Parque del Agua: the gift of water

What could be more welcome on a hot, sticky day than a cool, shady park?

Not much, I reckon, unless it’s a cool, shady park that sells ice cream.

With that in mind, welcome to Parque del Agua – ‘Water Park’ – in Bucaramanga, Colombia.

Visiting Bucaramanga involves landing at Palonegra airport. And landing at Palonegra airport involves descending at rapid speed towards a runway that seems to be perched on top of the steepest mountain in South America. Until the moment you actually hit the tarmac, all that is visible out the airplane windows are similarly towering mountains all around, and the sheer drop below.

It’s worth it though, because this is a ripper of a park.

It sits on a corner site, roughly D-shaped, and the ground rises steeply up 20 metres from the bounding streets.

Glimpsed views of the surrounding streets.

Glimpsed views of the surrounding streets.

Stone steps and ramping pathways negotiate the sloping terrain.

Stone steps and ramping pathways negotiate the sloping terrain.

Inside, angled stone paths wrap around the curving part of the ‘D’, and are joined at the top of the hill by a long timber deck.

Landscapology_Agua6.jpg
Landscapology_Agua7.jpg

The planting is lush and luxuriant, with foliage plants, climbers, and flowering tropical species.

Existing mature trees on the site were incorporated into the planting design.

Existing mature trees on the site were incorporated into the planting design.

A towering bamboo canopy arches over the timber deck, shading an equally long bench seat, and directing attention to a series of stone pillars standing between steep cascades.

Water is the real star here. From the top of the hill it splashes, pulses, sprays and rushes to the bottom, stopping only to fan out in wide, flat pools. The sound of water is everywhere too, quieting the outside traffic and allowing groups to converse without being overheard.

Water is also the surprise at Parque del Agua. Why? Because this is a park owned and operated by the local water treatment authority. The Acueducto Metropolitano de Bucaramanga (AMB), is also headquartered here.

The AMB headquarters buildings also step down the sloping site, joined by aerial walkways that shade the paths below.

The AMB headquarters buildings also step down the sloping site, joined by aerial walkways that shade the paths below.

At its establishment in 1916 the AMB was charged with supplying water to Bucaramanga and two other nearby towns.  As demand grew so did the need for additional facilities, which the AMB developed and operated until 1975, when it was bought by the local council. 

From its early days the primary water treatment plant was located here at Morrorico, on the eastern fringe of the city.  The actual treatment facility occupied only a small portion of the large land-holding, and local residents became used to enjoying the spontaneous tropical landscape and lawns of the park-like grounds. 

Expansion of the plant reduced the amount of land available, and after the council buy-out a shared company took responsibility for water treatment and supply.  Public use of the land dwindled and the once vibrant community gathering place became neglected. 

Fast-forward to 2001, when AMB Manager Victor Azuero Diaz proposed moving the company’s  administrative functions back to Morrorico.  With the support of the Mayor a park was proposed for the site, in homage to the former public appropriation of the land for recreation. 

When you understand this, the water really makes sense. The two ways water is used in the park (fast-flowing and still pools) reflects the way it is used in water treatment engineering.

The brightly coloured animal artworks on the wall (left) are illuminated at night, and supplemented at Christmas by other installations throughout the park, drawing big crowds. The Planning Department (right) enjoys prime position in the centre of the park.

The brightly coloured animal artworks on the wall (left) are illuminated at night, and supplemented at Christmas by other installations throughout the park, drawing big crowds. The Planning Department (right) enjoys prime position in the centre of the park.

Although the administration of the system is the main activity, functional run-off tanks still operate on the site.  Where the park could undoubtedly go further is in pushing its abundant planting and water to be more than just ornamental.  As well as creating a welcoming cool environment for visitors, how marvellous would it be if they actively showed how rainwater could be detained and slowly released to reduce local flooding, or how biological treatment could help cleanse of water prior to its release back into the catchment, both worthwhile exercises in a tropical environment. 

Although in Brisbane we would probably call these missed opportunities, we should not underestimate the success of Parque del Agua. It is well constructed, with inventive use of just a few materials: stone, gravel, concrete and timber.

It’s a well-loved, well-patronised local landmark, with a lot to teach us about the ways land associated with a municipal utility authority can be effectively made available for public use and enjoyment. And on a hot, sticky day, it sells ice cream!

 

Now it’s over to you.

What did you think of Parque del Agua? Do you think more of our public utilities and authorities should be trying to ‘give back’ to their customers and communities in such a way? Let me know in the comments below.

And don’t forget, sharing is caring, so if you know someone else who might find this interesting, why not share it.

