words Kieran Long
Master landscaper Adriaan Geuze brought his own brand of psychedelia to the Swiss Expo last year, revealing how surface can evoke desire and anticipation.
West 8’s work has always been on the cutting edge of urban landscaping, and even its recent work retains something of the surreal. The Rotterdam practice, led by Adriaan Geuze, made its name through a series of out-of-scale public spaces and gardens, characterised by large-scale stripes.
Geuze is less interested in these stripes as a means of creating identifiable territories for occupation, instead describing them as artistic moves. For example, its project for the Carrasco Square outside Amsterdam’s Sloterdijk station is described as “surrealistic paintings of asphalt and grass”, consisting of diagonal stripes of each material ordering a space previously ruined by an overhead train line.
The practice’s work at the Yverdon-les-Bains Swiss Expo site last year took these ideas to extremes. The masterplan created large, low buildings with sweeping, dune-like roofs, with public spaces and routes between creating a landscape more like the set of the Teletubbies than a public plaza. The roofs of the buildings were planted with almost artificially bright flowers, with fragrances and psychedelic patterns to orient and disorient the visitor. The public routes were surfaced simply with gravels at different grades in black and white, forming what Geuze describes in terms of a narrative relationship with the adjacent lake that accommodated Diller & Scofidio’s Blur – a steel structure enveloped in an artificial mist: “Desire is first evoked with the absence of water in a temporal gravel desert at the arrival terminal… In contrast to the hi-tech design of the exhibits, the design serves to counterbalance this with a natural approach to materials.”
The gravel was indeed dusty and desert-like in places, and although the aerial pictures show a painterly landscape of wide black and white stripes, it was in fact disorientingly difficult to read for the visitor. This strongly unfocused surface treatment, and its relationship with the strong focus on the main exhibit – Blur – made this project an object-lesson in designing an event space that allowed for uncertainty, rather than shepherding visitors around in a didactic manner.