by Meghna MehtaMay 12, 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.
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.
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".
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 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.
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”.
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.
Name: Parc de la Distance
Architectural firm: Studio Precht
Design team: Fei Tang Precht, Chris Precht, Andreas Stadlmayer