Studio Precht designs Parc de la Distance, a park for physical distancing

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Austrian architecture firm’s social-distancing park reimagines future green spaces in the form of a fingerprint-inspired safe garden.

by Shristi Nangalia Published on : May 08, 2020

Times of isolation and a global slowdown have urged us to rethink the way our urban environments will shape and evolve in the years to come. While social distancing and health safety precautions will become the necessary attributes to incorporate in all future design works, open air spaces will be something we will crave for. Addressing the eminent human need for parks and gardens to interact with nature, while keeping in mind the mandatory aspects for a safe environment for all, Studio Precht, co-founded by husband and wife duo of Chris and Fei Precht, has proposed a conceptual design by designing ‘Parc de la Distance’ – a social distancing park inspired from the shapes created by a human fingerprint.

Park’s maze-like pattern inspired from human fingerprint | Parc de la Distance | Studio Precht | STIRworld
Park’s maze-like pattern inspired from human fingerprint Image Credit: Courtesy of Studio Precht

The studio, which operates as a small practice from the mountains of Austria, is consciously aware about the importance nature plays in one’s growth. Chris, in an earlier conversation with Arjun Malik had made a quick remark about this connect saying, “We are so used to the convenience of getting everything instantly that the sense of gratification is lost. Our cities are getting smarter. But it’s not only about if we know more, but also about if we feel more. It is not about intelligence, but about consciousness.”

Symbolising the idea of this humane connect, the ‘human touch’ or ‘fingerprint’ became the crux for the concept park design. Imagined over a vacant, undulating land in Vienna, the Parc de la Distance is a labyrinth-like park that offers multiple walkways, surrounded by greenery, on which people can stroll alone.

Each aisle accommodates one person at a time to maintain social distancing | Parc de la Distance | Studio Precht | STIRworld
Each aisle accommodates one person at a time to maintain social distancing Image Credit: Courtesy of Studio Precht

Chris explains why he believed it was important for people to celebrate the solidarity and isolation, “My dad was a famous free-climber and he always said that there is power in solitude. You get to know yourself better, your strength and weaknesses. And if the mountain allows it, you can be fully connected to nature. With all your senses. You realise that you are just a small part in a vast universe. I think that’s an important lesson in times of self-entered egoism. And things like a silent retreat, meditation, a summit or a 20 minutes walk in solitude can connect to this realisation".

Parallel, one-way tracks avoid intersection and contamination for health safety  | Parc de la Distance | Studio Precht | STIRworld
Parallel, one-way tracks avoid intersection and contamination for health safety Image Credit: Courtesy of Studio Precht

Vienna has closed gates of famous parks like Schönbrunn and Belvedere and as a response to this situation, the studio raised a few questions - what would a park look like if it takes the rules of social distancing as a design guideline? How would it function? What positive attributes would such a park have after COVID-19 is over?

The studio took initiative to design the park that offers something unique to a busy city - 20 minutes of solitude. A temporary seclusion from the public. A moment to think, meditate or just walk alone in nature. – Studio Precht

The parallel tracks of the park spiral towards a centre much like what appears in the print of human fingers, symbolising the source of life and inner balance. From the centre, visitors continue to circulate outwards to complete the 20-minute journey. Along the path, reddish granite gravel tracks are distanced 240cm away from each other and are divided by a 90cm wide hedge. At every entrance and exit of the different lanes of the park, gates indicate if the path is occupied by any other stroller or not. The 600m long hike allows people to enjoy nature while keeping safe social distance at all times.

The garden enables people to access outdoor spaces during lockdown | Parc de la Distance | Studio Precht | STIRworld
The garden enables people to access outdoor spaces during lockdown and after to maintain a safe environment Image Credit: Courtesy of Studio Precht

The order of plants, geometrical hedges and raking of gravels around the rocks has been derived from French Baroque and Japanese Zen gardens. The height of the planters varies along the route and the hedges are aligned at different levels throughout the park. “Sometimes visitors are fully immersed in greenery, and other times they emerge over the hedge to see across the garden,” says Fei.

  • The park gives a chance to introspect with 20 minutes of solitude  | Parc de la Distance | Studio Precht | STIRworld
    The park gives a chance to introspect with 20 minutes of solitude Image Credit: Courtesy of Studio Precht
  • The design puts a positive impact on the mental health of the visitors | Parc de la Distance | Studio Precht | STIRworld
    The design puts a positive impact on the mental health of the visitors Image Credit: Courtesy of Studio Precht

Talking about the future of the proposal, Fei concludes, “This pandemic has taught us that we need more places to get away to. Instead of banks, traffic and office blocks, city centres should be redesigned with parks, wilderness and plants. We hope that Parc de la Distance gets accepted to bridge the gap soon”.

The proposed green space improves the urban fabric in a safe way | Parc de la Distance | Studio Precht |  STIRworld
The proposed green space improves the urban fabric in a safe way Image Credit: Courtesy of Studio Precht

Recognising that the project can be replicated in any city across the globe, Studio Precht’s proposal opens up possibilities for the re-imagination of the future of open spaces with an assuring humane quality while being socially distant and safe in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Project Details

Name: Parc de la Distance
Location: Austria
Year: 2020
Architectural firm: Studio Precht
Design team: Fei Tang Precht, Chris Precht, Andreas Stadlmayer

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About Author

Shristi Nangalia

Shristi Nangalia

Shristi is an architect-turned-journalist who graduated from NIT Raipur in 2016. She currently contributes to many leading design and architecture publications in India.

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