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The Library of trees (Milan)

Inside Outside

1. Introduction

The surface appointed for the Biblioteca degli Alberi measures approximately 9ha and is divided in three zones: the largest zone lies between Via Melchiore Gioia, Via Giovanni Battista Pirelli and Via Gaetano de Castillia. The second zone is on the rooftop of the sunken parking lot between Via Melchiore Gioia and Via Tancredi. The third zone is the linear zone along Viale della Liberazione up to Piazza San Gioachimo.

The practical aims that are given for the park in the Giardini di Porta Nuova area are to CONNECT the surrounding buildings and areas with their varied characters and programs; and to SERVICE the surrounding professional and residential communities, with each their different daily routines, needs and backgrounds.

The added value that our a competition team wanted to give to the park, was that of the rich and varied garden: the romantic idea of garden, with all its unexpected views and mysteries – but here combined with a layer of efficiency and ample space for improvisation and use.

Figura 1. Esquemas y dibujos previos y maqueta del proyecto. ©Inside Outside.

Figure 1. Schemes and previous drawings and model of the project. ©Inside Outside.

We introduced the idea of a botanic garden: a modern version of the much-respected historic botanic garden of Brera. We called it the Biblioteca degli Alberi (Library of Trees), in which a collection of different trees (organized in groups) and fields with various garden-types were to be exhibited.

We chose to use only three simple tools to – on the one hand - resolve all technical, logistic and programmatic issues as requested; and – on the other hand - to create enough complexity for the ‘romantic’ garden effect that we envisioned. The three tools together led to a plan drawing that projected a strong yet flexible organization onto an otherwise chaotic and ever-changing environment. This concept of clarity and flexibility still proves to function up to this day.

The three tools are:

Linear Paths that efficiently connect the different urban areas adjacent to the park while creating internal circuits for sports and happenings such as markets, shows and exhibits. 

Irregular Fields, shaped by the web of paths, are designed as a series of ornamental and architectural gardens, meadows, lawns and small plaza’s for leisure, sports, education, meditation and cultural or commercial use. 

Circular Forests form an exhibition of different trees, planted in circular formation. Each forest consists of one particular species that, together, create organized ‘interiors’ with vegetal roofs where people can spend time or where various cultural or commercial events can take place. 

Figura 2. Herramientas del proyecto: caminos, espacios y círculos. ©Inside Outside.      
Figure 2. Project tools: linear paths, irregular field and circular forests. ©Inside Outside.

2. The Biblioteca degli Alberi: a collection of Trees and Gardens

In a dense urban environment such as the surrounding of the Giardini di Porta Nuova site, the unique quality of an empty, green space in the heart of a city is to be applauded, appreciated and respected – not only for the cultural, recreational, environmental and health potentials this offers to the city centre, but also from the point of view of economic growth, as the value of buildings that surround such a green space (with a view and a shared garden) will rise because of it.

Next to the fact that we design a public botanic garden that houses an important collection of trees and garden typologies that form 50% of the park (consisting of various ornamental (flower) and architectural (labyrinth and shrub) gardens), this garden also offers a large surface of multifunctional, programmable spaces in the form of squares, meadows and lawns. 

Figura 3. Estado previo. ©Inside Outside   
Figure 3. Previous status. ©Inside Outside
Figura 4. Planta de proyecto. ©Inside Outside
Figure 4. Project topview. ©Inside Outside

Where the ‘romantic gardens’ add colour, smell, texture, structure and seasonal change to the park and offer spaces for exploration, enjoyment, meditation and learning in the classic tradition, other gardens will have a more practical character: Open fields and lawns make space for sports and events, markets will be installed on the paths, shows will be given on the squares. The Cut Flower Garden for the inhabitants of Isola will trigger practical activities; and the herbs and vegetables of the Kitchen Garden of the Catella Foundation will be harvested daily by the restaurant’s Chef for his fresh, slow-food meals, while the scenting herbs spread their perfume over the surrounding playgrounds and terraces. Enclosed gardens will invite children to play and discover; and dog owners to train and play with their pets.