See you soon for more garden, landscape and design stories.

 

Note: Parque del Agua was designed by Lorenzo Castro, Michelle Cescas, Alfonso Leyva and Geman Samper. It is located at the corner of Carrera 34 and Calle 20, Bucaramanga, Santander, Colombia. Find out more about the history and opening hours at the AMB website (in Spanish).

This project is included in the chapter on Co-location Parks in Future Park.

Jamison Square Fountain

A cascade, a pool, and so much more...

Water is one trick designers always have up their sleeve if they want to attract a crowd.

A true honeypot of public space design, thoughtful ponds, cascades, rills, reflecting pools, pop jets, bubblers and other watery wonders will draw people in every time.

They can be big, small, solemn or silly, and some of them manage to appeal to people of all ages. A rare few even look good without any water.

One such marvel is the Jamison Square Fountain in Portland.

The Fountain was built in the mid-2000s and is a well-publicised urban water feature, but it’s worth revisiting to remember just why it’s been so successful.

1. A catalyst for change

Jamison Square was a catalyst project for the redevelopment of the Pearl District, to the north of downtown Portland. Once home to railway yards and light industry, The Pearl is now a textbook urban renewal neighbourhood of mid-height buildings, thousands of new residents, ground floor shops, generous, walkable footpaths, convenient public transport and a variety of parks and public places.

2. Simple concept

The design concept is incredibly simple. There are only three elements to Jamison Square: a timber ‘boardwalk’ – a timber footpath effectively, that runs along each block of The Pearl towards the river, and recalls the former riverfront walkways; a gallery – a number of large-scale public artworks are installed; and the fountain itself.

Looking into the Square from above. The boardwalk is in the foreground. Look for the row of stone blocks snaking through the middle of the park.  Image: Flickr User pondskipper via Wikimedia Commons.

Looking into the Square from above. The boardwalk is in the foreground. Look for the row of stone blocks snaking through the middle of the park. 
Image: Flickr User pondskipper via Wikimedia Commons.

The contemporary totem is one of four artworks marking the entries to Jamison Square.

The contemporary totem is one of four artworks marking the entries to Jamison Square.

3. An engaging experience

The backbone of the Fountain is a long wall, slightly curved in the middle. It is made of chunky, stacked stone blocks, perfectly arranged for little kids to negotiate the top with someone holding their hand, or for big kids to dash along.

Beyond the wall the stone stacks decrease in height and vary in spacing. In some places it’s still possible to make the entire journey on the stone steppers. Elsewhere it becomes trickier once you add in…the water.

On regular intervals water starts to spill out of cracks and crevices in the rock. It starts in the middle with a tiny trickle, then moves on the rock stack next door, then the next one, then the one in front, and so on until it some places the water is 300mm deep.

The pavement in front of the wall slopes gently down, creating different water depths, and allowing kids of all ages to enjoy the experience.

Once the basin is full the water slowly drains away, till only the stones remain and the whole process starts again.

4. A versatile space.

The Fountain has been designed to be experienced both with and without water.

 The water can be drained and the Fountain used as amphitheatre seating for events in the Square.

 The water can be drained and the Fountain used as amphitheatre seating for events in the Square.

5. A user-friendly space.

Movable folding chairs are scattered around the Square, easily repositioned according to your preference for sun, shade, distance from or closeness to the Fountain. The street blocks are small and the footpaths generous, so it’s easy to get to the Square, in fact it’s almost impossible to avoid it as you’re walking through the district. The quality of construction is excellent and maintenance is obviously a priority, all contributing to the sense that this is a well-loved and highly valued piece of the city.

Now it’s over to you.

What do you think about Jamison Square Fountain? Let me know one thing that appealed to you the most. Of course, if you’ve visited Jamison Square, I’d love you to share your thoughts on the experience.

If you know someone else who might find this interesting, why not share it, and if you liked it ‘heart’ us below. Go on...give it a shot.

Thanks for reading, and see you soon for more garden, landscape and design stories.


Note: Jamison Square Fountain was designed by PWP Landscape Architecture. It is located at 810 NW 11th Avenue, Portland. It Find out more about the history and opening hours at the City of Portland website.

Although we visited on a rather bleak day, lot's of people were still engaging with Jamison Square Fountain. This image gives a glimpse of what it's like on a summer's day - pandemonium! If you're in Portland in summertime, go check it out. Image: Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives.

Although we visited on a rather bleak day, lot's of people were still engaging with Jamison Square Fountain. This image gives a glimpse of what it's like on a summer's day - pandemonium! If you're in Portland in summertime, go check it out.
Image: Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives.