Putting the ‘park’ in Park Lane: a talk with landscape designer Bas Smets

Can you already picture it? You take a stroll through the Tour & Taxis Park. You greet your neighbours, pass some joggers enjoying their runner’s high and some young families during their weekend outing. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Yes, but none of it would have been possible without some thorough landscape planning. So it’s about time we had a little chat with the man behind the design and our green cityscape: Bas Smets, the Brussels-based landscape architect who, together with his team of 17 architects and landscape architects, has realised many projects in more than 12 countries.

Hi Bas! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you get involved in the project of Tour & Taxis?

Bas Smets: “Hi. I run my own agency since 2007, which specializes in the design of outdoor spaces. And with that, I mean ALL outdoor spaces, from movie sets and public space design, to landscaping for new construction projects and private outdoor settings. We’ve worked in 12 countries up ‘till now. The question to work on the Tour & Taxis project dates from a couple of years back, in 2009, before Park Lane was even really a part of the story. We contributed to the masterplan for the site, based on the landscape we envisioned. The first phase we tackled was the construction of the park, which we conceived as a new tributary valley, made up of different sequences in a planted grid. The plantation areas of the park open up to two clearances and a water pond.

And just what did that original concept entail?

Bas: “We wanted people to step into a completely new environment. You’re still in the midst of the buzzling city, but you shouldn’t experience that directly when you’re on the site. It’s the same for Park Lane. You’re living IN a park, not just alongside it. That’s why we designed the long lane as the central spine of the residential area. We left the usual structure of a street or lane behind and focused on introducing the airy feeling of nature and overhead foliage into the project. Thus, we ensure a sense of space and views that would give the residents the sense of being enveloped by nature, instead of the big city. I guess you could say the park is the central green artery, which breathes life into the rest of the site”

A beautiful concept, but also quite the challenge, I presume …

Bas: “The biggest challenge was to bring the sensation of being in a park to a densely built historic area. The need for underground parking, for instance, has quite a big impact on our choice of trees. But I must admit that the way we managed to build a new part of this city which is so closely intertwined with the park, is also my biggest pride and joy in this project.”

As it should be! I believe the ponds hold some importance for you as well?

Bas: “Yes, they are the crowning jewel of the park and they mark the change of scenery towards the more corporate area. They bring the whole site together as parts of a puzzle and will soften the whole view.
Actually, all choices we make, represent multiple functions. The trees that were chosen for Park Lane, for example, are deciduous trees with a lot of small leaves which they lose during the winter. This ensures a lot of light during the darker, colder months, but during the summer they’re dense enough to block off some of the harsh sunlight and their leaves filter the light in the most enjoyable way. In the courtyards, we opted for fruit trees, simply to add a more cozy, intimate vibe. These courtyards will serve as the outdoor living rooms for the future residents.”

To conclude, could you include our readers into one of those details or facts you wouldn’t recognize right away with an untrained eye?

Bas: “Surely. My favorite ‘fait divers’ would be how we worked with and around the railway infrastructures which had left their mark on the site. As you know, Tour & Taxis used to be a freight station. This means that we were left with a lot of leftover ballast from the train bedding. First in the park area, where we analyzed the environment and came up with the solution to use the rocks from the train bedding for the construction of an underground water reservoir. We also kept the almost organic form of the train bedding as a sort of modern (dry) affluent, connecting our site to the rest of the environment and the former Zenne river. During the design process we discovered that this particular ‘trench’ used to be an actual affluent of the river before it was drenched and used as a railway bedding. So in this instance, we’re doing exactly what we love most: transforming a place to accommodate present needs and withstand future challenges, with respect for its history and the identity of the location and soil.”

NICE TO KNOW

All Park Lane Buildings have names of international urban parks in the USA, UK, Australia and Europe. This has been chosen in honor of our own urban Tour & Taxis park. Further on, the name of the Park Lane quarter is based on the translation of the new lane – Parkdreef*Drève du Parc – which will connect Rue Picard to the Tour & Taxis Park.