Westpol: More than just planting trees…
Text: Marilena Stracke
T he Swiss landscape architects from Westpol go beyond your average landscape design and create clever visual highlights using elements from the world of plants. Founder Andy Schönholzer has a deep passion for his craft and welcomes any challenge, regardless of whether it is big or small.
It all started way back, when Andy Schönholzer graduated from high school and did a successful placement at a horticulture company. He quickly realised that this was where he needed to be. Schönholzer studied landscape architecture at the University for Applied Sciences Rapperswil and later at the Rutgers State University in New Jersey.
He founded his first landscape architecture bureau together with a partner in 2001, which ran very successfully until Schönholzer changed the focus in 2008. That was the beginning of today’s Westpol landscape architects.
“The new direction also led us to new areas of work and their challenges,” recalls Andy Schönholzer. “We are interested in the phenomenon of urban, public spaces. But we are also interested in superordinate projects such as defining the edges of residential areas or integrating infrastructures into our landscape.”
The office of Westpol is located on one of Basel’s trendiest streets, Feldbergstrasse. Near a record shop and fashion boutiques, and with the perfect view onto the street’s daily hustle and bustle. Here, the team’s creativity can flow freely. Working with evolving natural materials and various layers of vegetation, it often takes many decades until a project has reached its final look. A fascinating process, which is very different to, for example, designing a building.
Thinking outside the box …or inside a pot
A great example of Schönholzer’s incredible works is the Freiraum Leutschenbach with its park, completed in 2009.
The area Leutschenbach was going through an urban transformation, from industrial use to residential and service quarters. In order to create a new identity, the city of Zurich launched an urban space competition – and Westpol (former Dipol) won the project.
Part of the park is a small hill with a little forest. But due to its former use as a bullet trap of the shooting facility Leutschenbach, the soil was massively polluted by projectiles.
“There were two options,” Schönholzer recalls. “The first was to completely refurbish the hill and clear the characteristic trees. The second option was to deny access to the public. We integrated the latter approach into our design. The result is a large tree pot, which encloses the hill and its trees. Measuring a 180 metre circumference, the tree pot is probably Europe’s longest bench.”
Bringing a location back to life
The Kunstfreilager Dreispitz in Basel and Münchenstein is a fairly recent urban transformation project, which Westpol supported from 2006 to 2017. The location of a former bonded warehouse was opened to the public. During those early days, it was all about temporary installations and ensuring that all safety requirements were met.
“That way the premises could be explored, and it also allowed the general public to take ownership,” says Schönholzer. Later on, the city of Basel launched the project competition of the School of Art and Design, which would tie this important institution and around 1,500 students and lecturers to this unique location. Within this new context, it was possible to realise various additional building projects.
No project is too big or too small
There are so many other unique projects worth mentioning that it becomes hard to pick just a few to highlight. Westpol designs speak for themselves. For example, the Sunken Garden in Vöcklabruck was meant to be a temporary installation for the horticultural show in 2007, but it remained right there and, today, it is the main attraction of the water park.
“Aside from larger, complex design processes, we also do private gardens,” adds Schönholzer. “What fascinates us in this context, is the direct link to the owner, our client. During conversations and through analysing the garden, we discuss the design’s requirements and possibilities – regardless of whether it’s alterations or completely new concepts.”
Seeing the bigger picture
Westpol landscape architects have a wide range of clients from different sectors. They work successfully with private building owners as well as with the public sectors. No matter the project, the team always tries to get the feeling of any given location. They research morphological properties, history and local stories, topography, function and use, as well as what emotions a certain place triggers.
Building this comprehensive bigger picture is the first step for the development of all designs. Top quality and expertise merged with an individual approach are the pillars of Westpol’s philosophy. Taking location and specific requirements into account, the creative heads of Westpol have designed a colourful range of unique projects over the past two decades, and there is certainly a lot more to come.
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