Natura Garden in Bicentennial Park
Location & Year
Azcapotzalco, Mexico City, Mexico 2010
Recycling the city through post-industrial urbanism
Natura Botanical Garden is a key part of the Bicentennial Park Master Plan, a public space built on the site of the old Azcapotzalco refinery in northwestern Mexico City. The Azcapotzalco refinery closed in 1988 after producing gasoline, oil and lubricants for 70 years. According to the presidential decree for its closure, the 55 hectares converted into a industrial facility would be a public park. After multiple studies of the site and characterization of soil and subsoil, Pemex began remediation in 2007.
The cleanup and remediation strategy occurred in three stages. Liquid extraction, semi-solid extraction, gas extraction and the airing and ventilation of the soil was carried out by zone, in accordance with the Pemex studies. Industrial facilities (towers, tanks, ground-level, pipes, etc) were dismantled immediately after the plant’s closure however, while all subterranean infrastructure (foundations, pipes, tanks, etc.) remained on site. Among the buildings, only the power station and a large open tank were preserved.
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The master plan, developed by an interdisciplinary group, was the winner of a nationwide competition organized by the federal government. The park’s design responded to the site’s soil conditions and was based around smaller parks or gardens with different themes: Natura, a botanical garden; Viento (Wind), an amphitheater and an athletic area; Tierra (Earth), an open space for unstructured play, family outdings, field days and other events; Sol (Sun), the old power station which is converted into an alternative energy museum. Agua (Water), containing a large artificial lake with treated water for irrigation and recreation.
Natura is built on an 8 hectare parcel in the northeastern section of the park, close to the Refinería subway station, and constitutes the main entrance to the site. It’s important to note that Peme’x tanker trucks were loaded with gasolina in this section of the site and there was a 40 cm slab of concrete over the entire area, which was not demolished and the garden was built over it. This botanical garden has sections for each of Mexico’s most important biomes, since among the almost 200 nations of the world, there is a select group of 17 countries that possess exceptional biodiversity, including ours. Five of them are outdoors and three of them are located in glass greenhouses, wich stand out as symbolic elements within the urban landscape. An orchid garden was also designed inside the park’s last remaining tank.
The greenhouses are 15 x 15 x 15 m glass cubes with translucent roofs in the form of an inverted pyramid, funneling rainwater and introducing it into the tanks to be injected into the subsoil at 85 meter to the acquifer. The garden’s topographic design was based around the needs of the plants from each biome: the desert section, for example, is practically at ground level, while the tropical forest biome required four meters of additional soil. The orchid garden was located in the old tank, whose original dimensions are 15 x 100 x 5 m. At the base, a humid jungle was created with walkaways that appear to float above it. Each supporting elements or containers in the orchid garden hangs from the translucent roof structure, creating a magical, immersive sensation as visitors slowly descend into this enclosed space.
A sewage treatment plant was also built, which irrigates the green areas and a solar system that sets all the water in motion in the Natura Garden; in the same way, the lighting is solar. There is a rainwater retention system that allows them to be collected and redirected 85 meters deep to the acquifer in Mexico City. The plant collections and glass houses have allowed different types of birds, such as eagles, hawks and parrots that have settled and reproduced naturally. The great challenge and potential of this project is mainly that it has been remediated and recycled. Many materials such as concrete, stones, pipes, asphalt, steel, etc. were demolished but everything was used in the construction of the park itself. Currently the park receives more than two million visitors each year from Mexico City and surrounding municipalities.
La Mexicana Park
Location & Year
Santa Fe, Mexico City, Mexico 2017
In collaboration with
Víctor Márquez Arquitectos
Imagine a site located in the west of the Valley of Mexico, which for 50 years was continuously excavated; an open pit mine that through time was creating a huge sinkhole, a gap of 70 meters deep in an area of 40 hectares. Imagine that years later the surrounding urban community wants to make a large park in that huge hole and that for several years there is a lot of debate between the community and the city authorities if more houses were made, instead of a park. Imagine that after many negotiations and meetings, an agreement is reached in which 70% of the total area is destined for a park and 30% for private housing are allocated and that the real estate developers built the park and infrastructure on their land.
This is a framework of a social, political and economic context that supports the possibility of creating a new park of 29 hectares in the Santa Fe area, in Cuajimalpa, Mexico City; an area of accelerated growth without parks or public spaces. La Mexicana is a large-scale architecture and landscape architecture project, which aims to recycle an environmental wound, through its transformation, to turn it into a green, recreational, community, playful and accessible space for everyone: children, young people, adults and seniors. Thanks to the joint effort of neighbors, developers and government, the construction of La Mexicana Park was carried out in a very short time, since it only took 2 months to develop the equipment and infrastructure that would connect and provide services to the park, plus 9 months of the construction of the park itself.
The design of this important project was in charge of two architectural firms, the design of the Master Plan and Landscape Architecture was developed by the Grupo de Diseño Urbano GDU / Mario Schjetnan, and the development of architectural elements was directed by Víctor Márquez Architects. There are several main axes in the design of the park. The hydric axis that extends longitudinally and that captures the rainwater in a bioswale that infiltrates it and leads to a new lake and an enormous cistern that receives and retains these waters. On the other hand, there is a pedestrian axis that crosses the park in all its length and that offers different activities on platforms that result from a detailed observation and use of the topography that become gardens that offer specific attractions: children’s areas or to walk your dogs, gardens to rest, gardens with overlooks, amphitheater, skate park, etc. A circuit for running, a bike path and walk path, places that give a condition of movement, complements it. There are other transversal pedestrian axes that allow access and crossings from one side of the park to the other, from and to the houses on both sides, giving the opportunity to pedestrianly weave the area.
