scape Landschaftsarchitekten: The ‘University Quarter Essen’ is developed on a former railway site in the inner city of Essen, that had been wasteland for almost 30 years. By revitalizing this about 13 hectare large plot, the ‘University Quarter – Essen’s Green Centre’ is developed as an urban quarter for residential and commercial use – advertised with the slogan ‘Living in the middle of the city centre’. The centricity of the park within the new quarter between the city centre, shopping mall Limbecker Square and university campus is the first visible component of the development and therefore shapes the new identity of the quarter significantly. The open spaces follow an independent design language, that was derived from the typology and history of the site.
Innovative park designs have always reacted on the current life style. In the past those parks tried to create an idealised counter world to the real circumstances of life. In the 18th century, for instance, people experienced a dramatic destruction of landscape caused by the beginning of industrialisation and developed parks in the style of an idealised, Arcadian world. In the 21st century we witness the dissolving of boundaries between nature and technology by genetic engineering; simultaneously biological principles are imitated in bionics by using engineering techniques. The inspiration of the open space design in the University Quarter in founded in the indifference between nature and technology. Starting from the quarter’s history as a residential area of Krupp’s foundry workers, the technical framework of foundry technology (corner radiuses, chamfers and crossings without right angle, non-additive forms) is used to develop an independent design language. This means paths, street furniture, lawn areas, water basins are designed with round edges like in foundry technology. All elements in the park – from plan view to detail – follow the same design and create the image of a unique park .
The surrounding residential and commercial buildings form an urban figure that gives the park a very long, narrow and radial shape. One of the most important design statements is made by arrangement of attractions and path relations, because of the particularly shaped park area, the request for water basins and varied recreational activities, as well as the expected high usage frequency of the inner-city park. To reduce potential conflicts between residents and park users secondary paths along the park edges are offered to strengthen the semi-public character. The main promenade is located in the spacious centre of the park along with recreation, sport and play facilities. The advantage is the possibility of a central, open, public promenade between the northern water park and the southern lawn park, as well as the reduction of noise for the residents. To reinforce the spatial attraction of the promenade, it is not set out on one axis, but offset several times. The ‘Promenade Places’ – attractive destination points – are located at those offset points. The strip of water basins orientates itself with the shallow, accessible waterside towards the promenade and therefore reinforces the public middle of the scheme. The promenade is linked to the surrounding plots by a multitude of cross paths through the lawn areas and footbridges over the water basins. An open, multi-functional area for events with a large flight of steps is located at the crossing point of the promenade with the footpath connection university-city centre.
Respectively to decreasing noise levels from Berlin Place to Viehofer Square, park facilities are assigned to subspaces. The entry point at Berlin Place is defined by a city square. A loose grove of ornamental fruit trees forms the transition to the approximately 3.00 m lower park. Between the tree grove and the main event area, the section of the park intended for intensive use is situated, with its play and sunbathing areas and the ‘Promenade Place’ called ‘Park Play’. The subsequent section of the park at Turmstraße is used for quiet recreation with its lawn areas and water basins as well as the ‘Promenade Place’ called ‘Garden Park’ . In the last, very narrow section of the park at Viehofer Square seating facilities are offered. They can be used to work in the shade of trees at the ‘Promenade Place’ called ‘Park Lounge’.
Design and choice of material is deliberately ‘technical’. As the entire park is constructed with a curved grid, all visible edges and radiuses are defined in a very simple, mathematical way. The impression of the whole park as one homogeneous iron element is achieved by lifting the path areas (mastic asphalt) with sloping granite boards off the base. This design feature is repeated at the ‘Promenade Places’ which are, in turn, lifted off the path areas. Biological water purification basins are made out of concrete elements and sealed with asphalt. Infiltration of rain water is not possible, because of the contaminated ground. Rain water from surrounding sites are discharged into the central water basin and stored temporarily. With a central pumping unit water is continuously circulated. In the process, water is purified mechanically by an underground filter as well as biologically in the purification basins with plants. The water level in the pools is kept at a constant level with a range of 20 cm. Excess water is discharged into an adjacent creek.
The perception of space and character of the park is emphasized by a sophisticated use of plants with a minimum of maintenance. Plants create a distinct contrast to the technical elements and contribute significantly to the green character of the park, which is perceived very positively in public. To achieve a maximum of transparency and in accordance with perceived safety, no shrubs were planted. Existing sycamore trees mark the entrance at the Berliner Square. Strikingly flowering ornamental cherries, apples and pear trees are arranged as a grove west of Berliner Square. In east-west direction Japanese pagoda trees form the outer rows. The promenade is accompanied by some tree magnolias. The ‘Promenade Places’ along the promenade are emphasised by large trees like Empress tree, American Sweetgum , Indian bean tree. The park entrance at Viehofer Square is dominated by existing plane trees. Red Maple avenues mark the axis University-Downtown. The northern parts of the park are dominated by the water purification basins planted with marsh species such as reeds and irises, in the southern parts of the park a strip planted with grasses and shrubs divides park and surrounding. In parts attractive perennials and bulbs accompany the central promenade.
Assuming that the two distinctive buildings at Berliner Square and Viehofer Square are important landmarks at night, and because of the proximity to residential development an unobtrusive lighting concept was proposed, that meets security purposes. Analogous to the concept during daylight and for noise protection and safety reasons, the central promenade is the main movement area at night. Accordingly, the promenade is brightly illuminated, the paths to the sides a bit darker, but still lit roadworthy. The ‘Promenade Places’ are accentuated by directed lights with different illumination angles. They get a stage-like character, which also makes them attractive places at night.
Although the implementation of the park is not completed yet and the construction of the surrounding buildings isn’t to start until spring 2011, the park – as a high-quality open space for the northern part of the city centre – is already heavily used by local residents, students and visitors.
landscape design 2007-2011;
implementation: 2009 – 2011;
client: Grün und Gruga Essen, as well as development agency university quarter Essen;
construction sum: 6.4 Mio. €;
size: 5.1 ha;
competition: 1. prize June 2007;
completion: 1st phase March 2010;
2nd and 3rd phase July 2010;
4th phase presumably autumn 2015
Landscape architects: scape Landschaftsarchitekten GmbH, Düsseldorf
Water management: Dahlem – Beratende Ingenieure GmbH & Co, Essen
Photos: Matthias Funk, Düsseldorf, Rainer Sachse, Bonn; aerial view: Hans Blossey, Essen