The Garden That Climbs The Stairs




CLIENT Bilbao Jardin / 2009 / Fundación Bilbao 700 / SIZE 80 m2 / 860 ft2 / STATUS Completed 2009 / DESIGN TEAM Balmori Associates / PHOTO CREDIT Iwan Baan

As a member of the jury for the second edition of an International Competition of urban gardens in the city of Bilbao called “Bilbao Jardín 2009”, Diana Balmori was invited to create a temporary garden. Balmori, like each of the twenty-five selected participants, was assigned a ten meter by ten meter square in which to design a garden. The site was located at the landing of a large staircase between two Arata Isozaki towers leading to Santiago Calatrava’s footbridge over the Nervión River.

Instead of remaining at the landing of the stairs Balmori stretched the same hundred square meter surface into a narrow band and shifted the site in order for the garden to climb the stairs. In one broad stroke the garden performed a narrative of landscape which transformed the way this public corridor was perceived by users.  In form, the garden engages the horizontal plaza with the rising vertical plane of the steps and the upright gesture of Eduardo Chillida’s sculpture. Like the famous ‘Spanish Steps’ in Rome, the garden is not only designed for visitors to ascend and descend, but for them to linger.

“The Garden That Climbs the Stairs” transformed a space in an unexpected way. It transformed the stairs and the space around them.

Tianjin Culture Park

2009 - Tianjin, China

Tianjin Culture Park

Tianjin, China

CLIENT Tianjin New Library / STATUS Invited Competition Entry 2009 / DESIGN TEAM Balmori Associates / Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects

The Tianjin Culture Park is both a centralized park that defines the heart of the cultural district and an extension of the surrounding city.  Sweeping arcs of pathways and landscape carve out a layered hierarchy of active public space and parks that unfold, weaving together the cultural, retail, and social architecture of the surrounding areas.  The architecture is embedded with this network of paths and park. Water features facilitate the flow of the landscape through the site while the spines of the adjacent pathways animate the flow of the city. The main promenade moves across the park from the city to the museum, library and performing arts core.  Secondary pathways connect the retail to the museum and the city.  Each of the pathways run parallel to water and defines a character of park.  The central plaza is a grand space for public spectacle and events.  Moving across the site a large canopy with a moon gate separates a market park for smaller scale gatherings and events.  The canopy is repeated 3 times as sculptural elements that both define the different spaces and provide shade and covered spaces for markets, cafes and site amenities.   They canopies are also iconic sculptural elements which frame the architecture and orient the site.  The next space is an entry plaza to the museum and library, with benches and gardens to relax and socialize.  

The water features serve a dual purpose to the park.  They are part of water collection and filtering system and have varying levels to allow for various uses and feeling and light reflection.  The first (starting from the west) is a naturalized pond with interpretations of traditional bridges traversing willow trees and gardens.  The next pool has a few steps that people can sit on and rent a model boat.  The pool leading up to the museums and library is also line with steps and is a shallow reflecting pool – then in times of low rainfall or for events can be drained as additional plaza space or ice skating in the winter.  The pools all engage the architecture, allowing the buildings to borrow the image and feeling of being near the water.  Waterfalls in front of the large iconic canopies feed the water in front of the performing arts center.  Finally, in front of the retail mall, floating decks sit in the water as people eat at cafes under the canopy.  The movement between the levels will be choreographed to provide a visual spectacle, and clean the water.

We propose to make Tianjin Culture Park a Special Ecology Zone or SECOZ: an area that encourages experimentation in groundbreaking ecological technologies, creating a space that demonstrates the leading edge in the transformation of public space into an active ecological engine.  The SECOZ transforms Tianjin Culture Park into a green connector; a continuous swath of green open space filters air and water and provides relief from urban congestion.

BBVA Headquarters

2009 - Madrid, Spain

BBVA Headquarters

Madrid, Spain

CLIENT BBVA / STATUS Competition Finalist 2009 / DESIGN TEAM Balmori Associates / Zaha Hadid Architects

Our team was one of the two finalist in a bid to design the new headquarters of the leading financial group in Spain. Working with Zaha Hadid Architects and the concept of speed, our landscape proposal emphasized the linearity and movement of the building design in a cohesive banding of planted and paved areas that fillet and constrict in reaction to the built environment.  The initial reasoning behind the concept of speed is consistent with BBVA’s goals of technology and progress.

Topographical shifts in the groundplane help to further define the different areas within the office park. As the linear bands peel away and bifurcate, exterior elements such as seating areas, tables, and enclosures are created as moments of rest within the matrix of speed that makes up the site.  

