Revisiting Esmeralda

The final Esmeralda project kept similar guidelines– using only foam core and a rectilinear assembly– but asked us to design a garden rather than a cityscape.  I remember that when reading the original Esmeralda in Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, I focused on the maze or corridors and roads as the guiding principle of my design.

Ultimately, I think that this design was effective in demonstrating the confused nature of the place that Calvino described.  There are roads, canals, walls, doorways, dead-ends, and shortcuts on different elevations.

You can see in this top elevation many roads coming in from the outskirts in the upper right corner, several entryways, a continuous but confusing canal system and pitfalls that lead to the lower elevation.

The ground level, as it were, again has many roads leading from a tangle of directions. This model shows my conscientiousness of some of Ching’s principles of good design: There is compression and release, there is a central axis, it is symmetrical but not redundant, and finally there are opportunities for both prospect and refuge.

Put together, these levels are my interpretation of a segment of Esmeralda’s urban landscape.  The next assignment asked us to design a garden for the citizens to use.  I thought of a place that would offer some serenity– some respite from the chaos of the city.  I pictured my garden as being on the outskirts of Esmeralda, a short walk away from the noise and rapid movement that accompanies any cityscape.

One would approach this space (from the left of the model) and follow a semi-transparent line of vertical elements (i.e. trees) until entering the labyrinth, thus becoming increasingly but gradually removed from the outside world.  Because I wanted to offer contemplative spaces, I chose the labyrinth– synchronous with the cityscape– as a place to collect one’s thoughts and become centered.  It differs from a maze– which would be disharmonious and confusing, not at all contemplative– in that one cannot get lost in traveling through.  There is but one path: One way in, one way out. The winding nature brings the user to the center of the place and to the center of his or her experience.  It is not dizzying but calming and peaceful.  The walls do not tower over the user– in this case a person 1/2 inch tall– but do seclude he or she from the outside world.  There are small windows placed strategically along the path to pull one along and to encourage a forward momentum while allowing one to view outward and avoid feelings of entrapment.

This then opens up along a small line of vertical elements and offers the choice to either turn right and exit the space through the tall vertical elements as the bottom of the model or to enter the small open structure.  This construction is envisioned as a meditation center.  It is quiet and simple.  It is spacious and there are views out in every direction yet the low roof is comforting.  This space can bring people out of the elements and be used for quiet discussion.  Up the long line of stairs, one transitions to the roof top garden.  From there, one can see Esmeralda’s cityscape in the distance, can view the labyrinth and see its simple geometry, and can see clouds reflected in the pool below. There is a sort of nature up here too in the rooftop garden.  It might be a calming zen garden with combed sand and a few large boulders or a quiet sculpture garden with elements that mimic nature or a pollinator garden attracting birds and bees.  In any case, it offers both prospect and refuge.  One can look out and survey the garden in its entirety yet, because of the low walls, one needn’t feel completely exposed.  Even up here, the visitor can feel away from things, detached, and secluded.  No one can observe the user without the user knowing he is being observed.  In its tiny but isolated location, the rooftop garden is refuge.

As one leaves the enclosure, a new prospect is gained and the reflecting pool can be viewed close-up.  This offers another place for refuge as the sounds of water drown-out the other auditory experiences.  People can sit and talk quietly or feel alone with a book or sketchpad.  When the time here is finished, the garden user can either explore the open ground along the labyrinth (for flying a kite, turning cartwheels, or observing wildflowers for example) and exit the way they entered.  Conversely, the two tall vertical elements lead one out and on to another adventure in Esmeralda….

What does one see when viewing my interpretation of Esmeralda’s Garden?  Perhaps its the transition from chaos to order, from the uncountable number of paths in the city to a few path options in the garden, or the high volume of space in the maze offset by the open space that is adjacent.  Perhaps the rooftop garden offers a simpler way to engage different elevations with more elegance than the cityscape.  Of course, there are areas for improvement.  The spaces might seem still somehow unlinked.  Maybe more vertical elements along the edges would tie the design together better and create more of a “space” instead of three separate “places”.  What’s been gained and what’s been lost between these two models? Should the labyrinth enclose the entire space with the structure and reflecting pool placed within its confines?  Ultimately, I am finding, a design is never really finished.  A place can always be improved and as we (students) learn to mine our own ideas for better expressions we will become more adept at creating space.  I think that the Esmeralda project has given me a lot to consider.


About matthewtraucht

Graduate school student at the University of Minnesota's College of Design pursuing a Master's of Landscape Architecture, class of 2013.
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