In the 1960s, Walt Disney began to plan Disney World in Florida. It’s centerpiece was to be the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT). The motivation behind EPCOT was his grandchildren. He wanted to combine the business opportunities found in large metropolitan areas with the healthy lifestyle available to people who lived in rural America. So he designed an environment that he felt would be a better place for his grandchildren to thrive.
Disney was inspired by Ebenezer Howard’s research into urban design during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Howard, an Englishman who worked in both England and America, cemented his reputation as one of the forerunners of the Arts and Craft Movement with his book Garden Cities of Tomorrow.
Based on Howard’s research, planned Garden Cities were designed and built in both England and America. Two of their key design principles, self-sufficiency and the incorporation of green beltways, can clearly be seen in Disney’s original design for EPCOT. Sadly, when Disney died in 1966, his vision for EPCOT died with him.
The good news: the team that designed one of the original Garden Cities in America (Forest Hills, Queens, New York) included Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. who later designed Central Park in Manhattan. Olmstead essentially took the idea of a green beltway that surrounded the city core and turned it inside-out by placing the green-space at or near the city core. The business core then became a business beltway surrounding the green-space core or City Core Garden.
Unlike Garden Cities, which were purpose-built, Olmstead’s designs retrofitted cities with a City Core Garden. And it’s this idea that has gained the most interest in America.
Denver Botanic Gardens
In 1951, Saco Rienk de Boer’s design for the Denver Botanical Gardens came to life. Boer was not new to the Garden City movement, having been the key designer of Boulder City in Colorado which was a planned city.
And in Denver, he added a new feature: the integration of art within the City Core Garden.
Alexander Calder is one of the featured artists in the Denver garden.
“One of the canons of the futuristic painters, as propounded by Modigliani, was that objects behind other objects should not be lost to view, but should be shown through the others by making the latter transparent. The wire sculpture accomplishes this in a most decided manner.” | Alexander Calder
Calder’s notion of background objects being visible behind or through foreground objects is the second key feature of the garden. You can literally see the city of Denver rise above the garden.
Urban Design | New or Retrofit
Howard’s and Disney’s vision for urban design was the notion of combining the best of cities with rural areas in a purpose-built place designed for 30,000 to 50,000 people.
But even back in the early 1900s, space was at a premium in Europe. In America, assembling 20 square miles to make a self-sufficient city was challenging. Today it’s nearly impossible.
| Is the notion of designing and building something new a dead idea due to space constraints?
| Or, can the miniaturization of technology be used to reduce the land requirements to something more manageable?
| Or, should we simply follow the template that Olmstead and Boer created?
You’re invited to share your thoughts with us on our Instagram page.
Photos | Denver Botanic Gardens
Photography | Tom Libertiny
Video | Denver Botanical Garden
Video | Tom Libertiny