When I first started thinking about landscapes, other architects would look at me like I was dirt. It was as though I was in the way. Architects were sure that they could do anything that I could do. Thirty or 40 years ago, perhaps they would have been right. Today, however, the knowledge base of a landscape architect is totally different. Architects often think about materials, while we focus on how we make the place: we’ve become problem-solvers, environmentally but also experientially.
My studio won the Site Tour Eiffel project in 2019 to prepare the area around the landmark ahead of the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. Our planned park and walkways extend from Place du Trocadéro all the way to the 54-hectare École Militaire site. Historical projects were never designed to be environmental and that’s a problem that I’m working on. There are about 10 million visitors a year; as a result, tree roots are being compacted. Meanwhile, people don’t have shade and sites aren’t accessible for those with mobility issues. The Eiffel Tower isn’t the only national monument that has problems like these.
I usually remind people that I didn’t invent this project. Rather, I’m trying to fix it. It’s the kind of environmental renovation that many sites all over the world need. The real question is, “Have cities gone far enough?” Should we as landscape architects go further? Right now, we’re working on the first phase of our Paris project and have stopped all the traffic on a bridge and created two new plazas, meaning that the millions of visitors who take the route from Trocadéro to the Eiffel Tower no longer have to fight against cars. Landscape architects are constantly trying to understand where culture is heading. Right now, the environment is experiencing a renaissance and that must be our guide.
Kathryn Gustafson is a landscape architect and founding partner of Gustafson Porter + Bowman. She is a contributor to ‘The Monocle Companion: Fifty Essays for a Brighter Future’.