The Library of Trees

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There are parks that over the course of history have become symbolic places of cities, frequented sites and favorite destinations for tourists. Parc de la Villette in Paris, Central Park in New York, Sempione Park in Milan, not to mention an endless list of historic parks of great importance. But in recent years a new category of public park has emerged, denoted by a very contemporary design approach, which has its roots in the regeneration of abandoned or degraded urban spaces. This is the case of Tempelhof in Berlin, the High Line in New York or the Promenade du Paillon in Nice. These are projects that reach a new status, beyond that of an urban park, becoming true landmarks, iconic places of the cities where they are located, innovative elements suspended between conscious use by citizens and overflowing wave of tourism. The Library of Trees is part of this path undertaken by many cities around the world, outlining a milestone on the path of green spaces in the Lombardy capital.

Designed by Petra Blaisse’s Dutch studio, Inside Outside, with the collaboration of the architects Mirko Zanardini and Michael Malzan, the graphic designer Irma Boom and the famous garden designer Piet Oudolf, and with the works management entrusted to the AG&P greenscape studio, the Library of Trees aspires to become a new point of reference for the citizens of Milan and beyond, attracting crowds of visitors from all over Italy and the world.

Part of this great success is due to the particular position of this park; in fact, it belongs to a large urban development system that includes Piazza Gae Aulenti and the Bosco Verticale, interventions that have achieved international fame, not without numerous debates and criticisms. Thanks to this, the Library of Trees becomes the green nerve center of a densely trafficked area, going from a problematic space to a fundamental hub for reaching points of great importance in the city, such as Porta Garibaldi railway station, Palazzo Lombardia, Corso Como and others.

A peculiarity contributes to this purpose: the total absence of fences, or in any case of perimeter limitations. This makes the site perfectly permeable, allowing users to freely take over the space, following the main axes that facilitate quicker movements, or wandering among the numerous functional areas scattered throughout the park.

The Library of Trees, as the name suggests, can be considered as a large collection of tree species, a sort of contemporary botanical garden, an innovative way to bring people closer to nature and botany. The botanical names of the species that make up 22 “circular forests” are clearly indicated on the ground, large monospecific rings of trees that outline areas with different functions or simply link to the paths, creating a playful pattern of lines and circles, motifs which repeat themselves without ever being the same.

The species that make up these “circular forests” are: Sorbus domestica, Cornus kousa ‘Chinensis’, Populus nigra ‘Italica’, Pinus nigra, Populus alba, Betula utilis ‘Doorembos’, Liriodendron tulipifera, Salix babilonica, Acer rubrum ‘October Glory’, Fraxinus excelsior, Liquidambar styraciflua, Carpinus betulus, Ginkgo biloba, Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’, Tilia tomentosa ‘Brabant’, Magnolia x soulangeana ‘Heaven Scent’, Calocedrus decurrens ‘Pillar’, Taxodium distichum, Acer griseum, Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca’, Malus ‘Evereste’, Fraxinus americana.

In total there are 500 specimens of trees, and in addition to these 135,000 plants including various perennials, 3,600 aromatics, 44,000 bulbs, 140 bamboos, 4,200 shrubs and climbing plants, 6,300 ground covers and 450 aquatic plants. The biodiversity of the Library of Trees is in a certain way the most important aspect, a characteristic that combines the need of urban environment to offer a great variety of vegetation, implementing a series of ecosystem services, and the educational aspect, thanks to which users of all ages can better understand the importance of nature in our cities, becoming aware of virtuous practices that could help counteract the effects of climate change.

However, the social aspect of this iconic place should not be underestimated. The different functional spaces vary from play areas for children to those where you can practice sports and fitness, from areas dedicated to dogs to those where you can rest, read or simply enjoy the green landscape of the park.

But going even further, crossing the Library of Trees can be perceived as a poetic action. The breadth and freedom of the spaces lead you to get lost among labyrinths and aromatic gardens, or to linger on the delicate sounds coming from the water gardens. But what most strikes the eye and the heart, are the “wild” gardens created by Piet Oudolf, which in the spring period transform into a palette of colors, a pointillist painting that breaks down vast areas of the park, reconstructing them according to a dynamic chromaticism which enchant visitors.

They are gardens to be admired, which change with the passing of the seasons, returning promptly every year with a colorful display of Papaver orientale ‘Scarlet O’Hara’, Kalimeris incisa, Sedum telephium, Celtica gigantea, Aster macrophyllus, Amsonia hubrichtii, Geranium hybridum ‘Patricia’, Iris sibirica, Molinia caerulea ‘Dauerstrahlì, Panicum virgatum ‘Cloud Nine’, Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Little Spire’, Aster tataricus ‘Jindai’ and others.

The walk in the park becomes in those particular seasonal moments a real sensorial experience, in which sight, smell, touch and hearing contribute to weaving a varied tapestry, just as the vegetation present is varied.

If we want to make an evaluation between the certainly burdensome management and the services provided by the park, it can be said that the positive impact on the city is undeniable. The attendance is constant by citizens and tourists, at any time of the day, and the advantages in terms of practicability, accessibility, safety and the great plant diversity balance the management costs, making the project, despite its iconic aura “trendy”, the hub of the Isola district.

Project details

Design: Inside Outside
Project Location: Milan, Italy
Typology: Urban park
Competition year: 2004
Design year: 2010-2015
Year: 2017-2018
Area: 90.000 m2
Collaborators: Franco Giorgetta, Mirko Zardini, Michael Maltzan Architects, Irma Boom Design, Piet Oudolf, Ro’dor Landscape Engineers
Construction management and supervision: Studio cerutti, AG&P greenscape, Gae Engeneering
Client: Comune di Milano
Photo credits: © Gaël Glaudel

Inside Outside

Inside Outside

Inside Outside specializes in landscape design and in interior architecture. Their work introduces a flexible form of architecture and spatial composition by working with soft and pliable -often living- materials that create movement and ever-changing effects. Sound, light, climate and the effects of time are their tools. For each new commission the given architectural and cultural context is carefully studied before they develop the ideas.