Apr 5, 2013


Flying Zebras
temporary installation
with Marc Pouzol

Photos: Thilo Folkerts (3)/ Burkhard Paetow (1, 2 4)


Lately, I have been asking myself a lot of questions:  what I do and why I do it.  I came across Thilo Folkert's work, which explores some of the same subjects, I have been fixated on.  Thilo was kind enough to write a thoughtful response to my inquiry.   I am going to break the interview into two separate posts in order to share the Thilo's complete responses..  
Stay tuned for Part 2.

Your work seems to go between "traditional" landscape architecture and more conceptual projects, can you describe your practice. How do you define urban nature?
Creating any garden and landscape architecture necessitates a continuously renewed search: What is the appropriate shaping of time and space for a site? And, obviously, the design of open space involves the age-old dialectic between nature and culture: How do we relate to nature, what role does nature play for a space? Technically, functionally, culturally, metaphorically? The work of 100Landschaftsarchitektur is concerned with creating garden and landscape architecture in mostly urban environments.

Accordingly, the question of what nature could be in and as part of the city is always present. Both do not exclude each other! The great divide between the city (as culture) and landscape (as nature) has long been diluted, bridged and obscured. While of course city and nature have always been intertwined, today we are becoming more and more aware and accepting of their fragmented, complex, and multi-leveled relationship.

Jardin Portuaire
Jardins Temporaires 2001
Quartier de l'Eure, Le Havre
Photos:  Thilo Folkerts

For me urban nature is not an object or spatial category (for example a flower pot on the window sill, a neighborhood park, or even the technicalities of micro-climate or water management). Designing with urban nature is about conceptualizing this complex presence. This means discovering and utilizing for our urban lives as much of the immediate nature as possible. The contemporary city is the acting ground of the gardener and the landscape architect.
VETEX Mint Gardens
secret gardens Kortrijk 2009
Kortrijk (B)
Photos Thilo Folkerts (1) Sabine Deknudt (2)

VETEX Mint Gardens:
The text on your website describes the installation as an "archaelogy of urban space".
What do you mean by that?
The design and making of urban space should activate the substance, history, and stories of sites. The project was on the site of the former VETEX textile dying factory, located in the middle of a residential block. The garden installation involved giving the public access to the site after about twenty-five years of on-site soil remediation. It had been quasi forbidden ground in people’s backyard. The opening of the wooden fences to the adjacent streets made it possible to freely visit this beautifully overgrown spot.

The installation was intervening minimally, yet adding a radiant narrative moment, in order to create curiosity for the rediscovery of the site. For one, the twenty-five mint varieties that were cultivated among the unkempt rural vegetation created a little hunter’s impulse to visit all the strange, exotically named varieties, such as chocolate mint, Bergamot mint, or ginger mint.

In the field scaffolding rods served as plant labels and mark the mint patches. Mint is a traditional, yet international plant, easily recognized for its characteristic smell. It is a charismatic plant that instantly enchants almost everyone. The mint thus fostered the personal uncovering of the site’s history. At the same time, the installation did aim to not be just retrospective. It was also a projection of the site’s potentials and possibilities; it was about unfolding the agency of beauty for the recognition of a brownfield as valid part of the urban tissue.

Can you talk about your use of unusual materials like scaffolding rods?
And the strips in the street in Flying Zebras?
The materiality of the projects, as much as the concepts, is developed from the specific places. For me (the concept of) garden is not essentially about form, even though it is in the garden that form can find its place. The garden is thus initially more about the approach and about the relationship between the gardener and nature. The garden always becomes and never is.

I believe that we are on a continuous search to discover beauty and cultivate sensibilities. This must have an effect for materiality: The garden entails the shaping of the raw material of place and nature. We should not limit our joy to the perfect beauty of a rose. Working in urban environments suggests the use of urban materials.

For me scaffolding rods or traffic marking are very close to central garden issues: They involve temporality, they signal and embody change. In the case of the VETEX mint garden, the scaffolding rods, fitted with the names of the mints are over-dimensional botanical markers as much as claim stakes, signaling immanent change. There’s a similar background to the materiality for accessing a vacant lot and interstitial spaces with the Garden Bridges project in Brussels last year. The Flying Zebras project (together with Marc Pouzol) was about validating traffic dynamic and pedestrian movement as a necessary and aesthetically rich part of urban liveliness.

PART II of the interview to follow in the next post.

 The landscape architect Thilo Folkerts was born in Neuenhaus, Germany in 1967. He studied at Berlin Technical University, taught as an assistant professor at the Chair of Landscape Architecture at the ETH in Zurich, Switzerland from 1999 to 2002, and as invited professor at the School of Landscape Architecture at the Université de Montréal, Canada in 2006. Since 2011 he has been lecturing at the Stuttgart Academy of the Arts. Based in Berlin, Thilo Folkerts has since 1997 realized temporary works as experimental setups on the concept of the garden. Temporary projects were installed in Le Havre, Lausanne, Basel, Zurich, Brussels, Berlin and Quebec—among other places. In 2007 Thilo Folkerts founded the office 100Landschaftsarchitektur in Berlin. In addition to working as a landscape architect who designs, experiments and constructs, he pursues his interest in the unique language of gardens as author, editor and translator.