There was an interesting article published in the August 2007 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine about Punta Pite, a residential development on the Chilean coast with perhaps the most awesome oceanside trail system.
Actually, it is more than awesome. The opening image, somewhat similar to the one above, immediately put me into a state of delirious ecstasy, a reaction no other article published by the mothership has ever elicited from me, as far as I can recall.
The article, parts of which appear online, begins thus:
Punta Pite is a 27-acre piece of land that follows the contours of a bay between Zapallar and Papudo, two sea towns located 93 miles north of Santiago, Chile. A residential development planned and built here between 2004 and 2006 takes its name from this place and is laid out in a way that surrenders to the power and beauty of the ocean. It was developed as a series of parts connected by a walking path, one part of which seems to be sculpted out of the existing cliffs, while the other part passes through a restored creed that were meant to create one single spatial experience of the site.
While the article says these Inca-like stony trails are on private property, it also reports that they will be open to the public in the coming months.
Nothing like Punta Pite's cliffside walking path would probably be built in the U.S., or at the very least minor design tweaks would have to be implemented to meet federal regulations and to appease anxious attorneys. Certainly if it's publicly funded, the Americans with Disabilities Act would swoop down demanding railings and specifying turning curves and maximum ramp gradients. And with even more certainty, developers would not want to subject themselves to expensive litigations.
There are, of course, many landscape projects that meet both ADA and attorney approvals and still look and work marvelously. Bureaucratic regulations are in and of themselves not anathemas to great design as some vocally voice.
But the incredible thing about the path, or El sendero, at Punta Pite is the possibility for multiple-compound fractures and even death. It is designed to be accessible and relatively safe, but landscape architect Teresa Moller wonderfully did not diminish the sublime quality of the landscape — and by sublime, I mean, terrifying.
One second you're enjoying the cliffs, its geology, the ocean crashing against the rocks. You're lulled by the beauty of it all, but then exactly one second later, you slip and bash your head down below.
One second you are assured solidity and logical direction, and the next second, you find yourself unable to move, incapacitated by too much landscape, by the knowledge that your foot is but a millimeter away from the precipice and bloody ecstasy.
Or perhaps you find yourself lost, completely subsumed by the wilderness — an unintended reenactment of Picnic at Hanging Rock or a similarly accidental homage to the late Michelangelo Antonioni.
Or so I imagined, as I obviously have yet to visit the site. But the photos are quite suggestive.
Meanwhile, Moller explains in the article that she was guided in her design by “the words of a famous Chilean poet who describes Chile as 'pure geography.'” We are not told who this poet is, but one wonders if the country will now give birth to a national Romantic movement, a whole new generation writing peans to geomorphology, tectonics, hydrology and coastal erosion.
Or perhaps dark Romantic souls will haunt these cliffs, searching for a more sinister, far truer side to Nature, but in finding it too incomprehensible that even Edgar Allen Poe will have trouble expressing it in paper, will sink ever deeper into mire.
How deeply am I willing to go into the wilderness?