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adriaan geuze

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Landscape designer Adriaan Geuze of West 8 has a colourful and dramatic vision for the new park at the South Bank. His enthusiam, passion and experience are robust counterpoints to the criticisms of residents by robert booth. photograph by kees van son

The Dutch landscape architect Adriaan Geuze was in Paris last month delivering a critique of the city's parks when something inside him seemed to snap.

'Love, sex, desire, hell, ' he declared. 'If you analyse landscape architecture then this is what it's all about.'

It was a show-stopping remark and one which suggests the surprises in store for the London public. Because Geuze, the founding partner of the internationallyacclaimed landscape practice West 8, has been earmarked to redesign the Jubilee Gardens as part of the Rick Mather masterplan for the South Bank Centre (SBC).

Local residents want Geuze to produce a practical park with big trees, swings and signs banning rollerblading but his passionate outburst suggests that they should expect more than this from him and his Rotterdam-based team. While detailed design work remains on hold, Geuze has been leading tours of local residents, Lambeth councillors and journalists around Paris's green spaces, in an effort to illustrate his vision.

Geuze admires the sleek geometry and crisp lines of the French capital's modern urban parks such as Parc de la Villette and Parc Andre Citroen, but he thinks a more romantic, even 'hysterical' style is appropriate for London and he wants to tap into visitor's emotions in his first UK public park of a career which has so far confined him mainly to his home country.

'I really respect the Anglo-Saxon romantic park and Jubilee Gardens will be at least 70 per cent grass with large trees which evoke park design from a century ago - trees like oak, beech and maple, ' he said.

'I will use British park furniture and the detail of Victorian designs and I will use flower pots to give a human touch and make the park seem vulnerable.' His attempts to fit in with a romantic British tradition will even extend to his choice of flowers. 'We will take flowers from the front gardens and balconies of England, pinks and oranges - colours which hardly match, ' he said.

Mather has pencilled in a sloping 2ha urban park for the site rising to three storeys and sloping down to the Thames. By any standards this is small and Geuze admits that it will have the sensibilities of a square rather than a park. But he says this will not stop him creating a sense of seclusion by building clusters of hillocks to exaggerate England's rolling countryside.

The residents will be entitled to ask whether all this will deliver them the 'proper park' they have been lobbying for, because Geuze will be planting and landscaping on top of a three storey building. This will house a multiplex cinema to generate commercial revenues and help finance the park project. Residents complain that the park has been hijacked to drive up the rents of this and the office blocks which are also being planned on the site. During the last few months Geuze has borne the brunt of public anger over the scheme at packed residents meetings. But despite this controversy he remains enthusiastic.

'Who gets to design a new park in London these days, and by the Thames too?

This is a dream and I'm incredibly eager to start, ' he said.

The sensitivity of the South Bank site has held back progress since West 8's initial appointment in 1998. Once planning permission is secured and construction work on other parts of the site is completed, the job could prove to have been a 10 year commitment. In contrast, West 8 last year produced landscape designs with the Richard Rogers Partnership for the Chiswick Park office development and the first phase of this will be completed in six months time.

The two jobs, (if the SBC commission is confirmed as expected) suggest that West 8's star may be rising in the UK.

Geuze, who is 40 this year, has made his name producing both landscapes and urban design work across the Netherlands and was the first landscape architect to win the 1995 Maaskant prize for young architects. His major projects have included the landscaping of Schiphol airport, the Schouwburgplein, Rotterdam and the Marketplein in Binnenrotte, also in Rotterdam. These projects and a number of designs to transform coastal sites have seen the practice grow to more than 40 employees and a string of new landscaping jobs, which dwarf the SBC, are currently on the drawing board. The practice is designing the landscape for Expo 2001 in Switzerland and a giant 300ha park on the outskirts of Utrecht. But, despite the high profile successes, Geuze comes under fire from other landscape architects who attack him for producing work which is superficial and over-whimsical.

'He has very strong ideas and his main quality is to make bold statements rather than in detailing or finish, ' said Boudewign Almekinders of Okra Landscape Architects.

'He could turn this into a camp event and it will definitely not be what they expect in a park there, ' he said. Geuze's proposals to ape the white cliffs of Dover at Jubilee Gardens disappointed many architects who saw it at a recent RIBA lecture.

How far Geuze pursues a conceptual vision looks set to be challenged by the realities of a commercially sponsored park and his first test will be to design a space which is not diminished by the thousands of square metres of office and retail developments which will surround it. He may also face battles with the architect of the subterranean building on which the park will sit. But if this relationship can be made to work then Geuze's passionate vision of park design stands a chance of succeeding on this most sensitive site.

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