Gilles Clément – A brief introduction

26 Jul 2011 | Will Foster

‘The role of humans in the environment is to understand how it functions, and to promote its continued functioning.  Since man is just one species among the great diversity of species in nature, he cannot hope to intervene and to exploit this diversity without jeopardising the mechanisms of interaction among the many forms of life on the planet.’

(Gilles Clement, 2006)

­The French horticultural engineer, landscape architect, gardener, botanist and writer Gilles Clément, has created numerous parks, gardens, and public spaces in France and throughout Europe.  Over the past decade he has been developing approaches to an environmentally sound design practice starting from the blueprint of wastelands. In fact one might say he designs ‘with’ wastelands.  In his book 'Nove Giardini Planetari' (Nine Planetary Gardens) he presents a methodology unique to the landscape design field. He suggests three interplaying principles 'the third landscape', 'gardens in movement' and 'the planetary garden'.

'The third landscape' is the term Clément uses to classify wastelands such as former industrial areas or nature reserves that are prime locations for accumulating bio-diversity. These landscapes are places of indecision where we can witness the relationship between the city and spontaneous biodiversity, bringing an ecological value to these otherwise neglected and discarded areas.  As Clément sees it, these neglected spaces are the earth's ’genetic reservoir’ and a ‘biological time capsule.’

'Gardens in movement' is Cléments belief in combining the energy (movement) of a place with his design visions, creating a fluid interplay between moving organic matter and static constructions. Clément states In practice, the gardeners of these landscapes must actively maintain movement, aiding nature rather than enacting rigid plans.’   It may appear obvious that a garden of plants will in fact ‘grow’ and a gardener would need to consider that growth would need to be accounted for when designing a garden. Clément's design approach exerts an in depth consideration for biology and the complexity, characteristics, spatial demands and nourishment needs of the plants already existing or to be introduced into the gardens.  This is not a plan in order to dictate a final result or image of the garden but rather as a complementary structure in order to ‘systematically maintain the garden’s growth.’

'the planetary garden'.  Viewing the garden in the context of planet earth, presenting belief in bio-diversity that extends beyond the individual garden to encompass the earth's ecosystem as a whole.  ‘The gardener (man) becomes a worker for nature, again balancing actions of activity and passivity, creating harmony even in dissonance.’(Clément, 2006)  This concept is posed much as a question in which Clements asks us,  ‘if there can be a man-made planetary garden, which promotes bio-diversity? Because although man understands that nature thrives on diversity, we fight it.’ (Clément, 2006)

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