landscape design as collaboration between human and non-human

In a time when the work of landscape designers and architects, is becoming ever more important, we meet with Amsterdam-based landscape architectural bureau Inside Outside, which approaches designs as a dynamic and interdisciplinary process.

Work-process at Inside Outside, Amsterdam

Through our conversation with Founder Petra Blaisse and Partner Jana Crepon, we journey through reflections on their transformational work with THE PAPER ISLAND in Copenhagen. We reflect on working with textures of time, the importance of plants, multi-layered landscapes and the untold stories hiding in the underground of healthy soil.

Blaisse, whose background is in the arts, describes the main mission of Inside Outside as:

-It is to consider what the landscape is, depending on the project, the place or the context – sometimes it’s a wilderness that must be created, at other times a calm continuation of the interior. One of our most important goals is to convince our customers – who are architects, developers, contractors, cities, municipalities – to help them realise the importance of green – green in the sense of all its aspects of well-being, the collaboration between the human and nature, flora and fauna; that we are all connected and that we have a deep responsibility.

Blaisse continues to describe the Inside Outside approach:

We have an interdisciplinary team and collaborate with ever more disciplines whenever possible. We continue to make the parallel between the interior and the exterior. We do this through experiences, movement, spacial qualities, connections, materialisations, textures, change and chance.

When Blaisse and Crepon initially visited THE PAPER ISLAND to start their transformational process and the design of the island’s landscape, they were both affected by the vibrant and dynamic life the place already held. In our dialogue with them, they underline how important it was to them to nourish the qualities which the island already contained; maintaining the sensitivity towards the history of the island. Landscape architect Jana Crepon describes how –

-When you come across a place, it always has a history, like with THE PAPER ISLAND, it was this area with large warehouses, where the paper was stored back in time. So we imagined these piles of paper, rows of paper. Then the paper was gone, and we have to create stories for this new life; try to connect to the history of the site while telling a new story. We started out with a focus on connecting the inside and the outside, but more and more it has grown into also connecting that which is below, the underground, with the above. Into connecting Nature with the city. To make what is seemingly unlikely to be connected, to connect these. The species we will provide are the trees, the greens, plants, but also fungi, bacteria, worms, to add to the soil and create a rich soil environment.

To connect the upper level and the underground is one of the complexities of Inside Outside’s work with THE PAPER ISLAND and Blaisse describes their considerations –

Once you really start thinking about the soil, or the living plant, the living tree, where the roots are, how its fed and how it grows, then you really want everything to thrive and grow into maturity. That is an infinity we feel with the material. And further attracting insects and wildlife; an environment that attracts not only human life, but all sorts of lifeforms. An environment that triggers fantasies.

The elements of fantasy and fairytales lay the foundation for the design behind the street level of THE PAPER ISLAND. Continuing the historical relationship with the material of paper, an unknown paper cutting by the Danish storyteller Hans Christian Andersen, will decorate at the street level, but at a scale only fully visible to birds or people from high above. An other-than-human perspective. When walking upon it, people are invited to dive into the characters of the fairytale universe, possibly telling the hidden stories themselves:

-When the light shines through, you experience a different pattern together with the large patterns of the papercutting by H.C. Andersen. A contradictory urban atmosphere mixed with a fairytale quality. Blaisse describes, and continues:

-This papercut has very strange, gnome-like creatures, elves, fairies, gnomesthese small creatures hidden within a landscape. And the whole paper element is continued in the foldings of the landscape towards the water: the material will fall in foldings, just as paper would fold into water, Petra Blaisse explains.

In our final reflections, we ask Crepon and Blaisse to articulate the strongest tendencies of the times –

Corona has meant that consciousness of nature has grown because of the need for fresh air and being able to go outside relaxing, meeting one another. This tendency supports the need for our contributions. The bad side of this is that all the urban natural landscapes are flooded with people now. It is good, but also a challenge. We have become more conscious of the power and importance of nature, Blaisse describes and Crepon adds:

-Landscape designs are becoming much more complex. Complex situations with underground structures, considerations of soil quality, activation of street level design and considerations about the rooftop level, to provide solar panels, water, plants and so on. This is exciting, but also a challenge.

…a challenge we at NXT look forward to follow.

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