3. The park described in all its various layers

3.1. The Bibliotheca degli Alberi as Connector: Web of Linear Paths

The gardens as described above are formed by a system of paths that we call ‘web of paths’. Efficient, linear ‘streets’/Vie (2.5 meter wide) and ‘avenues’/Viale (5 meter wide), connect each strategic point of access to each strategic point of exit. These points are established in relation to the streets, buildings, public transport points and active areas around the park that need to be reached by pedestrians and cyclists in the most efficient manner. The paths also point in directions further away, reminding the visitor of Milan’s many natural and architectural treasures.

Figura 5. Red de caminos y puntos de conexión. ©Inside Outside   
Figure 5. Web of linear paths. ©Inside Outside

The Viale (5 meter wide) in themselves can be considered as practical and usable space: they are linear podiums for events such as markets, exhibitions, fashion shows and the like. Their points of connection – where different paths meet – form squares of various size and shape, to be used as ‘moments’ for special objects such as a sculpture or fountain, a temporary stage, a terrace or a permanent tea pavilion; and for all kinds of group activities. The linear paths bring the visitor from point A to point B in one straight line, but the complex structure of the ‘web of paths’ as a whole creates interesting circulations within the park. Each offers its own perspective and experience of gardens, forests and the many viewpoints to the city. Following the paths in a particular direction, the visitor effortlessly finds the social, cultural and commercial institutions that are established within the park, along or just outside its boundaries. 

Figuras 6 y 7. Imágenes de la red de caminos. Izquierda ©InsideOutside. Derecha ©AndreaCherchi   
Figures 6 and 7. Web of linear paths. Left ©InsideOutside. Right ©AndreaCherchi

The paths are not just surfaces for walking or cycling, they also communicate information: they give direction, recite poems and present the names and origins of the trees that form the library’s collection.

Generally, the paths function as backbones of the infrastructure that services the park: drainage, irrigation- and lighting systems and electric and network cables will be running along the sides of the paths, or will be integrated in them.

Figura 8. Vista aérea del parque. ©Andrea Cherchi
Figure 8. Aerial view of the park. ©Andrea Cherchi

3.2. The Bibliotheca degli Alberi as flexible space: Irregular fields

The paths generate a mosaic of irregular areas that we call ‘fields’. Each field is planted with a specific composition of perennials or shrubs to form a series of ornamental and architectural gardens.

Figura 9. Esquemas de los espacios irregulares. ©InsideOutside        
Figure 9. Irregular fields schemes. ©InsideOutside

There are flower- herb- and shrub gardens, playfields, picnic areas, a maze and various topiaries, bamboo gardens and a natural pond with aquatic plants, water creatures and fish; there are agricultural fields, rose- and herb gardens, a scenting cut-flower garden and a dog garden. Other fields are seeded with a mix of grasses and wild flowers to form ‘meadows’; or are covered with lawn – both suitable and easily transformed into fields for multiple forms of use.

Figuras 10, 11, 12 y 13. Distintas vistas del Parque. ©InsideOutside   

Figures 10, 11, 12 and 13. Various views of the park. ©InsideOutside

These vegetal fields alternate with paved fields that form public squares of different size and shape. Here and there, a water source refreshes the visitor and, at the north-east end of the park, one of the fields unfolds to become a wide wooden stairwell that leads down to the Stazione Garibaldi.

3.3. The Bibliotheca degli Alberi’s vegetal pavilions

3.3.1. Circular forests

Figura 14. Esquema de usos de los bosques circulares. ©InsideOutside
Figure 14. Multiple uses of the Circular forests. ©InsideOutside

The trees will be systematized into a series of circles, spread over the site, that together form the Library of Trees that gives the park its name. Each tree that is represented in the collection is exhibited in the form of a (filled or open) circle, each type named and described as inscriptions in the paths that pass through or run past. Each circle being formed by one specific tree, the species can be experienced in an exceptionally intensified manner: their characteristics and qualities multiplied by their numbers, trees will envelope the visitor with their smell, colour, movement, sound, shape and structure. Their presence will augment as they mature.

Figura 15. Tipos de árboles dispuestos en el parque. ©InsideOutside
Figure 15. Types of trees arranged in the park. ©InsideOutside

As the trees of most ‘forests’ will be trimmed up to free their trunks of low-hanging branches, the Circular Forests will form inhabitable ‘vegetal rooms’: spaces for the public to use. The tree crowns form a roof that provides shade and protection, changing colour and mass throughout the year. Falling leaves will form an attractive carpet to walk on. Here one can practice Tai Chi or yoga, rest, read, meet or picnic in the shade; organize meetings or workshops during the day or performances in the cool of the evening.

