07/04/2010 05:30

Architect Peter Latz aims to turn garbage heap into sustainable environmental park.
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The view from the top is spectacular, a panoramic vista of the Tel Aviv skyline that is unique in its beauty. The air is brisk and fresh, and you can see the sea on a clear day. The value of the property is extraordinary, situated as it is in the heart of the Dan region.

No, this is not an advertisement for the next big luxury condo. It’s the view from the largest mountain of garbage in the country – Hiriya.

For almost 50 years, Hiriya accepted the country’s refuse. The flat flood plain gradually grew a mountain of trash in its center. However, 12 years ago, trash stopped flowing to Hiriya, and it was decided to turn one of the most polluted sites in the country into a model of environmental sustainability.

To date, three recycling plants operate at the foot of the mound, methane bio-gas from the mountain powers a nearby textile company, an environmental education center has been set up, and the area around the center has been landscaped, including a reed bed to treat wastewater. Hiriya also houses the largest waste transfer station in the Middle East.

But that is merely a minuscule fraction of German architect Peter Latz’s vision for the site.

In fact, there are two separate projects right next to each other: the Hiriya trash mountain and the 8,000 dunams (800 hectares) that will become Ariel Sharon Park. It is the last large open space in the overcrowded central region. Latz and his office won the competition to turn Hiriya into a park three years ago, and then separately won the competition to design the park.

The Jerusalem Post caught up with Latz during his visit to Israel last month.

Turning a mountain of garbage into a park is first and foremost an engineering challenge, Latz said. Because the inner parts of the mountain are actually decomposing garbage, the mountain is unstable; any design concept had to come up with a way to stabilize it.

“Mine was the only concept to propose foot terraces to shore it up and leave the unique shape of the top and part of the mountain visible,” the soft-spoken, frail-looking architect told the Post. Most other designs would build up the slopes to the plateau to shore up the mountain, which would also change its shape.

In addition, the Ayalon and Shapirim streams will be diverted from underneath the mountain to maintain its stability – a major project in and of itself.

This is not Latz’s first time turning an industrial wasteland into a park. He renovated his first abandoned industrial area into a park 30 years ago. He has a special affinity for the sites, and a philosophy to match.

“I grew up in an industrial area [Saarland]. I know how ambiguous they are. Pollution, railroad hubs – lots of fragmented elements. Yet for the people who work there, it is the best place in the world. And when it closes, they are angry,” he explained.

“I leave enough elements to see what was before, but I also change it,” he added.

Latz refuses to hide what for some might be the more unsightly or “machines behind the magic” aspects of the parks.

“One of my philosophies is to use all the elements, even if they’re not very gentle, because people are curious,” he said.

For instance, he has planned a walking path from the visitor center to the recycling plants that exist on the premises now and will remain in his design. The plants will even have an observation deck so people can stop and watch the recycling process.

Similarly, the massive hydraulic system that the park will need will be the backdrop for a climbing wall, while cafes and shops line the edge above, Latz indicated on the plans strewn across the table in the office on top of Hiriya.

Latz has also had to contend with the fact that the park and the mountain are on the flood plain. While serious flooding is rare, it could occur every few years. If not channeled correctly, the water would rush in and destroy the park.

Therefore, Latz’s design includes canals to guide the floodwaters harmlessly through the site. When not flooded, which is about 99 percent of the time, the canals will be walking and biking paths.

Latz also envisions concentric layers of fruit groves and forests – all of which insulate the visitor in what is essentially a slab of land between two major highways. The sounds and sight of the highways will disappear from most of the park when Latz is done.

“The groves integrate the visitor into agriculture and ecology,” he explained.

The parking lots will be set among the trees, to draw the visitor out of the concrete jungle and into the forest from the first step. Picnic areas and playgrounds will dot the landscape within the forest.

A main element of Latz’s park is sustainability. For example, the foot terraces that shore up the mountain will be made from recycled materials. According to Latz, water is an important part of any park, and he plans to add a large lake as well as winding stream paths.

Since water is scarce, Latz intends to use wastewater that will be purified through reed beds. A pumping system will move the water back through the park. And the central lake will have an artificial flow onto the natural bank area and then back out, so as to keep the water from stagnating without the use of chemicals.

He also plans an oasis with water and palm trees in the middle of the Hiriya plateau. He hopes the water will be derived from the garbage itself via the recycling plant and then treated.

Looking out over the site, the potential is obvious. It’s a massive green space set against the backdrop of skyscrapers and white buildings. The location, an open area surrounded by buildings, has its own modest beauty as a series of fields. But the German architect has envisioned much more. As he put it, “you have to offer interesting spaces for people to discover.”

The cost of the project isn’t entirely clear yet. Some of the elements will likely vary in cost as safety standards and material prices fluctuate over time – for this is not a short-term project. When asked to estimate how long it would take to finish, Latz replied, “About 25 years.”

Still, perhaps this is a positive ecological sign in a pollution-choked region. It took 50 years to create the mountain of refuse; it will only take half as long to turn it into an ecological park.