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Entropy by design: Gilles Clément, Parc Henri Matisse and the Limits to Avant-garde Urbanism


  • This article was first presented as the IJURR Annual Lecture at the 2010 Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers in Washington, DC. The lecture is available to view on the IJURR website at I would like to thank the IJURR referees for their useful comments on an earlier draft along with various seminar audiences who have contributed to the ideas under discussion. Thanks also to Claire Colomb for sharing her knowledge of planning and politics in Lille and to Emilie Koefed for her assistance in tracking down some of the more obscure sources.

Matthew Gandy (, Department of Geography, University College London, 26 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AP, UK.



Derborence Island, an inaccessible concrete structure set in the middle of Lille's Parc Henri Matisse, is an intriguing example of recent landscape design. The park, which was completed in 1995 as part of the vast Euralille development, was designed by the French landscape architect Gilles Clément. The idea for the park is derived from several sources, including the aesthetic characteristics of uncultivated ground, the symbolic reconstruction of a fragment of primary forest and the enhancement of urban biodiversity. It is suggested that Clément's novel synthesis of nature and culture is significantly different from prevailing discourses of landscape design and is best interpreted as a form of site-specific art. Clément's project reveals tensions between the aesthetic and scientific significance of so-called ‘waste spaces’ in contemporary cities and the widening scope of utilitarian approaches to landscape design.


L'île Derborence, structure de béton inaccessible au cæur du Parc Henri Matisse de Lille, est un exemple fascinant de conception paysagère récente. Le parc, réalisé en 1995 dans le cadre du vaste aménagement d'Euralille, a été créé par l'architecte paysagiste français Gilles Clément. Le projet a eu plusieurs sources d'inspiration, dont les caractéristiques esthétiques d'un terrain non cultivé, la reconstitution symbolique d'un fragment de forêt primaire et l'enrichissement de la biodiversité urbaine. La synthèse novatrice entre nature et culture qu'effectue Clément est très différente des courants dominants de la création paysagère et trouve sa meilleure interprétation comme forme artistique propre à un lieu. Le projet de Clément met en évidence des tensions entre l'importance esthétique et scientifique des espaces dits ‘à l'abandon’ dans les villes contemporaines, et la dimension accrue des approches utilitaristes dans l'aménagement des paysages.