Jodie Jones discovers a post-industrial park in Italy
The repurposing of post-industrial landscapes is increasingly common as economies ebb and flow but, for decades, German landscape architects Latz & Partners have been championing a very particular approach to this challenge. As Peter Latz told the New York Times, “landscape is basically history. There are only two possibilities: to obliterate that history or to make it your partner”.
Latz is passionately in favour of the latter approach and has produced many exceptional examples, including the award-winning Parco Dora in Turin, where the industrial heart of the city was wiped out in the 1980s with the closure of the Michelin tyre factory, the Fiat Perriere Piemontesi sheet metal works and other big manufacturers. An urban renewal programme was launched in 1998 and Latz & Partners was appointed to develop a strategy for the wider site. The aim was to incorporate the individual character of each area, to strengthen and enhance them with new elements, and so to create a unified park experience.
Industrial remains dominate the site, in particular the large hall of the sheet metal works in the Vitali area at the centre of the park. The outer skin of the building was removed to leave a futuristic jungle of 30m-high red steel columns which, in time, will be covered in Virginia creeper and other climbing vegetation. One section of roof was left in place to create a sheltered space, which now hosts leisure and cultural events.
Elsewhere, the visually dominant Michelin cooling towers and a section of concrete canal lined with huge supports have become notable landmarks. In all, the park encompasses five areas whose functional differences and aesthetic impact are based on the quality of the specific industrial remains. Bridges, stairs and ramps connect the different parts of the park with each other and with the surrounding residential neighbourhoods.
Water is an important element in the design. The River Dora runs through the site, and was the reason that so much heavy industry came there in the first place, although it had been partially concealed by buildings and hemmed in by other structures. The western stretch of the river already had a natural appearance with tree-lined banks, but where the channel was obscured, Latz opened much of it up and exploited a natural 6m change in level to create a wild waterway flowing over concrete ‘rocks’.
In the Ingest area, the substructure of a former laminating works was transformed into water gardens. In the Michelin zone, the river was excavated to form a tidal pool with bridges that link it with the Vitali area. Elsewhere, cooling and slurry basins were integrated into a sustainable water management system that stored rainwater for irrigation and temporary water features.
The ecological and social life of the site underpinned all other considerations. As well as leisure spaces and through routes, the zone includes residential areas, so directing travel became a major consideration. The most important linking feature is the Passeralla, a 700m-long elevated walkway which connects the three northerly sections and provides a unique vista across the park.
Trees create buffer zones that screen public recreation areas from adjacent residential zones, while meadow areas and shrubberies provide a counterpoint to the post-industrial elements. Peter Latz says, “The result is a metamorphosis of landscape without destroying existing features. Artefacts can develop that pursue natural processes in derelict surroundings according to ecological rules started and maintained by technological processes. It is the idea of making time visible.”