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.
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.
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.