The Magic of Foundation Jeantet Produces a Timeless Design
Foundation Jeantet by Agence Ter and Domino Architectes, in Genève, Switzerland.
What can we consider as mastery in Landscape architecture? Would it be creating places that bring people together by introducing nature in the built environment, is it the most creative way to do that? Or is it the complexity of thought and creativity required by landscape architects to bridge the gap between the diversity and complexity of the built environment? Or to provide a variety of uses depending on the context? I would say an overlay of all the above is required to create a masterpiece of landscape design no matter the scale of intervention.
The Jeantet foundation project is a great example of timeless design and mastery of the tools available to landscape architects. How did they achieve it and what was the challenge?
The aim of the project was to provide a solution to link a newly constructed auditorium beneath an existing residential building to the neo renaissance style Villa Edelstein belonging to the Jeantet foundation. The renovation of the villa and its gardens were part of the call for AgenceTer and Domino Architects.
The team of Agence Ter found a creative and inspiring way to connect the two buildings – through a surprising sunken garden hidden from the street view by a rough concrete wall. The first perspective one experiences after crossing the street gate is a bridge going down to what can be associated with the tranquility of a meditation garden.
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The 15 by 15 meter garden is surrounded by 4 and a half meters of concrete walls made of thin blocks, providing access to the adjacent new auditorium located on that underground level but also to the renaissance villa on the ground level. Two narrow staircases give access from the Villa to the “horturs conclusus” or the enclosed garden, designed for only one person to be able to go down at a time.
Playing with Water
Water is one of landscape architecture tools used carefully in two of its forms – calm and active, to provide two different scales of experiences. On the ground level the sunken paradise garden is surrounded by a one meter wide water channel, whose still water reflects the silhouette of Villa Edelstein. Downstairs the relaxing sounds of falling water bring the tranquil feeling of being surrounded by nature as the water falls down from the channel through the regular slim openings between the concrete blocks, down to a narrow channel running on the edge of the garden downstairs.
A Thoughful Planting Scheme
The perceived simplicity of this uncommon approach is impressive and inspiring. The garden itself is covered with a carpet like mixture of sagina and black schist flagstones arranged randomly but parallel, giving the feeling of being in a cozy room. The only trees in the patio were chosen to match the Japanese serenity from which the garden was inspired from – Prunus sargentii. Part of mastery in landscape design involves making gardens which transform their beauty during the seasons and time.
This minimalistic green space represents these techniques magnificently. The choice of the rose blooming cherry trees in spring with the contrast of the black schist and green sagina is in contrast with the autumn orange covered foliage that evokes a feeling of warmth on the background of the concrete surroundings. The roughness of its winter scenery still resembles the serenity and simplicity of this beautiful entrance patio garden that one would like to explore in detail before discovering what reveals on top.
Not to forget that the perception of a garden during the day and night, which is another element of creating a masterpiece. The color of lights chosen to highlight the gardens features and the sounds of the falling water create a feeling of being in an underground world during the night.
“we design spaces to be used in a certain way, and its our job to define how we want them to be used”.
With the overlay of all these elements working in such harmony one would be surprised to find out that there is no place to sit in this inviting for meditation miniature oasis. I once heard an architect saying that we design spaces to be used in a certain way, and its our job to define how we want them to be used. Here the aim of the patio wasn’t to provide a place to relax for many but rather to serve as an unforgettable link and reception space for the located on the same level auditorium. That is how using design the function of the garden was defined.
Foundation Jeantet, taking us from the ordinary to the timeless
The task to find an appropriate solution to link two extremely different entities in terms of architecture buildings was definitely a challenge. However the solution found integrates an ancient concept with a modern twist with sensitive attention to details revealing a new dimension of the space at every step and angle. This is what takes it from ordinary to timeless.
Full Project Credits:
Landscape Architecture: Agence Ter
Project: Redevelopment of the headquarters of a medical foundation
Client: Fondation Louis Jeantet
Project manager: Agence Ter, Domino Architectes
Budget: 2.4 M€HT
Area: 1.260 m²
Calendar: competition (winner) 1995
Honors: Prix de la Première OEuvre (Young Architects Prize) Awarded by «Le Moniteur Architecture»
Text and photos: Agence ter
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