Following on from our last garden article, this one is also about a garden on Montjuïc. Jardins de Laribal is another of the hidden marvels of Barcelona’s green mountain. Far from inviting visitors into its arms, it seems rather to deflect them away, to lead them around and about. The photos and plan show why this park is a defector from the space program – no matter how many times you visit it, you’re invariably left feeling its component parts are unrelated fragments. You can check out its location here or take a look at this plan below if you’re familiar with Barcelona.
So why are we interested in this garden? It is truly more a garden, or series of gardens, than a park for the most part. The highlighted pergolas and the multitude of water features which pepper the park (see plans above) are what interest us really. Let’s begin by looking closely at these pergolas, then we’ll consider the use of water in the garden.
Seating and planting as structuring elements of space
How do you subdivide a space so that a multitude of users can take temporary ownership of it, without having their view obstructed by others? The simple answer is to create niches, a crisp staccato to the ambiguous legato of open space. A giant lawn will become the host of ball games, leaving more passive occupants of space vulnerable, but too small a pocket of enclosed space will be harder to maintain and may exacerbate unwanted behaviour. The distribution of Laribal’s benches beneath its pergolas is a partial solution. The elongated terrace on either side of this first pool is broken down by the pillars which support the beams of the pergolas, with benches on one side facing out over the city. The effect is immediate: one to three park visitors come and occupy a bench and have the sense of some privacy from the users on either side, and the opposing structure frames the view ahead of them.
So how might this information be useful to someone designing a space? It might not be apparent right away on a flat site, where any designer might be inclined to leave most spaces unenclosed. On difficult sites, however, with steep slopes or particularly interesting vistas, a seemingly ornamental element such as a pergola can take on this vertebral character, rigorously structuring a part of the design.
The unfortunate reality of this particular garden is that its isolated location, far from prying eyes, means that like so many urban parks it is gated at night. As the upper parts were once a private estate, the layout of the space was never originally imagined for public access. Perhaps this top space, including the pergolas, could be left open permanently, instead of being lost to the world for half its life. With effective illumination this corridor could be an ideal place to sit and take in the cityscape, with the lower levels closed at sunset. After all, we don’t stop living when the sun goes down, and what better testament could there be to a healthy society than the guarantee that parks are safe at any hour?
These pergolas allow for natural, temporary colonisation of space, with each bench feeling distinct from the others, but also still well connected with the walkway leading to the rest of the park or along to the sculpture garden beside the Joan Miró Foundation. All too often park users are expected to occupy benches along paths with their backs exposed to open space, which may leave them feeling uneasy about who or what could be approaching. This solution is quite neat in that it creates a partial walling-in for each set of users, without dumping them at the end of a cul-de-sac.
Water features as implicit signage mechanisms within spaces
The truth is that as most visitors arrive up on Montjuïc via funicular, they are likely to feel channelled in either direction by the main arterial street. This will lead them to the obvious attractions like the Joan Miró Foundation, a short walk from the funicular station, and onward past the Olympic stadium and perhaps round to the new Botanic garden. Minor incursions into parks like Laribal are likely to end with most visitors (even residents) turning around and searching for a more obvious route down into Poble Sec, the adjacent neighbourhood from where the funicular runs. This casts a shadow over the pergolas, which in their seclusion may well come across as being lost in space, as the park itself appears to have little connection to the city below. In reality, the route down through the park to Poble Sec is more logical than following the serpentine road which borders and then bisects it. This brings us to the second device employed in Laribal which is worthy of mention: how to lead a wandering visitor through a landscape without clumsy signage.
This might be achieved in any number of ways, from design elements such as street furniture to logos or other visual devices, but each sub-space within this park has an accent pool, and some of these are linked by rills. The subtlety of these water bodies and the sense of discovery as you come across each one makes a journey out of a complex park.
Once in the final space, visitors circumnavigate the final large circular pool and are led through archways, then on to a short flight of steps into nearby Poble Sec. From this point the view ahead is quite navigable and most visitors would find it easy to get their bearings from there on. What follows is a detailed sequential explanation of the role of these water bodies, including photos, diagrams and notes.