Disneyland

If you could make a film of the European landscape that covered the millennia of history, compressed into a convenient half-hour for the comfort of the public, it would show the following story: first, a cold steppe, populated by large ruminant animals migrating northwards in spring and southwards in autumn and followed by the beasts of prey, including humans, that hunted them. Then, an ever denser forest, inhabited by no-longer-nomadic peoples living and working in clearings kept open by the use of stone tools and fire. Then, a basically familiar scene of fields of edible grains, and pastures of edible animals, with occasional forests surviving as sources of newsprint. And if you could project your movie camera into the immediate future, you would see a continent-sized Disneyland full of people working very short weeks because of automation, and trying desperately to amuse themselves so as not to die of boredom. The question is: Who will be the Disney of the future? He or she might, I suggest, be a molecular biologist.

All the organisms of the Earth are coloured. We all secrete dyes in our skins and these dyes have important functions, supporting not only the individual (protective colouration) but also the species (sexual signals). We are now beginning to understand the chemical and physiological processes of these secretions and to be able to formulate the laws that govern them. Molecular
biologists may soon be handling skin color more or less as painters handle oils and acrylics. Then the internal dyes of animal and vegetable biology may acquire a crucial new use: they may help the human species to survive its boredom by filling the future-as-Disneyland with multicolored fauna and flora. (…) 

The Disney of the future should be able to programme such effects at will. He or she may perhaps compose an enormous color symphony, evolving spontaneously through endless variations (mutations), in which the colour of every living organism will complement the colors of every other organism and be mirrored by them. A gigantic living work of art, of a wealth and beauty as yet unimaginable, is definitely possible.

Today’s environmentalists and ecologists, who stubbornly continue to call themselves ‘green’, will object that a landscape transformed into a Disneyland, a work of art, will no longer be ‘natural’. But consider: when they planted fields, they accelerated the artifice. The future’s Disneyland will simply continue it. And anyway, why can’t art inform nature? When we ask why dogs can’t be blue with red spots, we’re really asking about art’s role in the immediate future, which is menaced not only by explosions both nuclear and demographic, but equally by the explosions of boredom.

Vilém Flusser, Curie’s Children (1988)

Robert Skitek + RS, Jaworznickie Planty Water Playground (2018)

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No more Real

A landscape is a cultural image, a pictorial way of representing, structuring or symbolising surroundings. This is not to say that landscapes are immaterial. They are represented in a variety of materials and on many surfaces – in paint on canvas, in writing on paper, in earth, stone, water and vegetation on the ground. A landscape park is more palpable but no more real, nor less imaginary, than a landscape painting or poem.

Stephen Daniels & Denis Cosgrove, Introduction: iconography and landscape (1988)

Kathryn Gustafson, Les Jardins de l’Imaginaire (1997)

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Ecumene

Fragmenting the experience of place in the abstractions of the special disciplines reinforces the split between our methods of feeling and our methods of thinking. It also spoils the human environment, vitiating our ability to build and inhabit good houses, communities, and cities, because the conventional ways of thinking about housing and urban spaces do not grasp the reality of places as wholes.

The integrity of a place suffers when what we learn by ear gets disconnected from what we perceive with the eye – still more when what we imagine seems irrelevant. The imagination makes sense. It is, moreover, an organ of perception – like our eyes, ears, and legs. We get to know a place when we participate in the local imagination. The whole synthesis of located experience – including what we imagine as well as the sights, stories, feelings, and concepts – gives us the sens of a place.

We are threatened today by two kinds of environmental degradation: one is pollution – a menace that we all acknowledge; the other is loss of meaning. For the first time in human history, people are systematically building meaningless places. However, we are a living through the end of an era, experiencing the demise of modern architecture, a revulsion from “futurism,” scepticism about planning, and a reaction against urban renewal programs. As we contemplate the ruins and dislocations of our cities, another way of understanding the built environment and the natural landscape is struggling to emerge. Today, everyone yearns for renewal, but from a holistic perspective, what does the renewal of a city mean? It is not merely physical reconstruction, as many people think – demolishing slums and replacing them with new buildings. Historically, the renewal of a city was experienced as a mental and emotional transformation, an improvement of the spirit, a rebirth of psychic energies.

Eugene Victor Walter, Placeways: A Theory of the Human Environment, (1988)

 

Recognizing and fostering regional and cultural differences in landscapes will probably be the strongest challenge of this global age. As with the disappearance of species, countless cultural traditions related to landscape will disappear in coming decades due to the increased political, economic, and environmental pressures of globalization. French geographer Augustin Berque reminds us of the very particular relationship that humans have with their natural environment, a relationship that differs strongly and symbolically from one society to another, from one language to the next. Berque defines this bond with nature as the ecumene and reminds us of the unfathomable differences between cultures of the Orient and the Occident, and the North and the South. The ecumene expresses, therefore, a society’s attachment to a particular landscape reality, an ontological predisposition toward nature, where the relationship to landscape is understood as a set of strong beliefs and signifiers. Our relationship to the world is the complex product of language, work, culture, and myth, and the idealized expression of this faith in nature often merges at the cusp of strong cultural divides, where things can barely be explained, let alone be sensed. Commonalities and environmental concerns will thus continue to face prevailing linguistic and cultural divides, nurturing strong distinctions and discrepancies between human societies. As cultures disappear, other hybrids will arise, underlining the prevalence of local lore over globalization, and each landscape will thus become an invitation to express a culture of difference in an act of superb creative defiance.  

Christophe Girot, Topology and Landscape Experimentation (2017)

Christophe Girot, Invaliden Park (1997)

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Beyond Ourselves

When we neglect natural processes in city design, we not only risk the intensification of natural hazard and the degradation of natural resources, we also forfeit a sense of connection to a larger whole beyond ourselves.

Anne Whiston Spirn, The Granite Garden (1988)

 

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Ridley Scott, Blade Runner (1982)

Express Meaning

The artful shaping of the landscape to serve human purposes at whatever scale, from the garden to the region, entails an understanding of the human and the natural worlds, in both an empirical and a metaphysical sense. Landscape architects must confront nature as discrete elements of rocks and trees and nature as Idea (naturel Nature). In designing the landscape we extract natural features from their context and reorder them to serve human purposes. At times we attempt to imitate or reproduce natural processes and forms, at times we abstract or echo those processes and forms, and at times we superimpose a sharply contrasting order. This do to express meaning.

The concern for nature that is at the core of landscape architecture yields a sense for temporal and spatial scales that distinguishes it from related fields. The landscape comprises a spectrum of scales; it is rarely as enclosed and self-contained as a but is continuous, linked to other distant landscapes by the movement of air, earth, water, and living organisms, including humans. The landscape is also dynamic, evolving continually in time. Unless a landscape design is comprised of inert materials, it is thus never complete, but continues to change perceptibly month by month, year by year.

Anne Whiston Spirn, Nature, Form, and Meaning: Guest Editor’s Introduction (1988)

William Wenk + Wenk Associates, Shop Creek Restoration (1989)

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