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Critic’s Choice - Parks

This book of large parks proves the potential of once-toxic landscapes, says Andrew Mead

There’s a striking image in this new book from Princeton Architectural Press, Large Parks (£18). What it shows could be a colourful abstract painting but in fact it’s a toxic landscape: an acidic mix of vivid yellow algae and rusting metal fragments discharged from a mine in Pennsylvania. Defining a ‘large park’ as being over 500 acres, the book takes London’s Hyde Park and New York’s Central Park as touchstones, but its contributors recognise that the challenge in park-making today is not to enhance an already pastoral or sylvan setting but to deal with damaged landscapes. So one case study is of the competition for the Fresh Kills Landfill site on Staten Island (in which John McAslan was shortlisted) and, unsurprisingly, Peter Latz’s steel works park at Duisburg in Germany also appears.
But the chance for designs to profit from monumental structures like Latz’s blast furnaces, or the sculptural water towers that overlook the new Parc du Sausset near Paris, is rare. As landscape architect and Harvard professor George Hargreaves puts it in one of the best essays in the book: ‘Many of these sites will be nothing more than mundane urban detritus.’ Engaging with
the future form of parks but also the hassle of making them, aware that there’s more to landscape design than keeping ecologists happy, Large Parks is well worth studying. Not least because it knows that the toxic – always signalling a site’s history and even a source of beauty – shouldn’t just be eradicated.

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