Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Forms of Paris

The forms of Paris follow architectural plans laid down over centuries. Plazas, vistas, lines and spaces, curves and walkways all planned with a planner's intelligence. What is design and what is the designed landscape? Landscape is something people build, experience, and change. Designed landscape is a space experienced through the interpretive framework of the designer. I can appreciate the city as it speaks to me in its designers' language. 

Here at La Villete the plan is open, the spaces inviting and fun, but the constant here is in the vision that belonged to the builders. And it remains their vision. Old bright red metal follies, now closed, introduce some variation. People and nature add another dimension of movement, change, and uncertainty. But the place is as designed as the plaza in front of Musee d'Orsay, which we rejected today because of the huge line of tourists massing at its entrance. 

What then is "open design?" Is there, can there be such a thing? It seems to me that the less certainty, the fewer the prescribed (or proscribed) pathways, the more you can participate intuitively with a design, the greater the opportunities, the more "open" the design. This holds not just for landscapes. It's the reason we use iPhones instead of Blackberries. Does it make a difference?

In the bowels of the subway this morning, a place where we had to change routes (the line we wanted toward La Villette wasn't running), we were grateful for the single path we had no choice but to follow. So getting from one place to another, maybe it's best to reduce randomness. What about exploring the city?

My question has to do with "vernacular" spaces, like the village spaces I want to explore in Sri Lanka. Vernacular landscape is no more "open" than the planned facades and byways of Paris. In fact it may be more "closed," especially for the people who live in it. But it expresses something unique. Reading the genius of a vernacular landscape is different from reading the genius of a professionally designed landscape. Reading the genius of people is different than reading the genius of architects.

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