On October 25th, 2010, Jeremy Foster, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture at Cornell University, presented his lecture, Spectral Denivelations, Postcolonial Performances: "La Memoire du Rail" at Jardins de l'Eole, as part of the 2010-11 Stanley White Landscape Architecture Lecture Series. Author of Washed with Sun: Landscape and the Making of White South Africa (2008), Foster has degrees in Human Geography, Landscape Architecture, and Architecture. Before turning to teaching, he practiced architecture in South Africa and landscape architecture in the United States with the Olin Partnership.
In his erudite lecture, Foster cited the words of eminent urban designer and theorist Kevin Lynch to suggest how "landscapes may produce an image that is not [or is no longer] visible otherwise," and how designers may deliberately evoke different forms of memory. Offering a detailed case study and analysis, Foster critiqued the contemporary Parisian Park called Jardin de l'Eole, a four-acre urban park created in a former railway yard in 2007. The park was conceived as a sustainable green space that would respond to the needs of the ethnically diverse residents surrounding the site, while simultaneously preserving the industrial history and cultural memory of the place.
The French landscape architect Michel Corajoud, in collaboration with Georges Descombes, designed Jardin de l'Eole in pursuit of two primary inspirations. First was the scale of the space, as they took into account the belt of working class communities that surrounded the space, the view of the magnificent Sacre Coeur cathedral in the distance, and the great plains of steel rails still visible nearby. Second, they also considered the image, experience, and memory of riding the train, and incorporated the old railway lines into the plan as an ordering device to create community gardens, wild meadows, play areas, a canal water garden and a gravel garden. All of these were intended to recall the former railway beds and "induce voyages of the imagination."
Topography was also used to manipulate this landscape; the site was graded in linear strips creating sunken basketball courts and raised walkways, meant to refer to railway tunnels and viaducts. The unusual term denivelations refers to a technique in railroad bed engineering, and the subtle inclinations of railway lines, as a type of profile or transect. In Foster's lecture, therefore, the notion of denivelations has two meanings—it can mean a slow transition through space, as well as through time.