The park was necessary, and it’s the only one of its kind in this area, waiting to be the first ecological and preservation detonator in the entire western part of the city, directly impacting a radius of 6.5 km. La Mexicana Park area serves as a large hydraulic buffer, the basin receives mostly runoff from Tamaulipas Ave., from its highest part to 60m above the lowest level of the property, and the strong falls of Arteaga and Salazar, piped and sent by the Barragán road until it passes through the access tunnel to Bosques de Santa Fe and joins the Hueyatla River bed.
The park has different types of services such as restaurants, cafes, and pet products stores distributed along the routes, with the goal of covering the needs of the users. A large linear building integrated to the topography that will offer a true gourmet terrace has been located and designed. There is also a poetic axis, which sustains beauty, joy and freedom through its two lakes and waterfalls, more than 2100 trees and variety of 20 plant species that will soon return an eroded landscape in one of shelter, sun and shade, smell and color. More than 4,000 people visit the park daily, having a maximum record of 22,000 people on weekends, among users, there are not only adults and children, the park has become the meeting point of preference for dogs. Within the user we can find inhabitants of the area, workers from nearby offices, students and visitors from other areas of the city and metropolitan area.
The most popular areas of the park are the children’s play areas, where the equipment of high-quality children’s games of the brand Berliner Seilfabrik were placed, these playing equipment were selected for their innovative designs that promote and encourage children’s creativity as was selected because of their flexibility and adaptability for the design of playgrounds. Another reason that led us to choose Berliner was the guarantee provided by the fact that they are made of non-toxic materials suitable for children, in addition to complying with strict safety measures.
Xochimilco Ecological Park
Location & Year
Xochimilco, Mexico City, Mexico 1993
Xochimilco Ecological Park in Mexico City and the larger landscape of which it is a part are a powerful demonstration of the ambition and complexity of contemporary landscape architecture. An instance of environmental restoration on a vast scale, the project also addresses challenges of urbanization in one of the most populous cities in the developing world, providing both open space for recreation and productive land for economic development. Moreover, it does all this on multiple scales, from pedestrian circulation in a flower market to the workings of an extensive ecosystem.
Xochimilco, meaning „the place where flowers are grown,“ is a fragment of a pre-Conquest, even pre-Aztec, landscape of artificial garden islands created in the lake that once filled a large area in the valley of Mexico. The islands, called chinampas, were constructed by piling soil on reed mats and anchoring their edges with salix trees. Dating to the 10th century, this landscape of canals and rectangular islands was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987; the designation prompted a large-scale environmental restoration project undertaken by Mexico City and the borough of Xochimilco. Designed in the late 1980s and completed in 1993, the project encompasses some 3000 hectares of surviving islands. Schjetnan was the landscape architecture consultant on the ecosystem restoration project and principal designer of an approximately 300-hectare park within it.
The site presented extraordinary challenges. Many of the islands were sinking from numerous nearby wells feeding on aquifers. Increased storm water runoff due to urbanization was causing additional flooding. Surface water was contaminated; canals were choked with pollution-loving plants. Those islands deep in the canal system were hard to reach and thus unavailable for agriculture; those nearer the edges were being encroached upon by unauthorized buildings. Thus the design for the environmental recovery project was guided by hydraulic strategies: water was pumped back into the aquifer to stabilize the site; large reservoirs were created to retain storm water; polluted water was processed at two new treatment plants. Cleansed water is now discharged into a 54-hectare lake created to regulate water levels in the canal system. Eroded islands were recreated using meshes of logs filled with dredge and stabilized by salix trees. (About 250,000 trees were planted during construction). The islands were then eturned to agricultural use. Some have pastures for grazing; others are planted with flowers and vegetables. A vast tree nursery was located near the site; it produces trees that are then planted throughout Mexico City. Canals were cleared of harmful vegetation and rehabilitated for recreation as well as agriculture. Today, pole barges ply the canals of Xochimilco, especially on weekends; gondolas and gondoliers are available for hire at embarcaderos built around the edges of the site. Out in the canals, you can collect sustenance for body and soul: kitchen barges sell food, while others ferry professional musicians, ready to serenade visitors with patriotic and romantic songs.
At one edge of the chinampas landscape is Schjetnan’s 300-hectare park, with different zones emphasizing natural, recreational, and interpretive features. Water again provides the basis for design in the park. The terraced entry is focused on imposing stone-lined aqueducts that discharge clean water into the new lake; the plaza also features a water tower in the form of an Archimedes screw. A visitor center completes the entry complex; it includes an auditorium and galleries with exhibitions relating to the region’s ecology, archaeology, and agriculture. A roof terrace affords vistas over the lakes and canals toward distant snow-covered volcanos. From the entry area, a 400-meter pergola leads to an embarcadero, past an arboretum and flower beds representing the productive activities dispersed across the larger landscape. The remaining park area includes active recreation space with playing fields and ball courts; wetlands to collect storm water runoff and to provide habitat for aquatic birds; and demonstration agricultural zones in the recreated chinampas. To enhance economic activity on the site, the largest flower market in Mexico City was built adjacent the park’s main highway approach. Its 1800 stalls are arranged on 4 x 8 meter module; the market covers some 11 hectares and is fully leased and very busy, especially on weekends. In all, the park is a microcosm of the regional landscape, highlighting its ecological, historic, agricultural, and recreational attributes.
The planning and construction of Xochimilco Ecological Park required extensive collaboration among designers, historians, biologists, engineers, and community groups. Thanks to their collective efforts, a degraded landscape has been transformed into a model of social renewal and environmental recovery. More than just a park to look at, Xochimilco is a working landscape.