Kathryn Gustafson, the emotional gardener lifestyle
She was born in the United States, in a small town called Yakima in central Washington state. Her first childhood dreams were related to landscapes, to transforming them, and to giving a different perspective and meaning of life to her closest surroundings. She soon learned that water and water channelling can be used to strengthen nature, to recover its connection to the land, from the roots of native plants to the potential richness of agriculture through efficient irrigation.
Today she is one of the world’s leading landscape architects. Her works combine a mystical respect for the natural and historical context and a conceptual and emotional design connected with the city and its inhabitants.
The urban ecosystem connected to nature has always been the focus of her research. She blends different ideas in her work while avoiding any singular conception, as each project is cast with a different vision.
In her most celebrated and popular work so far, The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain in London, she reflected on the complexity of the princess’s life, especially on motherhood, symbolised with an oval. One of the traits of her fame was to use it for charitable purposes, and this is the legacy that she leaves humanity.
Kathryn Gustafson has been active in the field for thirty years. She studied in New York and Paris. Her love for fashion became a passion for dressing landscapes.
Kathryn Gustafson is an honorary member of the Royal Institute of British Architecture, and she won the prestigious Jane Drew prize in London. She was presented with the Chrysler Design Award of the American Society of Landscape Architects and is a member of the French Academy of Architecture. She has also received the Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize for Architecture, among many other distinctions both solo and with her respective studios.
In recent years she obtained the 8th Obayashi Prize in Tokyo and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Polytechnic University of Valencia.
The institutions that have recognised her merits highlight the interplay of the spatial and environmental qualities she uses to create a human and community landscape experience.
“In recent years, my work has focused on civic, institutional and corporate programmes, including parks, gardens and community spaces. The idea of community is very powerful at this time in history. My main approach is always through a new and sustainable focus that links users’ participation with the specific needs of the environment — balanced textures carried to their maximum expression, the composition of materials, surfaces, vegetation and water systems. We don’t leave anything to chance, although there is an intuitive component. Urban planning, civil engineering, archaeology, geological history, climate change and local legends are all elements of my work”, commented Gustafson at the latest Hay Festival at the IE School of Architecture and Design in Segovia, where Lifestyle spoke with her.
Eiffel Tower Gardens
After a contested international competition, Kathryn Gustafson has won the bid to renovate the entire Eiffel Tower park. “I walked this path every day in my years as a student in Paris. I understand it as a personal and intimate territory; I know every perspective down to the finest detail, as well as every speck of possible and desirable plant life”, says Gustafson.
This is a personal project by Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, who recently announced the renaturalisation project for the Champs Elysées.
“At the Eiffel Tower, our goal is to create an expansive pedestrian area”, said Anne Hidalgo. “We’re going to have an extraordinary garden, where we’ll hear the birds singing again”. Kathryn Gustafson concludes: “it is a big challenge; they’re practically untouchable symbols, but we must bring back taking a stroll and contemplation”.
Grand Central Park
“We have inaugurated the first phase. This project has been very satisfying for me because water and light are of paramount importance”.
Thanks to urban planning and the underground railway, Valencia will recover an important central space in the city. The Central Park project places special importance on the railway and the urban context, as Valencia is part of the network of Spanish cities connected by high speed trains.
“I have tried to develop a botanical garden for each native species and environment: meadows, spontaneous vegetation, shrubs and trees. The centre is dedicated to citizens and their recreational and leisure activities with nature. We have considered all ages by offering gardens, garden workshops, a children’s playground, a library/archive, a cultural space and, above all, a network of paths that produce different spaces such as the Scent Garden. Water channels, which are so important in Valencia, are also essential in all my designs”.
Four towers designed by Ingenhoven Architects have been integrated into the gardens planned by Gustafson and her team. The idea was to start with vegetation for the centrepiece of the construction, with a central garden that acts as an oasis in the city and transforms the Singapore skyline.
“It is a landscaped sculpture, it is a space open to residents, it is a new way of integrating landscaping, architecture and connections among residents. It is not a park in a building; on the contrary, it is an ecosystem that allows buildings to form part of it”, says Kathryn Gustafson.