Figuras 16 y 17. Vistas de los bosques circulares. ©Andrea Cherchi     
Figures 16 and 17. Views of the circular forests. ©Andrea Cherchi

Figuras 18 y 19. Vistas de los bosques circulares. ©InsideOutside

Figures 18 and 19. Views of the circular forests. ©InsideOutside

3.3.2. Topography

The park in its entirety slopes gradually from the average street level (±124,00) to the top of the Tunnel del Nord and the podium (±130,50). In addition, each path or field can fold up or down to seamlessly connect to the various levels, areas or building entrances within the park and along its edges; to create protected or shaded areas; or to separate different ‘fields’ from each other if so desired.

Figura 20. Plano topográfico. ©InsideOutside
Figure 20. Topography Plan. ©InsideOutside

3.3.3. Light

The park is lit in various ways, to create different atmospheres in various areas. The path system is lit in the ‘official way’: lighting poles at regular distance light up the way. Some fields or circles have extra lighting to emphasize their activity after dark: some have a mast with a number of spots shining in different directions; others have more intimate light from a lower standpoint – or more a glow that animates the area, almost like in a living room. Trees of most (not all!) circles are lit, to accentuate their volumes and beauty.

3.4. The Bibliotheca degli Alberi as multi-faceted space: Systemised gardens

A systematized garden that offers different experiences and sensations of landscape, it also offers efficient open air space for leisure, sports and events. The paths, fields and circular forests of the park form a multi-faceted public space that can house cultural, commercial and recreational program: from plaza or open-air theatre to playground or sports field; from terrace or garden to living room or picnic place; from market place to museum shop; from concert hall to conference room; from therapy space for the handicapped to inspirational environment for the plant lover.

3.5. The Bibliotheca degli Alberi as recognisable object: Landmark

The park will not only be experienced by the visitors that spend time in it or pass through.

Surrounded by a network of roads used at different speeds, and looked upon from countless high-rise buildings all around, the park offers interest to the thousands of people and passers-by, both during the day and at night. Our park design, with its graphic shapes, its outspoken colours and rich plantings, its folds and slopes and large circular volumes thick and thin, is also conceived to be appreciated from afar. 

Figuras 21 y 22. Distintos espacios del parque. ©InsideOutside    
Figures 21 y 22. Different spaces of the park. ©InsideOutside

3.6. The Bibliotheca degli Alberi as social connector: Public involvement

A deeper sense of community can be generated by the local inhabitant’s physical input in the park: in principle, they can be invited to take part in the cultivation and maintenance of the “Biblioteca degli Alberi”. Cultivation and maintenance will, however, not be a private activity (like the individual gardens), but a collective one, lead by the “Master Gardener”.

Figura 23. Vista del parque. ©InsideOutside
Figure 23. Park view. ©InsideOutside

3.7. The Bibliotheca degli Alberi as public project: Budget

The overall budget for the Biblioteca degli Alberi park (including the ‘urgent areas’ Giardini Isola, Giardini Fondazione Catella, Giardini per l’Arte and Orto Isola) is 1.700.800,-€ . This is a budget of between 100€ and 80€ per m². This includes costs for treating polluted soil. It includes all lighting fixtures, furniture, fences, gates, architectural structures (stairwells, retaining walls, guardrails, entrance structures and technical spaces) technical materials (cables, tubing, machinery and wells) and the treatment of existing structures inside the park (maintenance exits/entrances, exhausts and air-intake chimneys). Some areas will have a more intensive use (playgrounds, sports fields; pergolas, swing & climbing structures, walls, stairwells, lamps, benches) and will therefore also need more budget per m² than other areas which consist mainly of planting.

