Project Description

Australian Garden of Peace

Amiens, France | Design Competition Shortlist


OUTHOUSE was shortlisted for this design competition run by Arts et Jardins, for a unique public landscape celebrating the cause of peace in the modern world. The site is an empty field on the outskirts of a historic citadel in the French city of Amiens. Due to the site’s location close to the centre of a busy city and university, the design intent is to create a vibrant, park-like space for locals and visitors enjoy as part of their daily lives.

Although respectful of the scars left on France by the First World War, the intention of the design is to avoid instructive elements such as sculpture or plaques to deliberately not create a memorial. Instead, this is a garden for the living, from which visitors can draw their own meaning. Taking an ecological approach to city land management, the site would primarily be reseeded with native meadow species, eventually repopulating with plants, insects and animals to provide a place for both humans and others to find respite within the city. The meadow areas are mown down on a specific timing to promote their regeneration the following season, giving the design a changing face over the course of the year.

The design takes inspiration from the role of Amiens as a place of respite and healing for Australian and other soldiers on the Western Front, through a physical representation of their journey from injury on the front line – whether physical or mental – to recovery. The overall layout is a reimagining of the traditional knot garden or parterre, a place for growing herbs and medicinal plants in medieval times, and is composed of two contrasting but linked zones representing the duality of peace and conflict.

The entrance path takes visitors through a metaphorical network of trench lines before opening out into the “knot garden”, a peaceful and ordered space defined by strict curving geometry, surrounded by garden walls laid out in an angular fashion that evokes the fortified shape and profile of the walls of Amiens’ citadel.

These low walls allow the surrounding ground to be built up with a gradual slope, paradoxically creating the feeling of safety and enclosure but also recalling the scarring effect of trenching and military fortification. Corten steel cladding provides a durable and cost-effective finish with a rusty and weathered appearance that calls to mind the ad hoc use of materials such as iron and steel sheeting in WWI trenches, and also has an earthy association with the Australian outback.

Central pockets within the knot garden are planted with medicinal and scented herbs, using recycled crushed red terracotta to visually represent red earth. The knot garden boundary is planted in mixed perennials and herbs, creating a well-defined garden space with low maintenance requirements, with feature planting of Eucalyptus species managed by coppicing.

The first part of the garden is oriented to use the existing citadel gate as a focal point, drawing visitors into the space from the path outside, and it provides a navigational reference point through the whole garden.

After the knot garden, visitors are then invited via gently curved paths to begin the journey of healing, represented through the experience of winding grassy walks through a rewilded landscape of meadow, wildflowers and native French woodland in the second part of the garden. Recycled timbers are used as visual markers to define the path, calling to mind both pastoral scenes and the now-iconic WWI forests of naked tree trunks destroyed by artillery.

Here, the existing turfed area is allowed simply to grow and develop with minimal human intervention. The return of native grassland and wildflower species will unfold over the course of time, with a pathway simply mown into the meadow to allow visitors to experience the return of natural habitat. Plantings of stands of trees will create human scale within the currently large and exposed site, and introduce new habitat for local species such as birds and bats.

This is the meadow, a space of nature therapy and quiet reflection. In the course of the seasons, the surrounding meadow will be mown down to allow for the next year’s growth – at this time, the garden will change radically and only the structure of the mound, the trees and the knot garden will be clear. This seasonal cycle evokes the cycles of peace and conflict, life and death and injury and healing.

A grassed mound provides a counterbalance to the structured order of the knot garden, acting as a secondary focal point and opportunity to rise above the garden for a moment and view it from a higher perspective.