Steel and fog, Geneva

chair 2, Route de Chene wall, June 2016, by enclos*ure
While we were in Geneva last week, I was able to go see “Floor Works,” a garden designed by Agence TER* for the developers Sociéte Privée de Gérance (SPG). Built in 2005, it surrounds an office building† but is open to the public.

The garden was one of two finalists for the European Garden Award in 2013 — in the category of “Innovative Contemporary Concept or Design of a Park or Garden.” (The winner that year was Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London.)

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The name “Floor Works” refers to the garden’s parallel lines of red COR-TEN steel and grey slate paving, alternating with long narrow planting beds. Some of the steel lines appear to rise up and fold into chairs and benches. On the building’s west side, the paving pattern also goes up and over the top of the parking garage entrance. About 40 tall bent steel posts are interspersed throughout the area as well. 

“The word ‘work’ simultaneously expresses the work (le travail) and [art]work (l’oeuvre); ‘floor,’ the ground,” explains Agence TER. “Floor Works is thus the work produced by working the ground, that is to say, by the action of handling or gardening mineral or living materials.”

In contrast to the earthy qualities of the garden’s “floor,” the office building is mostly glass, often reflecting as an aqua-blue color — beautiful in combination with the rust-red steel.

Nearby buildings are mostly late 19th and early 20th century, of six to eight stories high.

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The planting style is naturalistic. It reminded me more than anything else of the often beautiful “Third Landscape” waste areas that one sees along train tracks in Europe. I liked the way the narrow beds allow all the plants to be backlit.  But I wished for a few taller (shoulder-high) grasses in the open center. However, the tree-like upright steel posts do provide some sense of depth and shelter without casting shade on the sun-loving plants.  (There are actual trees along the west and south sides.)

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For me, the real magic came to the garden every few minutes when fog would rise from a mechanism in the top of the garage entrance and envelop the main walkway and building entrance — so densely that for a few seconds I couldn’t see anything else.  Then it would start to sink and spread across the rest of the garden.

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Finally, along the front of the property, on Route de Chêne, there is an approximately 4′ high wall separating the building from the sidewalk. It is thickly planted with a large variety of healthy perennials.  I thought it was superb.

You can see more photos, by Agence TER, here, including overhead views.

Click on ‘Continue reading’ below and then any thumbnail in the gallery to scroll through larger versions of all my photos above (plus several more).

*They were recently chosen to redesign Los Angeles’s Pershing Square.

†It is located about a half mile east of the old city center, at Route de Chêne 30. Take the #12 tram from the city center, Amandolier stop.

Continue reading “Steel and fog, Geneva”

By the numbers, Geneva

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We were traveling all last week in Switzerland and France, stopping for three days in Geneva.

Walking back and forth from our hotel to the city’s old town, I several times passed the floral clock (L’horloge fleurie) located near the spot where the Rhône River leaves Lake Léman. It was built in 1955 to honor Geneva’s watchmaking industry, and its design, formed by approximately 6,500 plants, changes seasonally. With a diameter of 5 meters (16.4′), the clock was said to be the largest in the world until 2005 — when it was surpassed by a 15-meter version in Tehran, Iran.*

It’s not a style of garden that I particularly like, but as I examined it, I had to admire the careful layout and clipping required to make it possible. (Click on any image above to scroll through enlarged versions.)

Floral sundials have been around since at least the 16th century, but the first-known floral display with mechanical clock hands was created in 1892 in the Trocadéro gardens in Paris. A second was constructed at Water Works Park in Detroit in 1893. By the early 20th century, examples could be found across the U.S., Great Britain, and Europe.

A number of these clocks were abandoned during WWI, but in the 1920s and 1930s, as motoring tourism developed, towns began to build them again as attractions.

How well the skillful gard’ner drew
Of flow’rs and herbs this dial new.  .  .  .
How could such sweet and wholesome hours
Be reckon’d but with herbs and flow’rs!

— Andrew Marvell, from “The Garden

*Geneva’s second hand is still the longest, at 2.5 m.