By Jimena Martignoni
The city of Mendoza lies at the foot of the Andes Mountains and belongs to the province of the same name, in Argentina. This city is built within a very arid and desert-like larger area which, over time, has been transformed into a green and attractive place. The construction of a system of “acequias” (or urban ditches) which are fed by distant rivers and appear throughout the city, has helped to concrete a very efficient irrigation plan and has also became the landmark of the city.
The city, which has 150,000 inhabitants, offers a traditional large park and a series of smaller parks and plazas, but this seems to have been not enough to avoid migration from the city to the periphery during the 1990s. For this reason, the local government decided, in 2000, to create a new large park out of the conversion of a piece of abandoned land located at the exact geographical center of the city.
Covering almost 14 hectares, this land was owned by the national government and had made part of an important service area of the railway in past decades, including a main station and a series of warehouses. After some negotiations the land’s ownership was ceded to the city and the local government held an international competition for the design and transformation of the abandoned area. The first stage would focus on nine hectares that would make the park itself, and the rest would provide cultural installations in the renovated warehouses.
The competition was awarded to a team of architects based in Buenos Aires, who traveled back and forth to visit the site and accomplish the design. So far, the only portion that has been finished is the park.
The conceptual layout of the park responds to the formal presence and significance of the railroad, or what has left of it on the area. According to architect Daniel Becker, one of the lead designers: “The project is not rooted into the geometry of the city, but into the geometry of the remains of the railways.”
In this manner, the shapes and lines that crossed the land are taken as meaningful silhouettes or “scars”, which become the symbol and foundation of the project. On the one hand, the northwest-southeast position of the warehouses on the site determines the position of all new esplanades and main built elements of the park, such as paved surfaces, planted areas and the lake; on the other hand, the virtual overlapping of horizontal planes and lines in the park reminds those of the old railroad.
The nine hectares that constitute the park and the five hectares that are occupied by the warehouses were previously separated by a vehicular street, running north-south. In the competition’s program, one of the requests was the creation of a physical connection – specifically a pedestrian bridge – between these two areas, and the team decided to generate an underpass in order to preserve the existing vehicular flow, and to build retaining walls on the border of the park. The new two pedestrian bridges are parallel to the old industrial constructions, following the directions of their architectural lines on the land, and connect directly to the linear esplanades of the park.
Another main decision for the conceptual layout of the project was the comprehension of the park as one which is halfway between the scale of a large park and the scale of an urban plaza. As a result, two different and easily recognizable situations are generated at the site: a green “buffer”, composed of lawn slopes and clusters of large trees, which extends around the entire perimeter of the park and more radically around the lake; and a central institutional-looking plaza, or series of interconnected plazas, which offer passive and active recreational areas. In order to incorporate sportive activities through which people can relate to the place in a daily basis, the project provides a jogging circuit developed at street level and framed by flowering trees.
Along three of the secondary streets that outline the park, appear also the parking lots requested in the program.
The “heart” of the park is a series of horizontal planes, mostly paved, which alternate with water surfaces, green esplanades and some wooden decks. Following the northwest-southeast direction of these compositions, the project negotiates the existing elevation changes by building a long retaining concrete wall that acts as a solid limit between planes and is also a waterfall. The upper areas of the park become terraces that overlook the lower parts of the park, and which are connected through stairs of different widths and shapes.
This strongly linear element provides a markedly sense of direction in the park and demarcate areas; in the southeast tip of the park, this wall establishes a connection with Plaza del Reloj (Clock Plaza), a small access plaza where lies a sun clock. The refreshing presence of water, in the waterfall and in the fountain underneath, attracts groups of people during hot summer days and, at night, when dramatically illuminated, turns into a place of congregation.
Additionally, water comes out as a major presence when defines a large artificial lake. Framed, at two of its sides, by green slopes where people gather and sit around underneath the trees, this aquatic component provides a natural ambiance within the park. Wooden decks whose edges are planted with willows, ducks swimming, and the distant view of the mountains, contrast with the paved and stone surfaces of the adjacent areas. Jutting into the water, a pier-like platform offers an arrival area for visitors sitting and walking on the slopes, especially kids who run downwards and want to get as close as possible to the water. At the very end of this pier, an existing large native tree was preserved as a witness of the process of transformation, providing shade and shelter.
As part of the project, the architects designed every single piece of furniture, the lighting posts, and the playgrounds. Although not all of the furniture pieces were actually built and incorporated into the site, there are some elements which add a strong architectural image. The public restrooms are concentrated in a box-like volume made of concrete; its main façade, the one facing the park, is finished with wooden pieces that, together, appear as a single plane which repeats the linear silhouettes and constructions in the park. With identical design, but responding to a much smaller scale, are the kiosks and security booths.
The different modules that compose the playgrounds are located, one after the other, in front of the dividing wall and waterfall, confirming a subtle dialogue between the different elements of the park and the reference to the horizontality of the lines of the past. The planting plan follows this poetic too, and creates some rows of dense flowering shrubs along the playgrounds, or rows of large poplars and jacarandas along the connecting paths and pedestrian bridges.
After a few years of the completion of a first stage, this park looks quite settled and it’s usually crowded. However, the level of maintenance is not the expected and part of the original design has decayed.
Hopefully, with the long-anticipated second stage of the project, which will renovate the warehouses, the site would be able to recover its initial image. Although it has not been decided yet if the current officials will finish the project designed for the competition, almost ten years ago, the renovation is supposed to follow the same patterns and concepts.
Designers: Architects Daniel Becker – Claudio Ferrari – Oscar Fuentes
Project Managers: Daniel Becker – Claudio Ferrari
Location: Mendoza, Argentina
Size: 1st stage (park): 9 hectares - 2nd stage (warehouses): 5 hectares
Date of completion: 1st stage: 2005 - 2nd stage: in process