Figuras 24 y 25. Vistas del parque. ©Andrea Cherchi   
Figures 24 and 25. Park views. ©Andrea Cherchi

3.8. The Bibliotheca degli Alberi as commercially viable project: Sponsoring

If additional financial support is required, the Comune could allow residents, users or organizations to adopt a certain garden section (one field or circle) which they maintain and care for according to instructions by the design team/the Comune and the Master Gardener. The park can also actively generate income through renting out specific areas in the park for temporal use - in line with the general programming of the fields and circular forests (that we call ‘vegetal pavilions’ to symbolize their availability for use). These rental activities could be coordinated by the Master Gardener or by a team at the Comune. Another source of income might be generated from private sponsoring or sponsoring by organizations and companies in the area that want to – visibly - support the City of Milan. In exchange, names of their companies can be integrated in the park’s concrete or wooden benches.

4. The Bibliotheca degli Alberi as active municipal project: Maintenance

Maintenance and cleaning services can best be active on a day-to-day basis to prevent the park from disintegrating. The goal of the design team is that the maintenance is adequate and fitting to the ambition of the park design. A park cannot be created by simply building and planting it - it develops and grows through the years and needs attention, especially in the first three years. Maintenance, therefore, plays a crucial role.

Taking our design decisions into consideration, we suggest the Comune to install one Master Gardener for this park – as all municipal maintenance teams change permanently - to be responsible and actively present, planning and supervising all maintenance works and coordinating the involvement of the neighbourhood and its residents. This park will become his or her life’s work. As a form of honorarium, housing can be organized in one of the many new developments around the park, and an additional income (on top of free lodgings) can be generated from the available maintenance budget of 70-euro cents per m2 per year. This is possible, because permanent care is more efficient than incidental care by ever-changing and generally poorly schooled maintenance teams. The Master Gardener is to be appointed and hired by the Commune or a cooperation (consisting of business and private stakeholders) that could be founded especially for the aim to bring the Biblioteca degli Alberi to a higher & different level then most parks in the City of Milan. (see also Sponsoring above)

The park is organized in fields of various typologies. These fields need to be maintained according to instructions specific to each ‘type’ of garden: perennial and shrub fields and -circles need regular checks on irrigation. Active weeding, mulching, replenishing, tying (of climbers) and cutting is necessary in the first 3 years. After this, maintenance includes cutting, trimming and thinning, sometimes replacing; and checks on irrigation and drainage.

A different type and intensity of care is required for lawns (mowing, ‘punctuating’ and fertilizing), meadows (impoverishing by adding organic matter or sand, ‘weeding’ and thinning) and

paved areas (remove moss, weeds; stabilize, replace). The triangular pond needs regular checks on its organic balance and cleaning in the first 2 years. Trees and all plantings need intensive attention during the first two to three years to secure root growth and setting. Trees & shrubs need trimming in the right time of year. Paving and vertical surfaces need to be cleaned and maintained on a weekly basis. Garbage should be removed daily. Supervision on a day-to-day basis is advised.

Light fixtures, electricity cables, water sources, and drainage systems are organized along the paths of the park, as requested by the Commune, to simplify maintenance works by the various teams.

Figura 26. Vista aérea del parque. ©Andrea Cherchi
Figure 26. Aerial view of the park. ©Andrea Cherchi
Nota Legal
Directora: María A. Leboreiro Amaro, Dra. Arquitecto. Profesora Titular de la E.T.S. de Arquitectura de Madrid
Consejo de redacción: Miquel Adriá, director de la revista Arquine
Carmen Andrés Mateo, Arquitecta. Profesora Asociada de la E.T.S. de Arquitectura de Madrid
José Mª Ezquiaga Dominguez. Dr. Arquitecto. Profesor Titular de la E.T.S. de Arquitectura de Madrid
José Fariña Tojo. Dr. Arquitecto. Catedrático de la E.T.S. de Arquitectura de Madrid
Fernando Fernández Alonso. Arquitecto. Profesor Asociado de la E.T.S. de Arquitectura de Madrid
Josep Mª Llop Torne. Arquitecto. Profesor en la Facultad de Geografía de la Universidad de Lleida
Javier Ruiz Sánchez. Dr. Arquitecto. Profesor Titular de la E.T.S. de Arquitectura de Madrid
Secretaría: Llanos Masiá
Edita: planur-e
Avda. Valdemarin, 68
28023 Madrid
Traducción: planur-e
ISSN: 2340-8235
Copyright: (2013): planur-e
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