People and Parks

There is more to parks than a simple stroll. Discover how public parks bring emotional well-being through congregation, creativity and commemoration.

By Royal Institute of British Architects

Perspective of the Economist Building, 25 St James's Street, London, viewed from Green Park (1964) by Artist: Gordon CullenRoyal Institute of British Architects

A natural respite within urban noise

Contrasting the urban environment, parks allow citizens a moment to breathe, play and rest. Access to green areas for city dwellers has even proven to deliver wellbeing benefits, both physically and mentally. 

Design for a park, Golders Hill, London (1953) by Architect: Ivor Cunningham (1928-2007)Royal Institute of British Architects

A place for all

Most importantly, parks are democratic spaces. They provide unique experiences for all ages, either through landscaped zones or designated play spaces. 

But as this story shows, parks mean different things to different people.

Jardin des Plantes, Paris: people playing cards (1978) by Photographer: Nicholas BreachRoyal Institute of British Architects

A place to congregate

Parks provide a common ground for communities to congregate, socialise and share pastimes. This space is important for generations to come together but also to combat loneliness.

Bandstand (1862) by Architect: Jacob Wrey Mould (1825-1886)Royal Institute of British Architects

A bandstand is a classic feature of parks and the perfect enabler of convivial gathering. Designed as a multi-purpose structure, it is a truly universal structure, appearing in parks across continents, both new and old. This bandstand was designed by English architect Jacob Wrey Mould for the opening of Central Park on Manhattan in the style of Islamic Revival. 

Described as “one of the most exotic structures ever to be built in the park – or in all of Manhattan”, it was originally envisioned to be a floating pagoda. It was built using decorative Minton tiles, made in Stoke-on-Trent in the north of England.

Elephant, Parco dei Mostri, Bomarzo (1961) by Photographer: Edwin SmithRoyal Institute of British Architects

A place for creativity

Artists and architects have a longstanding tradition of using outdoor space as an open canvas to spark public imagination. While artwork and installations might provide insight into the minds of their artists, they also nurture creativity for the park users, offering moments of visual surprise.   

Park Guell, Barcelona: mosaic medallion showing the name of the park: Guell, Photographer: Christopher Hope-Fitch, Architect: Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926), 2004, From the collection of: Royal Institute of British Architects
Park Guell, Barcelona: the flower tub pinnacles of the promenade, Photographer: Christopher Hope-Fitch, Architect: Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926), 2009, From the collection of: Royal Institute of British Architects
Park Guell, Barcelona: mosaic medallion showing the name of the park, Photographer: Christopher Hope-Fitch, Architect: Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926), 2004, From the collection of: Royal Institute of British Architects
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Park Güell, Barcelona is a public park system that consists of gardens and architectural elements. It was inspired by the 19th-century British Garden City movement whereby housing communities were designed with generous green spaces alongside industrial and commercial amenities. This explains why the original name of the park, given by the architect Antoni Gaudí himself, used the English word ‘park’ rather than the Catalan 'parc'. 

The Ogre, Parco dei Mostri, Bomarzo (2010) by Photographer: Danica O KusRoyal Institute of British Architects

Parco dei Mostri, Bomarzo, Italy

Translated as ‘Park of the Monsters’ this grotesque attraction was designed by the Italian Renaissance architect Pirro Ligorio in 1552 in the mannerist style for Prince Pier Francesco Orsini in memory of his late wife.

Neptune, Parco dei Mostri, Bomarzo (2010) by Photographer: Danica O KusRoyal Institute of British Architects

A place for eccentricity and fantasy, it features around 24 sculptures, including a leaning building and many mythological figures. After Orsini died, the park was left neglected until 1954 when it was restored and brought back to public life. Visitors can now meander around the ‘horror show’, interpreting the park monsters according to their own imagination.

Gateway Arch and expressway, Jefferson Memorial Park, St Louis (1967) by Photographer: Michael HodgesRoyal Institute of British Architects

A place to commemorate

Some public parks are built in memory of a person or event as a place to reflect, mourn or celebrate. These parks often feature a memorial; a structure which serves as a focal point for the commemoration. 

Design for a memorial fountain in Locke Park, Barnsley, South Yorkshire (1877) by Architect: Richard Phene Spiers (1838-1916)Royal Institute of British Architects

Locke Park, Barnsley, England

Locke Park, known as the People's Park, was in 1862 donated to the people of Barnsley by Phoebe Locke, widow of railway engineer Joseph Locke. Following Phoebe’s death, her sister Sarah McCreery donated more adjoining land in 1874. Designed by architect, author and proficient watercolourist Richard Phene Spiers, this fountain was built and dedicated by the working men of Barnsley to Miss McCreery.

The enlarged park includes Locke Park Tower, built in memory of Phoebe Locke and also to the design of Richard Phene Spiers.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Japan

At 8.16am on 6 August 1945, the first atomic bomb hit this area of Hiroshima, causing complete devastation to what was once a political and commercial centre, spanning 120,000 square metres. 

Cenotaph for the A-Bomb Victims, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Hiroshima (2011) by Photographer: John BarrRoyal Institute of British Architects

Rather than redeveloping the land, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was built to commemorate the vast number of lives impacted by the tragic event, including a museum and this cenotaph. Below the arch, a stone chest holds a register of the 220,000 names, who either lost their lives because of the initial blast or were exposed to radiation.

The area is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where the A-Bomb Dome, one of the surviving buildings, stands alongside new monuments built to commemorate the event. 

Northala Fields, London, England

This park has a unique story to tell. Perhaps not immediately noticeable, Northala Fields is a memorial park. The four conical mounds are shaped by waste from the original Wembley Stadium, including its iconic Twin Towers (as featured in the Olympic Architecture). Their demolition was controversial due to their architectural history, however their memory lives on in a new unique landmark that doubles as a rich habitat for wildlife.  

Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, Hyde Park, London, England

Designed to reflect the qualities of the Princess of Wales, this open and accessible memorial park designed by Gustafson Porter and Bowman has received critical acclaim for its achievements in landscape design. Made from 545 pieces of Cornish granite, the sculptural form is integrated into the natural slope of the land. The use of water invites people to play as well as reflect on the nature and life of Diana.

View of a lake in a London park (possibly Hyde Park) with buildings seen in the distance (1950) by Artist: Albert OppenheimRoyal Institute of British Architects

A place for people...

This narrative demonstrates the multifunctional nature of parks and the importance it plays in the lives of people both locally and more widely. Parks continue to be a focal place within our urban landscapes, providing so many benefits, both emotionally and socially. 

This narrative is part of a series, exploring the influence and importance of Parks. Visit Central Park in New York and also explore some of the structures and stories behind Urban Parks from around the world.

Credits: Story

Explore more from RIBA Collections here. 
All images are from the RIBA Collections unless listed.    

Image: Jardin des Plantes, Paris: people playing cards. Rights: Nicholas Breach / RIBA Collections
Image: Elephant, Parco dei Mostri, Bomarzo. Rights: Edwin Smith / RIBA Collections
Images of Park Guell. Rights: Christopher Hope-Fitch / RIBA Collections
Image: The Ogre and Neptune, Parco dei Mostri, Bomarzo. Rights: Danica O'Kus / RIBA Collections
Image: Cenotaph, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Image rights: John Barr / RIBA Collections

Curation and Interpretation by RIBA Public Programmes

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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