As I was walking to work this morning, I came upon a sight I had noticed many times before but never seen: the Ten Commandments. Conner Memorial Park, a vest-pocket park behind Aspen City Hall, is little used save for Farmers’ Market Saturdays, but this morning I stopped to study it. A large evergreen tree. A dormant drinking fountain. A picnic table and a bench. The usual suspects for a park, I suppose, and yet as I glanced about, I came upon the anomaly for which I stopped. Beside the park’s sign conspicuously stands a large polished granite slab inscribed with the Ten Commandments floating within a frame of floral filigree. Did the designer of this park place it here? Was it added post-design as the Memorial in the Conner Memorial Park? Regardless, whoever located the slab in the park wanted to tell me something, and they felt that something could be best told to me right here.
As landscape architects, we seek to forge space around specific programs. At best, form and program are clearly linked and a space is used as it was intended. This does not mean to say that a designer is able to predict or control content. Content, or narrative, of a space is left to the user and is highly mutable, subject to volatile change. How many spaces begin as grand and devolve into grimy? How many spaces meant for the use of all are leashed by dog culture, annexed by skateboard theatrics, or simply abandoned? While a use may stray from the original intent of the space, the narrative that emerges soon defines it. The design serves as a crucible for human interaction and spatial innovation. The use of a space defines its content.
Which brings us back to the Ten Commandments. This didactic object, questionably placed within a public park, acts as a catalyst. It raises questions that users choose to ignore or answer. While it does not dictate the content of Conner Memorial Park, it surely goads it on. So how can we as designers influence the content of a space? Could be as simple as an object placed within lawn, yes, like the Ten Commandments, or it could it be something more clandestine, such as materiality or other deftly hidden subtext?
While the content of space is not wholly within the hands of landscape architects, it is within our abilities to create and direct narrative. Need proof? Just head down to Conner Memorial Park.