many trails.

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