Les Jardins Fluviaux de la Loire

UNESCO recommends that the Loire must be preserved as a ‘wild river’.  We propose to turn such turbulent wilderness into a new model of urbanity for the city of Orleans. Les Jardins Fluviaux de la Loire, a new public fluvial garden located in the Loire's river bed.

Plan of the Garden of Crystallization.

The project is not part of the world renown permanent collection of the FRAC Centre in Orleans, France. It proposes an operational protocol to mobilize the Loire's turbulent nature in the formation of a fluvial public space, triggering a novel form of spatial memory; one that is embedded in the river's material substratum and that is projective about Orleans' metropolitan future rather than nostalgic about its past.

3D simulation of the Garden of Sedimentation.


The Loire Valley is a cultural landscape which embodies knowledge belonging to different disciplinary domains, from architecture and landscape design, to agriculture, hydrology, social sciences and economy. The importance of such definition is reinforced by the recognition it has received from EUNESCO and it is therefore sensible for the city of Orleans to frame its new Metropolitan status in relationship to the Loire as a topographic region.

Crystallizations in the Loire's river bed. Winter 2017. Orleans.

However a key factor in the current definition of the Loire valley as a cultural landscape is the preservation of the Loire as a wild river,  which implies preserving its biodiversity. It may seem therefore contradictory to seek to establish a stronger urban dimension for a domain whose value is measured in terms of its wilderness.

This project, titled Les Jardins Fluviaux de la Loire, argues however that engaging such contradiction offers a unique opportunity to propose a new model of urbanity, one that seek to resolve the ideological struggle of natural conservation versus urban development.

Plan of the Garden of Accretion.
Accretions in the Loire's river bed. Winter 2017. Orleans.

Friction city vs. river.

One of the most problematic aspects in the relationship between a 'wild river' and a substantial urban settlement is managing flooding events. In the past, management implied a practice of constant monitoring and intervention which was often related to multiple activities that were taking place in and on the river, such as commercial navigation and fishing. Most importantly these activities did involve a large section of the population and the local institutions, making River management an urban activity.

The Loire in Orleans near Pont Georges V.

Today urban life is only indirectly affected by the river and its management is centralized at governmental level. The management protocols have therefore become obscure to the point that very few experts have any deep knowledge of them. As such their general understanding is ideological: everyone expects risk managers to simply minimize or erase flooding risk, and the how to or how much, rests unquestioned.

3D printed model of the Garden of Sedimentation at Pont Georges V.

The Loire manifests its nonlinearity in the turbulent patterns of flow and in the sedimentation of islands of various forms and dimensions; such geomorphodynamic formations are rather accelerated. A satellite analysis we conducted shows the movement is seasonal and the river bed morphology is redefined in only a matter of months. This feedback mechanism is regulated by other emergent biotic and abiotic processes, some also influenced by human action, such as the growth of vegetation on river islands. The project aims at reconciling this endemic morphological instability of the Loire with the imperative of a modern city built on the ideology of balance and stability.

The Gardens

With the aid of satellite monitoring techniques this project registers and indexes emerging fluvial patterns, visible manifestations of the fundamental geomorphodynamic processes underpinning the life and behaviour of the river Loire as it flows within the urban terrain of Orleans.

We propose to make use of such techniques and turn them into urban design tools;  to this purpose we have draped a computational grid over the river. The grid operates as a sieve, defining the resolution of information to be extrapolated from the monitoring of the river's behaviour. The indexical grid is computational but the intelligence it mobilizes is material and can sediment as a set of physical gardens, Les Jardins Fluviaux de la Loire.

At the core of this project is the proposal for tree urban gardens, grown within the bed of the River Loire with the introduction of a substratum in the river bed itself, physically connected to Pont Georges V and Duit Saint Charles. The substratum is the result of a set of digital simulations, deploying L-system inspired growth models.

Detail plan of the Garden of Accretions.

The tree gardens differ in degree as they engage the river at different resolutions. The Garden of Entanglement, located upstream of the Duit, is designed to trap macroscopic material, like transported branches and plastic waste, cleaning the river and preventing its obstruction during rain storms. The Garden of Sedimentation, located just downstream of the Duit, traps transported soil and rock particles, managing the formation of islands and beaches. The Garden of Accretion, located at the intersection of the Duit and Pont Georges V, enables the accretion of mineral and biotic molecules over its substratum. It has water purification potential and embodies a first new link between urban infrastructure and River.