Bay of Pasaia Masterplan

2009 - Pasaia, Spain

Bay of Pasaia Masterplan

Pasaia, Spain

CLIENT Provincial Government of Gipuzkoa / SIZE 68 Ha / STATUS Competition Finalist, 2009 / DESIGN TEAM Balmori Associates / S333 / IKEI / Lantec

The Bay of Pasaia was once an attractive, natural estuary for the River Oiastzun but over time the waterfront areas have been transformed into large man-made sites for shipyards, warehouses and for the storage of materials and goods. Titled ‘Revealing the Water’, the masterplan is premised on breaking down this artificial land, returning the waterfront sites to their natural state. The masterplan is premised on five planning concepts:

(1) revealing the water and transforming the present sites to a hybrid state that allows for new development while improving drainage, water quality and biodiversity;

(2) making waterfront parks and open spaces, linked into a wider network of parks and routes around the bay, such as the Camino de Santiago;

(3) re-establishing connections to the surrounding context at different scales by road, rail and boat;

(4) strengthening the existing neighborhoods around the bay, reflected in their distinctly different identities, architectures, public spaces, streetscapes and relationships to the coastline;

(5) building on local know-how to establish an accompanying cultural renewal and branding the site’s future in a solid base of marine and energy technology, gastronomy and fashion through Paco Rabanne’s label.


Pennine Lancashire Squared Accrington

2009 - Accrington, UK

Pennine Lancashire Squared Accrington

Accrington, UK

CLIENT Pennine Lancanshire Squared / STATUS Competition Finalist, 2009 / DESIGN TEAM Balmori Associates / s333 / QUATRO / Larry Barth

The Design for Pennine Lancanshire Squared competition aimed to protect and enhance Accrington’s strongest features, to incorporate new ones from its own history, and to create a distinctive and timeless space with elements, which strengthen the local character, offer new opportunities, and engender civic pride. Through Programmatic Elements Including Radio Free ACCY, a Speakers’ Corner the project brought people together aiding community cohesion.

Peel Square Market Hall has been made the new hub of Peel Square, cornerstone of its regeneration. The hub of activities planned inside and outside (radio station, incubator office, internet café, organic food organization, cabinet for Accrington history display, Speakers Corner, Accrington Pals memorial, see report) all make it the radiating center capable of spilling out in its surroundings and activating them in the form of citizen activities, of additional temporary market stalls, cafes, etc. The space has been designed accordingly as a very simple uncluttered expanse with good quality pavement, an abundance of benches -- which can be reconfigured for flexible spatial arrangements -- and strings of lighting creating a lit-up urban room out of Peel Square. These three elements can be phased. In the end regeneration is about quality of life. It can lead to attracting people to the town and keeping its young people in it. A beautiful place that gives a sense of place, many towns have found , can be the trigger for economic transformation.


King Abdullah House of Culture & Arts

2009 - Amman, Jordan

King Abdullah House of Culture & Arts

Amman, Jordan

CLIENT Darat King Abdullah II / SIZE 12,000 m2 / STATUS Competition Wnner 2009 / DESIGN TEAM Balmori Associates / Zaha Hadid Architects

Located in the heart of the Jordanian capital of Amman, this new venue for the performing arts was an initiative of King Abdullah II to create a place to house all performing arts. Conceived as a complex to become the mayor venue for theater, music, and dance performance in Amman and Jordan, Balmori Associates teamed up with Zaha Hadid Architects to create a vital element of cultural life in the area, and a catalyst of education.

The Performing Arts Centre, the fifth element of the Cultural district, will house a music hall, concert hall, opera house, drama theatre, and an academy of performimg arts designed to foster local and international talent. Designed by British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, the center will be 62 meters high. Zaha Hadid described the design of the Performing Arts Centre as “a sculptural form that emerges from a linear intersection of pedestrian paths within the cultural district, gradually developing into a growing organism that sprouts a network of successive branches. As it winds through the site, the architecture increases in complexity, building up height and depth and achieving multiple summits in the bodies housing the performance spaces, which spring from the structure like fruits on a vine and face westward, toward the water.”


June Callwood Park

2009 - Toronto, Canada

June Callwood Park

Toronto, Canada

CLIENT City of Toronto Toronto Parks, Forestry & Recreation / SIZE 0.4 hectare / STATUS Competition, Finalist 2009 / DESIGN TEAM Balmori Associates / DTAH

Balmori Associates and DTAH’s competition entry for June Callwood Park on the historic edge of Lake Ontario creates intimate neighborhood pockets along a main path that opens up to Fort York, Coronation Park and the lake. Sculptural forms generated by sun and wind patterns in the park define spaces for recreation and respite allowing for new ways of urban inhabitation and programmatic facility. Slides meander down the slopes and children play in the mist of rubber balloons in an interactive splash park. Rubber surfaces allow for unstructured play and the Fort York Green provides passive play space adjacent to the playground.

The park is shaped to maximize the sun exposure with maximum wind protection. The concave surfaces facilitate stormwater management in an artful manner (once collected in underground cisterns, water can then be used to irrigate the park) and at night they glow with the moonlight.