“You would be amazed to see how little people use the parks here,” says Santiago-based architect Alejandro Beals. Beals is half of young practice Beals & Lyon, which has recently completed the Garden of Forking Paths, a public project that comprises a series of timber pavilions set in a newly planted cornfield towards the edge of one of the Chilean capital’s parks. From its Borgesian title down, it is an intelligent and literary scheme intended to become “a space of slowness, useless, where you could get lost and leave the rush of the city behind”.
The design is at least partially developed from a consideration of historic park and leisure structures – follies, grottos, mazes and so on. To generate their plan, the architects borrowed a layout from the labyrinth at the garden of Versailles, recreating its spatial character by building timber paths above ground level but lost to the outside world within the specially planted field of maize. At focal points in the layout a number of larger structures have been built. “We didn’t want to design a pavilion or folly, an isolated object to be looked at from the outside, but rather, an immersive environment,” Beals says.
Each of the structures has its own character. Overall, the aesthetic is rudimentary and abstract, a series of simple rectilinear timber frames homogeneously painted yellow, giving the impression of a rustic return to Bernard Tschumi’s Parc de la Villette (1987) in Paris. Close up, one space holds a small pool and deckchairs, wrapped in wispy curtains, while another – the “aromatic orchard” – contains a small flower garden under a stretched fabric funnel. Other spaces include a “banqueting room” and “music room”, their historically suggestive titles emphasised by a set of design drawings inhabited entirely by 18th-century figures.
“At the beginning, most people just stumbled upon the maze,” says Beals, “but then they started to return more frequently.” The entire strategy was to create a non-commercial, not fully defined environment in which people could get lost and perhaps have their attitude towards the spaces of the city refreshed (creating a space, say Beals & Lyon, for a new urban character somewhere between the idle flâneur and the harassed commuter). In this, the circuitousness of pathways, the ambiguity of the spaces, the isolation within the cornfield, combined with the intensified sounds and smells, all together were intended to heighten the sensory experience of the visitor, and as Beals puts it, to “promote a new rhythm that also allows you to perceive its surroundings in different and more intense ways”.
The project is part of the YAP-CONSTRUCTO programme, an extension of MoMA/PS1’s Young Architects Program from New York out to South America, with Beals & Lyon’s scheme coming top out of 25 invited young practices. The project is far less high-tech than those that tend to get built in the courtyard of PS1, but no less interesting for it. It will be fascinating to see how Beals & Lyon develops its design approach in the future.