Type: Display paths offer edge exhibits

The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden in New Orleans offers a path network that creates the "beautiful rooms to couch each piece," said a juror announcing the ASLA 2006 General Design Award of Honor. (Image:Sawyer/Berson Arch & LA)

The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden in New Orleans offers a path network that creates the “beautiful rooms to couch each piece,” said a juror announcing the ASLA 2006 General Design Award of Honor. (Image:Sawyer/Berson Arch & LA)

To one extent or another, every path is a display path. Regardless of its primary use, every path goes beyond offering strolls or destinations to providing continuous exhibits of natural or cultural features along its route.

Beverley Nichols makes a similar point in his memoir Green Grows the City, arguing that every garden path is a display walk. “One of the reasons why I was sure that my path was perfect was that it met the supremely important test of making you walk the longest way round…. For surely, whenever you are showing people over a garden, is it not vital that they should go the longest possible way round? … Unless I had led people round and round in circles, it would have been impossible for them to take longer in walking from the front window to the apex of the triangle,” the farthest corner of his London backyard.

Paths in a square 100 ft. on a side generate differing lengths of edge for display. From left to right, top to bottom, edge lengths are 200 feet, 215 feet, 300 feet for the sinusoidal curve; up A single straight path side to side provides 60 m/200 ft of edge; a slight curve, about 65 m/215 ft; a strenuous curve, upwards of 90 m/300 ft; cross-axes with perimeter path, about 450 m/1500 ft; and paths around forty beds 2 m/6 ft wide (which can be weeded within arm’s length from either side), 800 m/2600 ft; while a maze maximizes edge length at more than 900 m/3000 ft with borders so thin, however, that they are generally unsuitable for display purposes.

Paths in a square 100 ft. on a side generate differing lengths of edge for display. From left to right, top to bottom, edge lengths are 200 feet, 215 feet, up to 300 feet for the sinusoidal curve; 1500 feet for cross-axes with a perimeter path; 2600 feet around 40 beds and 3000 feet in a maze, with borders generally too thin for display purposes.

Nonetheless, some walkways are designed specifically to maximize the visibility of an array of objects along their edges, most often botanical specimens or sculpture.

As Nichols suggests, the usual goal of the display path designer is to maximize the length of path—and thus the path edge—within the assigned area, while retaining niches or beds deep enough to display the collection.

Just as a pantry with many long, shallow shelves displays a large supply of canned goods better than one with a few short, deep shelves, so too do many long path segments close together display specimen plants better than a few short, widely spaced walks.

And as Nichols also suggests, a labyrinth—or a maze—has the longest edges. Sadly, both these extreme forms lack the depth needed for display. And then there’s the dizziness or the confusion!

For ideal sculpture gardens, the depth of the beds needed to create separate viewing niches for each sculpture becomes the controlling factor, so instead of the tightly packed systematic beds of botanical gardens, a larger mesh network of loops or braids becomes the norm.

If designers want to form a sequence or a story with the displays, they will forego the braiding and use a single, circuitous loop, especially effective with sculpture in irregular topography.

Historically, botanical gardens were laid out in a fine grid of paths to facilitate the study of plants grouped by species, genus, and family, as this plan of Hortus Botanicus in Leyden from 1727 demonstrates. Recent botanical gardens are more directed to pleasure strolling with larger mesh, more informal networks less strictly grouped.

Historically, botanical gardens were laid out in a fine grid of paths to facilitate the study of plants grouped by species, genus, and family, as this plan of Hortus Botanicus in Leyden from 1727 demonstrates. Recent botanical gardens are more directed to pleasure strolling with larger mesh, more informal networks less strictly grouped.

Small-mesh grids are best laid out on level land. Grids are database networks, viewable in any sequence chosen by the visitor, a critical divergence from narratives that I’ll take up in coming posts.

Grids with hierarchy offer special advantages, allowing placement of more important specimens along primary axes or radials, with less important objects in between. The items of greatest importance can be placed near the center, where the mesh is finest or the blocks are fewer in number.

Whatever their form, display paths support strolling because they provide well organized walkways of extensive length in a confined space with high visibility. That is, a visitor can relax and enjoy a long walk without having to retrace his or her steps, without having to traverse great distances to return to the starting point, and without fear of getting lost.

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