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Asphalt Garden

A daring and vertigo-inducing garden reconciling myriad juxtapositions: The Se Busca duo has set down a delightful paved and flooded yard in the midst of the woods, complete with a row of truck tires emerging from the water.

The garden

It is a magnified clearing and a highway at the same time, it is black and it is transparent, it is a reflection yet we can walk and sit on it, it is a mirror-like pool of water and the paved-over surface of a parking lot, it is a river ford or a foot bath, it is an amusement park and an ornamental pond, it is a puddle of water on an ill-drained roadway and a magical garden. With their Asphalt Garden, Michele Adrian and Paula Meijerink extend the immemorial tradition of the garden as a place of mediation between people and their environment.

The situation has been reversed, however. In a time when the landscape is being totally humanized, here it is no longer the wild world that is tamed and civilized by gardeners, but rather the highway jungle, the planetary proliferation of asphalted surfaces and associated signage, that the designers have sought to make more amenable to the natural environment. The Se Busca team shows a marked interest in ordinary landscapes as characteristic expressions, as trivial as they may be, of contemporary culture.

Asphalt is a paving material as universal as it is condemned, a perfect challenge for anyone looking to awaken visitors' awareness of an oft-ignored fact of modern life. Starting from a poetic vision of the urban puddle as a magic screen (the moon reflected in a ditch, architecture mirrored on the sidewalk), the designers actually manage to merge opposites: the evergreen forest of Métis with the flat asphalt space marked by graphic signs and the ornamental ponds of ceremonial gardens.

Playing on the black opacity of asphalt contrasting with the clear transparency of water, on their respective abilities to absorb or reflect light, on the steadfast immobility of one and the shifting fluidity of the other, the garden succeeds in melting into the woods until we are not sure where one ends and the other begins. The dissolved boundaries are further confused by a series of lines immersed in and emerging from the water, introducing visitors to the essential playful dimension of the garden.

The yellow lines of this road gone wrong, seeking refuge in the forest, actually form a route that invites visitors to try crossing the garden dry-footed or to take off their shoes and wade through the water. Similarly, the line of truck tires allow visitors to sit calmly and dabble their feet in the water, or to hop adventurously from one to the other. Finally, another playful touch of this rush-hour victim turned green is way that the giant standardized letters in STOP and ONLY are mixed up to form LOLLYPOP and SPY. All in all, it is a good use of asphalt, a material the designers consider one of the most decisive liberating inventions for 20th-century culture.

Architect: SE BUSCA Michele Adrian, Paula Meijerink

Years of exhibition: 2003

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