The Landscape Guide

18.7 Design intentions for Parc de la Villette, Paris

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The axiom that "There is nothing outside the text' appears to outlaw consideration of design intent, but in fact only the necessity of considering them is debarred. One is invited to deconstruct, or interpret, the "object' in any manner one finds critically enlightening. Tschumi has written that film makes a good analogy for a park, because it is based on discontinuity. The park is "a series of cinegrams'. This programme compares with David Lodge's reading of Jude the Obscure as a cinematic novel, but there is a crucial difference (Lodge, 1981). Lodge was interpreting an existing work. Tschumi appears to use the cinematic analogy as a design method. The system of lines, points and surfaces was conceived as an organizing structure, within which discontinuous events take place, as in films. The discontinuities are deliberately obscure.

I had in fact read Tschumi's Cinégramme Folie before my second visit to the park, but for some reason the book did not come to mind during the visit. Reflecting on my emotions in tranquillity, I can appreciate both Tschumi's argument and my own failure to recognize the process in the product. Parc de la Villette did not strike me as cinematic in the course of the visit. Compared with the films I like, there is a lack of characterization, disappointing scenery and no plot. Perhaps the park would become more cinematic if it were used in a memorable way by a film director. One certainly associates Utah with John Wayne movies, the West of Ireland with Ryan's Daughter.

But there are two Sections: of Parc de la Villette that, in retrospect, did strike me as cinematic: the basins in front of the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie and Alexander Chermetoff's Jardin d'énergie. Both are sunk below the body of the park and both have an unusually powerful sense of place, one very hard and one very soft. A neo-Freudian structuralist might read them as male and female polarities, as disembodied entities seeking each other's presence. One could go further, identifying the Géode as a phallic tip and the tracery of the bamboos in the Jardin d'énergie as pubic hair (Figures 6 and 7). A cylindrical void set amongst the bamboos has rippling water on its walls and emits soft groans from concealed speakers. According to this reading, the surface level of the park symbolizes the baffling matrix in which we lead our lives. Each of us may believe that the world contains our perfect partner; only a few of us are lucky enough to make contact. But wandering through the matrix without discovering the voids, one feels only confusion. Another parallel can be drawn with a video game that lacks a start or finish. One's "life' is spent amidst endlessly shifting scenes, always modulating around similar themes. Line clashes with point, point with surface, surface with line, and so on for ever. Shifting scenes are characteristic of the algorithms that produce computer games. Tschumi's lines, points and surfaces are algorithmic. This explains the analogy, at least for one reading, and may have been one of the designer's aims.