Neil Porter Q&A
Over at the Arsenale, British landscape architects Gustafson Porter created a kitchen garden complete with ripe fruit and veg and grassy banks on which people could relax. We caught up with one half of the practice, Neil Porter.
Is it often that landscape architects are included in the Venice Architecture Biennale?
Well, it is an architecture biennale not a landscape one. Of course there have been people who have done things related to landscape architecture in the past, but I think we are probably one of the very first!
What is the main concept and the structure of your design?
The design is divided into three stages. We have a big space in the end of the Arsenale, an ex-convent buildings are. First, you go into the storeroom, which is gloomy and dark, and there are lots of names of extinct plants and animals. We wanted to react to Aaron’s theme, which we felt was about ‘putting your house in order’, so we thought we’d have this as the opening piece.
Why did you choose names of extinct plants and animals?
We felt that the names of these extinct plants would trigger people’s thoughts. Especially when they go through to the next stage of the garden, where there is an abundant, lush garden, where there is food and lots of plants.
What is the next stage?
After that room, you walk into an incredible vegetable patch filled with plants that you’d find on San Erasmo, the garden island of Venice. It is meant to be like a kitchen garden, it has all those fantastic vegetables, wonderful herbs and spices and flowers that you’d want in your garden, and put on your kitchen table. Having thought ‘ok, plants are really important in our existence and enjoyment of life and food’, we created at the end of the trail as one very simple space, where you are invited to think and relax. It also includes a big white cloud, which floats above the garden.
Was the garden designed to be seen in a particular way?
This is really the final space in the sequence, but it was never designed so that someone would have to move in any particular way through here.
Do you feel that your participation will help the wider audience understand better landscape architecture, and make them more aware of landscape architecture, and its importance and connection to buildings?
There are so many different audiences. For example in England people love their gardens and they may know a lot about plants, but they don’t know a huge amount about landscape in particular, in terms of street-scaping, green urban spaces and so on, so it’s a very good thing for us! We feel that how landscape interacts with buildings is a growing field, encompassing environmental issues and sustainability. I think landscape architecture has moved up the agenda. With the exception of public parks, it used to be the domain of wealthy individuals, but now it has become part of the agenda. It is part of the debate about how do you live well in a city and share it with others.
If you could summarise the concept in one phrase, what would you say the main focus was?
We titled it ‘Towards Paradise’ in the hope that people would come here and would walk away thinking about what is important, not just about landscape, but about their lives.