This week I’ve been drawing Park Hill. Fortunately it’s been very sunny, and not at all a chore sitting in the gardens, looking and drawing.
I decided to be led by what caught my view, as well as what was visible from places it seemed good to sit in. I wanted less to undertake a rigorous survey of the garden (there will be time for that later), more to get a feeling of how it is used, who uses it, and what it feels like.
It’s richly, lushly landscaped, and in mid July with drifts of wildflowers and meadow grassland looks good enough to illustrate a Stirling Prize entry, or at least the sales brochure.
Strolling through it was fascinating. I wasn’t sure how best to encounter it. Was it a public park, its gravelled paths and iron furniture recalling Paris, or was it (with its naturalistic planting) a slice of Peak District in the city. Perhaps as I ascended the concrete steps up a bank, feeling ever so much like there was buried architecture beneath me (there is) it’s a heritage site – a country house, or castle? Am I allowed to be here?
I felt drawn to draw the vegetation, to draw the landscaping, the young trees, and to try and get a sense of how this was working with the building.
What did I conclude? Firstly that – midweek at least – these gardens are not very well used. I was on my own in them for a big part of the day. Occasionally people moved cars, and I could hear the sound of children playing in the on-site nursery school. But the only other people I saw were visitors to S1 Artspace (looking lost) and the occasional office worker picnicking (in all this space, why did they need to sit so close to me?). No one sat on the Tuileries- chairs, or played ping pong. With Keith Wilson’s plinths in the middle of the only flat areas (and the parked cars) I wonder how many children kick a ball around?
The dominance of the car parking, scattered throughout does break the gardens up. It’s hard to feel like you lost in nature, when your picnic is in front of a Toyota Prius. For sure, this may change – only a fraction of the site is open, the plans for car parking seem uncertain (will there be a multistory?). And the maturing of the gardens will make a difference. I wonder how the disjuncture between public and private will be overcome – not just de jure but how do people – visitors and residents alike feel like they are allowed to do stuff here?