Light & Dark: LifeTree

The Gijsbrecht van Aemstel park reaches from east to west as an important link between two major urban parks  in the south of Amsterdam. The park was designed in 1958 by Wim Boer as a functionalist park, taking it’s cue from the orthogonal layout of the surrounding urban plan. This long park is linear, angular and rational. The square island in the middle of the park, the ‘Meeting Island’ is strategically placed en route to the shopping area.

The Meeting Island itself is an exercise in rationality and order. It is built up of a grid of 13×13 squares, each containing 13×13 concrete tiles of 30×30 cm which are used throughout the Netherlands for pavements. The squares alternate between light and dark, defining an order and position for all the elements on the island. The position and measurements of the 4 bridges, 15 Aldo van Eyck benches, 10 lampposts, 1 round podium and 40 gravel squares for 40 trees are all derived from the size of a single paving stone. This is but an apparent order: the bridges are juxtapostioned, the lamposts form a diagonal, a new bicycle path weaves it’s way across the island and the benches make way for other elements. In fact it is only the 40 trees that form a continuous constant.

Yet it is the trees, with their natural wind-swept forms and voluptuous crowns, that soften the rational order of this functionalist square. Their magnificent summer and winter shadows break the rigidity and hardness of the squares. They offer protection and shelter and form a space for contemplation and activities. A moment to pause between en route to the next destination or to stop and contemplate the war memorial.

Despite this, the island functioned as a crossroad instead of ‘the place to be, meet and play’ that it was originally designed to be. Which is why the need arose to breathe new life into this centrally situated island by means of an artwork: a fitting and functional object to give new meaning to the podium, to enhance the full potential of the island as a place for recreation and social cohesion.

The pavilion designed by Angie Abbink was based on the pragmatics of minimising structural necessity while creating a maximum open cantilever. By minimising costs underground, more budget was retained for the visible parts of the artwork above ground. By punching holes in the structure to make it lighter the pavilion joins the natural trees in creating it’s own unique game of light and dark, shadows on the ground created by the newly planted LifeTree. A playful yet practical object that joins the natural order of the trees while holding it’s own as a beacon for a new place to come together.

And this LifeTree with it’s 13 branches has it’s own secret order: that of primes. The many holes in the structure make the artwork ‘light’ in all senses of the word and they allow for a wide diversity of uses from theatrical lighting to swings, from exhibitions to hammocks. The LifeTree thus invites the community to invent and inspire, to create and conquer, to claim what is theirs for the taking and making.

See more of the making of here