There’s something special about great city parks in the Summer and this year I’ve been more than happy to explore the newly re-opened Pereda Gardens in Santander beside the Botin Centre. The space has been THE topic of discussion with everybody in the city and the subject of much commentary on social media locally. One month in, it’s about time you saw what all the fuss is about.
Who was Pereda and how old is the park?
The park is named after one of Cantabria’s best-known writers, Jose Maria de Pereda (1833-1906). I mentioned him in the Raqueros post because some of his characters in the novel ‘Sotileza’ were the children who dived into the water searching for coins. His writing (initially as a critic, later as an editor and journalist, and finally as novelist) brought him fame throughout Spain. The writer was honoured in this city with the naming of the new ‘Paseo de Pereda’ Avenue in 1903 and just two years later, the ‘new’ park was named ‘Jardines de Pereda’ or Pereda Gardens. This whole area had been a docking area for boats until the land was reclaimed from the sea in the late 1890s. Have a look at the brilliant slideshow by local newspaper El Diario Montañes that captures its transformation from water to parkland. And while you are there, check out the petrol station in slide 14 and 15 that has received a bit of a face-lift as well. More on that later…
Where are the Pereda Gardens?
Slap bang in the middle of Santander. Think London’s Green Park or Dublin’s Stephen’s Green, although I should say it’s one quarter the size of Green Park and half the size of Stephen’s Green. At 11 acres, it’s not that much space, but it’s in an extremely privileged location. Even if you’ve only got an hour or two in the city, I guarantee you’ll be stopping by this patch of green.
Why the Re-design?
You’ll have heard me go on about the Botin Centre here before. If not, you can pop over to my posts here and here. Basically, a new cultural centre is being built in the city and that (along with the tunnelling of a road) has prompted a re-design. The original plan was for the centre, tunnel and park to be opened at the same time but there have been a few delays with the centre itself.
The man responsible for the park’s re-design is Madrid-based landscape architect Fernando Caruncho. He was hired by Renzo Piano, the architect for the Botin Centre. Both Piano and Caruncho enjoy playing with water, professionally speaking. The brief for Caruncho (in my mind at least) was to make Piano’s objective of uniting the city to the bay a reality. In doing so, he had to absorb the new space created by tunnelling traffic underground, while respecting elements of the old park such as the trees and statues. All of this had to happen while the underground tunnel was being built and the construction of the Botin Centre was (and still is) going full throttle. If you see my photo of the building site taken back in January, you can see how forlorn the gardens looked. A very different picture to what you see below…
Cheeky, Irreverent, Fearless and Playful – at the Same Time
I suppose I should give you a disclaimer here. I’m not a gardener although I am very interested in parks from an urban planning point of view. If you are looking for detail, I can tell you that you’ll find magnolias, holly, palm trees, cedars, chestnuts, pines, boxwoods, yews and lime trees here and that 141 of the 262 trees in the park have been newly planted.
I was relieved to see that I wasn’t the only one clawing the ground to get inside the park on inauguration day one month ago. There was quite a crowd of us waiting in 30 degrees heat at 4.30pm on July 22nd when the workers finally cut the plastic clips and hauled off the fencing. Less than a metre in, we quickly saw that this was much more than just a re-planting exercise. It’s all about the space.
It’s feels more like an extension of the Botin Centre that curiously precedes the opening of the centre itself. Handily, it offers many clues as to what to expect when the buildings open in 2015. Take the new paths for example. Blue concrete treated with copper sulphate and iron. The romance of the Pereda Gardens has been replaced by a boldness. Of course, bold isn’t always popular and the paths have been the source of much discussion. The colour was chosen to represent the sea and act as a guide leading us towards the water but the coating and shade of blue isn’t ticking everyone’s boxes.
Playing with the Sea
A park without a playground is a very sad park in my mind. And when it comes to intergenerational hangouts in the city, this is where it happens. Outside of holiday-time, you’ll find more grandparents chasing around after kids in the playground than parents – which says as much about the demographics of the centre as it does about childcare. The old crowd pleaser, the Pirate Ship, which entertained my own three during the toddler phase, has been anchored elsewhere, but the sea-theme has been strengthened. The Pereda Gardens playground looks set to being as busy or busier than its predecessor. (I should mention that these photos were taken during naptime so they don’t reflect the throngs of kids that enjoy the space. You wouldn’t be able to appreciate the space if I showed you the pics from peak playtime.)
I’m not sure how many kids were accommodated in the old playground but this new space of 800 square metres (up from 320 in the old park, I am told) is designed to handle 150-180 kids at any one time. On opening day, it seemed like double or triple that number were putting each apparatus to the test. My kids certainly enjoy the area, which caters well for all kids under 12, although it feels a little smaller in terms of space rather than bigger. I have been back to the park quite a few times since the first day – and the playground is always really busy.
