Boundaries, fencing and connected landscapes

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The relationship between fences, walls and barriers in public and private landscapes, and the need to design for ‘openness’, is not necessarily shot through with compromise.

Green infrastructure and crossing boundaries

The Landscape Institute’s Green Infrastructure position statement sets out a view on planning, design and management that takes into account ‘serious environmental, social and economical challenges’, and that recommends treating natural and built environments as ‘multifunctional’ and interconnected.

But how does this idea of the connectedness of different landscapes fit with the way that public, private and commercial environments are made, marked out, delineated, defined and – without wanting to be gloomy – secured?

There is a description in the LI position statement of the Newlands / Moston Vale land regeneration project that touches on the issue of borders and conveys something of the spirit of the regeneration enterprise:

The Moston Vale site design allows easy access from local areas. Site boundaries are marked by low fencing which discourage illegal access by vehicles, but which still afford views across the site and encourage people to enter the community woodland. Consequently the whole site is perceived as open and accessible. The boundaries of the site are marked by large trees and help to connect it with the surrounding areas. (p. 15)

All well and good for parkland and the public realm, but how do the principles of green infrastructure apply at the edges, perimeters and gateways, which butt up against housing or commercial developments?

‘Sanctuary within something big’

Architect Peter Zumthor has interesting things to say about gardens and enclosed landscapes – ideas that probably go with the grain of people’s experiences of private and public shared spaces.

Talking about a collaborative project done with garden designer Piet Oudolf for last year’s Serpentine Gallery pavillion, he says:

A garden requires care and protection. And so we encircle it, we defend it and fend for it. We give it shelter. The garden turns into a place … There is something else that strikes me in this image of a garden fenced off within the larger landscape around it: something small has found sanctuary within something big.

Here, walls, fencing, boundaries and enclosures are not necessarily signs of separation and disconnection. On the contrary, they can help to make larger landscapes accessible, digestible and comfortable in their human-scale.

Not either/or

So the relationship between perimeter security and civic life is not simply a contradictory one.

Even for a project almost utterly defined by the need for security, such as the development of President’s Park South in Washington, D.C., there are two sides to the design story. The winning proposal by Rob Rogers took it as read that ‘security is very expensive but part of the public realm for the long-term and here to stay’. And yet, at the same time, it had to function as ‘a public gathering place’.

So, the landscape architecture has to strike a balance, integrating plazas, seating walls, pathways, lawns and security barriers with due consideration of public protection and quality of life.

Landscape products

Even in less extreme cases than the President’s Park project, informed product specification helps to balance security with community.

Green walls and barriers can help to make urban areas more attractive, pleasant, vibrant, liveable, relaxing and distinctive.

Woven timber fencing makes good use of a natural material, and of natural light, and can be used to create separate spaces, which are ‘sheltered and intimate’, without being bunkered and introverted.

And spectator fencing for sports facilities, by definition, provides both protection and visibility.

It’s the same theme we explored in our post on ‘designing out crime’: landscape and construction products provide a toolbox, while landscape architects and designers provide the catalytic ideas.

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