CENTERSTAGE “WE HAVE TO RECONNECT PEOPLE WITH NATURE” INTERVIEW WITH ANDREAS KIPAR
The landscape architect Andreas Kipar, who grew up in Gelsenkirchen, became renowned after he changed the gray industrial city of Milan into a green model city filled with parks. Today, at his LAND office in Milan, he is planning projects in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
concepts Mr. Kipar, what does your professional gaze register as you walk through a European city?
Andreas Kipar When I look at the green spaces, I still have a strong sense of bleakness. In the past 30 years we haven’t really made any revolutionary improvements in our city centers. Instead, we’re trying to smooth out the rough edges. We want things to look clean and low-maintenance and to protect them from vandalism. There shouldn’t be too many benches, because then they’ll be taken over by homeless people. Concerns like these are still very influential.
concepts In your opinion, what should we be doing instead?
Kipar If we want to have a future society characterized by a culture of openness, we have to let city dwellers live in ways that enable them to develop freely. That includes helping them have a healthy relationship with nature.
concepts Is that possible in the city?
Kipar We’ve refined river parks and created industrial parks, but we’ve been too careful in city centers. We need more green spaces and greener public squares, if only to improve the climate within cities. People need shade and contact with nature. We have to create areas that can hold water in an emergency, like the “rain gardens” in other countries. During heavy rainfall they fill up with water and add an aesthetic touch to the urban landscape. Today we’re setting up beehives on roofs. The cook at the Deutsche Bank’s canteen in Frankfurt has created an herb garden in the roof garden we set up for the bank, and he uses the herbs for his cuisine.
concepts Aren’t these just isolated cases? And isn’t a city also a space with other functions, such as a center for shopping?
Kipar Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to walk on city sidewalks made of concrete? We should have the courage to remove the pavements and “un-seal” large areas within our cities. Here’s an example from the Ruhr region of Germany. In Essen, which is known as the “green capital of Europe,” we’ve given 250,000 people direct contact with water and green spaces. But the city center is still completely paved over. Our next offensive should be to replace these concrete slabs with evergreens.
concepts Are urban planners and architects already changing their mindset?
Kipar Even in Moscow, a city that has long been characterized by downright antihuman architecture, they are now suddenly doubling the width of sidewalks and planting thousands of new trees. Now you can walk along promenades that used to be eight-lane highways, without seeing a single car. These are signs of change. Five years ago, we submitted a very innovative concept for the new International Financial Center in Moscow, which is now called Smart City Moscow—and our bid beat those of our international competitors.
concepts What was special about your concept?
Kipar We said, “Landscape first.” Let’s focus our placemaking activities on the landscape, not the architecture. Any investor will ask, “How will that benefit me?” Well, if we plant a tree now and build houses after that, the tree can already be growing during the construction phase. That means the value of the real estate will increase. We will invest something like 20 cents per square meter of floor space, and as a result the market value of the apartments will increase by 500 to 900 euros per square meter, because the buyers will say, “Okay, I can already see what it will look like in the future. I won’t be moving to a desert.”
concepts What will be your most important task in the future?
Kipar The Pope, together with scientists, put it this way in his encyclical Laudato si’: Take care of the planet! Or, in the words of the sociologist Jeremy Rifkin, “Stop the war on nature!” What we’re doing as landscape architects is “reconnecting people with nature.” We have to reestablish this connection and gain a new understanding of how we need to deal with the precious resources of water and soil.
concepts How do you estimate your chances of success?
Kipar Today we’re seeing a small revolution that is changing the cityscape. It always takes time to really enter a new century, but when the change finally comes, it’s very fast. Just think of the impact of the Bauhaus movement 100 years ago, for example.