For me, the best part of this playground re-design is its proximity to the new café – allowing the addled parents and grandparents to sip on a drink while the kids play. Previously, you had to drag the kids off the rides to have a dose of caffeine, as there wasn’t a clear line of vision to the playground. (The coffee-to-go-revolution hasn’t had much success in Santander).
And when I say coffee, you can of course interpret that to mean a Martini, beer or a gin and tonic – depending on the time of day. I’ve seen quite a few parents catching up with friends well into the evening while the kids hang out on the swings. This is happening for a few reasons. First this bar is open later into the night. Secondly, the Botin Centre scaffolding is blocking some of the cold sea breezes and even the fog that used to sweep in to the park at dusk. And finally, the play area used to be beside a road that has now been tunnelled under the park. It’s never been so safe.
The Café in Pereda Gardens
I’m not one for getting very excited about cafeterias – much as I like them. But I formed an emotional attachment with this one before it was re-incarnated. The moment the partitions came down, my eyes were locked on the ‘new’ café. You see, up until a year ago, it was a petrol station. It’s become my favourite section of the park.
I love it because, in a park that has sections that scream shiny and new, it offers a curious connection with the past. The stunning ellipse design has coped extremely well with its re-purposing. It still echoes its original design but rather like it were in a gallery, it’s been draped in a neutral matt white. You can see it in its original glory in the earlier slideshow (images 14 and 15). Built in the 1959, the design is attributed to Juan Jose Resines, a busy architect who designed the 1958 Tabacalera building that I always admire from the bay.
Petrol stations and petrol station conversions have a huge cult following and have become the focus of many a photography project and documentary. I recently came across the 2012 Kings Cross Filling Station conversion or KXFS as it is called and TIME magazine’s Gas Stations through the Years is also nice. Within that context, it’s great to see this little gem from Santander is still standing. It was added to the DOCOMOMO register in 2010 but when the early conceptual design for the Botin Centre and the re-design of the park was being discussed by the powers that be, the curvy structure wasn’t originally considered worth keeping. In stepped the city’s architects and thankfully sense prevailed.
I love its curviness. And I’ve been told by people in the know that it’s the perfect location within the Pereda Gardens grid for such a feature. In fact, had it been taken down, something else would have been put in its place to provide a focal point within the space. When I heard this, I immediately thought of Jeff Koons’ Puppy in front of the Guggenheim. While it’s not as cuddly as the Puppy (and I’m sure Renzo Piano is sick to his back teeth of hearing comparisons with the Guggenheim and I do my best to keep them to a minimum) I’d be very happy for the café to be an icon for Santander in the way that the Puppy is for Bilbao.
The Interaction between the Botin Centre and the Gardens
As I said earlier, the Botin Centre isn’t opening until 2015 although we do have a better sense of how the park will interact with the Centre since the opening of the park. For the most part, it will be as expected – the Botin Centre will be hidden by the trees in the park. Let me show you what I mean…
Connecting the City to the Bay
The creation of new paths and re-opening of old walkways to the bay is the highlight of the re-design for many. Here’s what that means in practice:
It’s Not All Shiny and New
Although much of the park seems like it’s fresh off a catalogue, there are many mature elements to this space as well. The trees are the most obvious example. The old iron benches are still there. And the statues remind us that this space is over 100 years old.
Lots Done. More To Do
In addition to popping over to the park quite a few times over the past month, I’ve enjoyed reading about Fernando Caruncho, the man responsible for the re-design. I was interested to read his objective for the space:
“An old public garden should always preserve and value those milestones of the individual and social memory that connect the past with the present and the future. This is what this project is intended to do: unite present and past in the aesthetic forms of the 21st century, opening it to the future” (Botin Centre, July 22; my translation)
Although he speaks about the future, Caruncho is a man inspired by Greek mythology and classical garden design. He had originally started studying philosophy before switching to landscaping. You won’t find much meadow or wild planting in a Caruncho garden and it’s not the type of place you typically throw down a picnic blanket (although I saw a couple lying out there on beach towels last Friday). That said I’ve enjoyed looking at his planting in curved contours rather than straight lines. His style certainly lends itself to Mediterranean spaces and I wonder how much of a challenge it has been to switch into Atlantean mode.
Having read that Caruncho is usually praised for his use of grids, water and light and the harmony he achieves in a garden, I wonder whether that will be the case in Santander. I can see the grid system he has put down in the park already and when the grounds of the Botin Centre opens, I’m sure we’ll see lots of playful interaction with the water. Light is a trickier one for Caruncho to manipulate being in the North of Spain – is that’s why he chose the pale-blue shade of paving? It’s far too early to expect or look for harmony – we’ll have to wait until the last crane and dumper truck leaves the site and the plants have a while to bed in before any real assessment can be made. For now, he has succeeded in creating a singular stand-alone space that is attracting hundreds of residents and visitors every day.
What do you think of the park? Are you a fan?