From the landscape design for OMA’s CCTV Tower in Beijing and Qatar National Library in Doha to dynamic textile creations for cultural, educational, and retail interiors around the globe, the work of Dutch landscape and interior-architecture firm Inside Outside is notable for a strong graphic quality. This hallmark underlies the firm’s design for a new public park in Milan that, when viewed from above, appears as a patchwork of viridescent trapezoids and circles, as well as bold patterns.
Named the Biblioteca degli Alberi, or “library of trees,” for its rich horticultural variety, the rectilinear park sits on a formerly derelict plot of city-owned land in the Giardini di Porta Nuova area at the intersection of residential, government, and commercial districts and transit hubs. Inside Outside, along with a multidisciplinary team that included urban planner Mirko Zardini and Michael Maltzan Architecture, won the municipal competition for the park in 2003, but political and financial setbacks delayed its opening until last October. While the project was on hold, the surrounding area developed dramatically; nonetheless, more than a decade later, the team found their original concept still to be relevant. “The idea was always to connect all the different areas around the park,” says firm founder Petra Blaisse, “so we drew an efficient web of paths linking the various points.”
Besides providing access for pedestrians and cyclists to surrounding neighborhoods, the walkways intersect at varying angles, forming a mosaic of irregularly shaped and multitextured fields between. Each of these individual botanic gardens, as Blaisse refers to them, is planted with a different composition of flora, from herbs, shrubs, and roses to bamboo and aquatic plants. Some of the larger open, grassy patches are suitable for markets and events, while others provide areas for contemplation, play, or even have mazelike walkways. A series of ring-shaped stands of uniform trees—or circular forests—are programmed atop the dominant grid, “scattered like confetti,” says Blaisse, with each “embodying a sort of pavilion or room that you can inhabit and use as a protective space.” Like the fields, each of the rings is made up of a different single species.
As with all of Inside Outside’s projects, activating the built environment with a range of strategies was the core consideration of the park’s planning and design. At the Biblioteca degli Alberi, the firm has overlapped layers of program and visual cues to create a choose-your-own adventure of sorts, which will become more spatially rich once the landscaping grows in. The park has not yet experienced its first summer, but with areas for children, dogs and their owners, places to sit, and different conditions for exploration, it has already been energetically received. “You can make it as complex or as simple as you wish,” says Blaisse. “It’s all one big story.”