Detail plan of the Garden of Entanglement.

By providing direct and safe access to the river, the Garden of Accretion promotes the emergence of a new urban practice, fluvial gardening, the collective care and management of Orleans' most precious urban landscape; it is a projective mechanism of future city making.

Detail plan of the Garden of Sedimentation.

The emergent anthropic landscape of sedimentary gardens is collectively conceptualized as a testament of wilderness, triggering conservationist instincts which have the effect of tipping the balance of forces towards a greener river bed. However it is important to notice that the notion of self-regulation in dynamical systems like wild rivers does not imply an ideal and balanced state of greening;  on the contrary episodes of wild reorganization and even destruction of sedimentary landscapes are critical to the ability of the river to self-regulate. How can we reconcile the need for movement and morphological self-organisation with the imperative of a modern city built on the ideology of balance and stability?

Detail of the Garden of Entanglement.

In reality a very large number of processes contribute to the complex dynamics of the Loire and its effect on the city;  for instance its microclimatic effect is evident. As water evaporates, especially next to more turbulent areas, haze, fog, dew and ice form. Such formations vary greatly and in winter for instance we observed the formation of large ice crystals. Ice and crystals affect the sedimentation patterns of the river but also directly index its substratum, revealing the complexity and differentiation of the river bed itself, beyond the simple presence of vegetation.  Microclimatic effects are ephemeral but their observation and affects are critical to the dynamic of the river. With the aid of satellite and other digital monitoring techniques it is possible to register and index this emerging patterns, visible manifestations of the fundamental geomorphodynamic processes underpinning the life and behaviour of the river Loire as it flows within the urban terrain of Orleans.

Indexical protocols.

Our project deploys a computational grid over a specific portion of the river Loire facing the historical centre of Orleans; the grid operates as a sieve, defining the resolution of the grain of information we extrapolate from the monitoring of that portion of river. We index the river in space and time and at a certain resolution and render such information visible in a set of 'operational field' drawings; as these drawings become of public domain they will become the basis for the invention of a new collective protocol of management of the river Loire.

Axonometric view of a component of the garden built substratum.

The 'operational fields' themselves are purely computational entities but they can be materialized thought the application of specific media; in our case we will deploy three-dimensional structures or components that have a direct material effect on the sedimentation patterns of the river as they directly affect the aggregation of transported rock and soil particles .

The resulting components are then engineered to be CNC milled into a kit of parts. They are introduced in the river bed in large aggregate structures, the substratum to the gardens. This makes the garden an hybrid space, a second nature, resulting from the co-evolution of a man-made substratum and the river's geomorphodynamic behaviour. The interaction is monitored in real-time by experts and enjoyed by the local community. Upgrades and modifications to the substratum occur on a regular basis since the system is designed accordingly to a growth-shrinkage model; most importantly changes happen as a result of an open, shared and collective decision making process. Upgrades of parts of the gardens are conducted in the form of public design and built workshops.  

Kit of parts for the self-assembly of a component of the garden built substratum.

The Orleans Biennale and the FRAC Collection.

The project is now part of the permanent collection of the FRAC centre in Orleans, at it has been exhibited in occasion of the first Orleans Biennale in 2017. It is composed of a large printed plan drawing of the gardens, a video narrative of the contextual research carried out during the project development, a series of material models illustrating the extensive studies we have conducted on processed of accretion, sedimentation and crystallization and, finally, a 1:1 scale prototypes of the garden's substratum structure.

The 1st Biennale of Orleans, FRAC Center.
Detail of one of the mineral accretion models.
Lead Architects
Marco Poletto and Claudia Pasquero
Design Team
Marco Poletto, Claudia Pasquero, Konstantinos Alexopoulos, Matteo Pendenza, Mauro Mosca, Apostolos Marios Mouzakopoulos, Gabriela Zarwanitzer
Academic Partner
Urban Morphogenesis Lab at the Bartlett UCL
Teaching Faculty
Claudia Pasquero, Filippo Nassetti, Tommaso Casucci, Emmanouil Zaroukas
I-Ting Lien, Yadi Kang, Yu Liu
for Biennale d’Architecture d’Orléans#1, as part of the permanent collection of FRAC Center
Exhibition Curated
by Abdelkader Damani and Luca Galofaro