Martin Rein-Cano
Architect, Topotek 1, Berlin (Germany)
The Argentinian-German architect shares his view on the role of open public spaces.

You work at the interface between landscape architecture and urban planning. How important do it is for residents to use open spaces, whether in cities or at holiday destinations? Has anything changed about this in recent years?

The use of public open spaces is an important factor of social interaction and exchange, especially in cities. In times of increased global movement, encounters between different resident groups and cultures have become increasingly important to a functional and harmonious urban coexistence. The way in which public spaces are used has changed considerably in recent decades. Traditionally, their use is anchored differently depending on the culture.

The social togetherness lived in the squares and parks of southern Europe has also become more strongly established in northern Europe after the Covid-19 pandemic. A “Mediterraneanisation” has taken place as residents grew accustomed to spending more time outdoors: on terraces, restaurant patios, squares, green spaces and parks. Furthermore, open spaces are no longer used exclusively for leisure purposes, but have become an innate aspect of urban life and its diverse occasions. In addition to leisure and sporting activities, the use spectrum of outdoor space has expanded to include, for instance, remote work. There have been shifts and overlaps between public and private realms, and an increasing appropriation of urban space for traditionally private activities such as gardening. The planning discipline must take this into account and accordingly seek variable programmatic approaches and involve users more strongly in the process. Today more than ever, open space must be understood as cultural space, as an "urban theatre" in which individuals are considered actors that cultivate the public sphere.

"Landscape architecture must excite us intelligently without adopting a solely sentimental or populist approach"

How important is the natural context in which a project is set for you?

The natural context is as important as all other contextual issues. As a permanent physical aspect, it represents a strong parameter that one has to respond to during concept development. Local conditions such as vegetation, water and weather provide all but immutable factors that cannot be ignored; at the same time, the extent to which the
natural context can transcend its parametric role and also function as a concept driver varies from project to project. It is essential for successful design and planning that nature and sustainability issues are not exclusively prioritized above other criteria. In order to prevent one-sided planning approaches - as seen with the very strong focus on automobiles in urban plans of the 1960s and 1970s - all relevant issues must be taken into account and harmonized.
ZAC Le Croissant, Paris/Nanterre (France), 2020. Photo by Hanns Joonsten.

An open space is like a modern Agorà, where people can meet, observe the world or live their daily lives. When you design such a space, you usually pay attention to the feelings and emotions of the people who pass through it. How do you manage to evoke emotions with your work?

Like all issues of context, emotional capacity is assessed differently depending on the place and purpose of the projectIn Berlin, for example, where our studio is located, the city's inhabitants are generally so open-minded and extroverted that a conscious introduction of emotionality through spatial planning measures is not really necessary. Existing public spaces are appropriated by residents with a high degree of diversity and use. The willingness to emotionally interact, observe, and perform within a given space is something the users bring with them of their own accord. In more modest settings such as Copenhagen, where our project Superkilen was implemented, we found it appropriate to reinforce emotional experiences with public spaces. This was achieved through targeted provocation, humor, the use of colors, and other sensory elements. For our project in Bergamo, and in the context of a warming climate, afforestation and the idea of planting one's own tree triggers an emotional connection with one another.
The challenge resolved by successful landscape architecture is to emotionalize spaces intelligently without relying solely upon sentimental or populist approaches.
Water picnic, national exhibition of horticulture, Schwerin (Germany), 2009. © Hanns Joosten.

In an increasingly fluid and dynamic world, how important is the permanence of the materials and the intervention itself for you?

The durability of an intervention is of great importance, not only for reasons of sustainability, but also for aspects of cultural identity. It is tragic when a place is stuck in a "correction loop", the constant renovation and rewriting of its built environment. To establish a higher sense of place value, cultivating what already exists is a key factor - constant care and conservation of public spaces rather than cyclical renewal and change. At the same time, it is also important to encourage progressivism and necessary change. 
Therefore, established and well-used places should be maintained to preserve their functional qualities whereas modern interventions belong in unoccupied or yet unappropriated places; such contrast better distinguishes the reality of our time instead of projects that merely copy and repeat the old and familiar. This is the only way to create contemporary places that meet current demands for public open spaces.
KAiAK park and market, Köpenik/Berlin (Germany), 2007. Photo by Hanns Joonsten

What added value does a partnership with a material supplier bring to a landscape designer?

Close cooperation with manufacturers can be very valuable, as they have very detailed knowledge of current technological innovations and counsel over the properties and unique applications of materials. For this reason, we have maintained fruitful partnerships with some manufacturers for many years.

"Close cooperation with manufacturers plays an important role because they are familiar with technological innovations and how materials are used."

"Grow Together" is the theme of the 2023 Bergamo Landscape Festival. What does this event mean to you?

It was interesting for us to explore a direct translation of the theme with our concept, in the sense that we facilitate increasing greenery across the city. An important aspect and fascination of gardening lies in the fragility of what has been created, which has to be cultivated and cared for. In this sense, we did not want to create a temporary and disposable garden with our project, but to make a contribution to the discussion of sustainability issues beyond the duration of the festival. We would like to invite the visitors to let something permanent emerge from a temporary assembly, to let new green microcosms of the city grow simultaneously and to create additional vegetation for Bergamo over the long term. Plants offer a valuable opportunity to counteract the increasing urban heat island effect, contributing to the reduction of peak temperatures and thus to the climatic resilience of Bergamo.


Wolfsburg castle park, National horticolture exhibition, Wolfsburg (Germany), 2004.

In Bergamo, you will take care of the Piazza Vecchia. What particular themes are you working on? 

In addition to the greening of the city, we see our project in the Piazza Vecchia as an interactive space that brings people together with a collective sense of social culture, allowing participants to "grow together" on a further level. Our sculpture - a seating pyramid that functions as "urban sofa" - is shared by residents and tourists alike. With the gradual dispersal of the plants, more and more space is consequently created for visitors to linger and come together. For the duration of the festival, this will create a communal "living room" for Bergamo. Beyond the aspects of climate and sustainability addressed with the greenery, the inhabitable sculpture functions as a healing contribution on a psycho-social level for the city, which was particularly hard-hit by the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.


The son of a Spanish mother and a father of He- brew-Lithuanian descent, both of whom immigrated to Argentina, Martin Rein-Cano was born in 1967 in Buenos Aires where he lived until the age of 12. He then moved to Frankfurt and, at university, studied art history before discovering landscape architecture and moving to Hannover and San Francisco. In 1996, he founded his landscape architecture firm, Topotek 1, in Berlin. Since then, he has won numerous awards, such as 1st  Prize for German Landscape Architecture in 2015. He regularly teaches courses at European and North American uni- versities and is often a member of the panel of judges for international architecture awards. Next September he will be in Bergamo for the 2023 Landscape Festival with a lectio magistralis and a project designed for Piazza Vecchia.


The «Landscape Festival» is an event of international importance dedicated to the promotion of landscape culture which has been taking place in Bergamo since 2011. Recognized as a unique event at the forefront in Europe for vision, contents and format, the festival is organized by the non-profit association Arketipos with Bergamo Commission of the Landscape Festival is made up of prominent names in the field of architecture and landscape. The theme of this year’s edition will be “Grow Together – Growing Together”. Several exhibitions and other initiatives within the framework of the festival will also take place in the city of Brescia as both Bergamo and Brescia are Italy’s Capital of Culture this year.

Martin Rein-Cano
Architect, Topotek 1, Berlin (Germany)
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