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Incredibly, contemporary architecture may be a stranger discipline than contemporary art. It’s an oddball field in which brainiacs can have serious debates about everything from the viability of horizontal “geoscrapers” to the design sensitivities of clouds. The University of Pennsylvania School of Design LA+ Journal’s ICONOCLAST DESIGN COMPETITION is an example par excellence of architects digging into the weeds of creativity, quite literally.
That’s because this year’s applicants have been asked to reimagine Central Park after its fictional devastation by eco-terrorists. The competition’s prompt described how the attackers, disguised as joggers, release an “army of mechanical bees and beetles throughout the park,” defoliating all the trees in Central Park. New York’s mayor “Bill Di Blastoff” then calls for the building of a greater park that will be “more democratic, more ecological, and more beautiful than ever before.”
Accordingly, the five winners of LA+’s design competition have filled their new Central Parks with stunning illustrations of what the future of landscape architecture could be. Befitting the academic premise of the competition, there are naturally several highfalutin references to critical darlings like Jorge Luis Borges, Gilles Deleuze, and Félix Guattari.
One of the winning designs actually references all three of the aforementioned philosopher-writers. John Beckmann, Hannah LaSota, and Laeticia Hervy of Axis Mundi Design (New York) would like to create a “Manhattan Plateau” — a 200-foot-high elevated platform for vegetation above the original park that includes a dynamic ecological vision of nature integrated with urbanism. Like a sprawling version of the city’s Highline, Manhattan Plateau would include a patchwork of diverse interconnecting environmental zones. The developers also have plans to reintroduce native flora and fauna to the park that were present prior to Dutch colonization. Hydroponic farming and solar tiles will allow the park to become self-sustainable while manifesting the space with an aesthetic eye toward the technological and natural.
On the other hand, entrants from Nanjing, China’s South East University offered Central Park a breath of fresh air. Chuanfei Yu, Jiaqi Wang, and Huiwen Shi look deeper into the ecological repercussions of the terrorist attack, accounting for changes in microclimate and infrastructure. They propose a “Breathe to Save Central Park” plan that involves the maintenance of an artificial cloud over the par to decrease water evaporation and protect reconstruction of the ecosystem. “The fixed boundaries and subdivisions are gone,” says the plan, “and so is the narrative of occupying and capitalizing the landscape via vision.” The cloud could be built from AC condensate from the city’s many office buildings, meaning that the water vapor that people exhale would contribute to the effort to rebuild Central Park. Once reconstruction of the park is finished, the cloud would dissipate, returning only once a year to mark the anniversary of the attacks.
From Shanghai, China, landscape architects Song Zhang and Minzhi Lin offer to solve New York’s emergent “eco-gentrification” problem by decentralizing Central Park’s resources to low-income neighborhoods across the five boroughs. The park would be linked to 59 communities across New York, investing the poor into the space’s reconstruction. Funds raised at the future Central Park would then go toward the improvement of green spaces in their own neighborhoods.
Arguably more realistic is e8urban’s proposal from Sydney, Australia. Joe Rowling, Nick McLeod, and Javier Arcila plan to let Central Park re-wild naturally within the space’s existing structure. Their vision of the future sees Manhattan predominantly devoid of gas-guzzling cars. With an emphasis on public transit and bicycling, the architects will build a green framework filled with over half a million new street trees and ribbons of recreational spaces throughout Manhattan.
Another winner of the competition desires to envisage landscape architecture as a giant horizontal skyscraper, a green lung for the city, an Arcadian synthetic carpet. Based in Edinburgh, UK, Tiago Torres-Campos wants Central Park to become a “geoscraper” experimentation in capturing the Earth’s biomes all in one place. Like most of the finalists in the competition, he sees park planning as an opportunity to rethink human relations to our home planet.