Countless

Architects and industrial designers often see their designs as a final product of genius, whose aesthtic entriety originated in their minds. A design like that is thrown off by the slightest damage. Landscape architects have learnt to put that into perspective, because they know that their designs are continually adapted and transformed. We have learned to see landscape not as a “fait accompli”, but as the result of countless forces and initiatives.

Adriaan Geuze, Interview with Olof Koekebakker (1994)

arton21  Michel Corajoud, Parc du Sausset (1981)

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Taylor-Made

These semiotic features on landscape, and the historical narratives they generate, are tailor-made for the discourse of imperialism, which conceives itself precisely (and simultaneusly) as an expression of landscape understood as an inevitable, progressive development in history, an expansion of “culture” and “civilization” into a “natural” space in a progress that is itself narrated as “natural”. Empires move outward in space as a way of moving forward in time; the “prospect” that opens up is not just a spatial scene but a projected future of “development” and explotation. And this movement is not confined to the external, foriegn fields towards the empire directs itself; it is typically accompained by a renewed interest in the re-presentation of the home landscape, the “nature” of imperial center. 


William J. Thomas Mitchell, Landscape and Power (1994)

Dan Kiley + Eero Saarinen + Ian Tyndall, Jefferson National  Expansion Memorial (1965)

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Theses on Landscape

1. Landscape is not a genre of art but a medium.

2. Landscape is a medium of exchange between the human and the natural, the self and the other. As such, it is like money: good for nothing in itself, but expressive of a potentially limitless reserve of value. 

3. Like money, landscape is a social hieroglyph that conceals the actual basis of its value. It does so by naturalizing its conventions and conventionalizing its nature. 

4. Landscape is a natural scene mediated by culture. It is both a represented and presented space, both a signifier and a signified, both a frame and what a frame contains, both a real place and its simulacrum, both a package and the commodity inside de package. 

5. Landscape is a medium found in all cultures. 

6. Landscape is a particular historical formation associated with European imperialism.

7. Theses 5 and 6 do not contradict one other. 

8. Landscape is an exhausted medium, no longer viable as a mode of artistic expression. Like life, landscape is boring; we must not say so. 

9. The landscape referred to in Thesis 8 is the same as that of Thesis 6.

William J. Thomas Mitchell, Landscape and Power (1994)

Taylor, Cullity, Lethlean Landscape, North Wharf Promenade (2011)

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Artifice

Landscape may be represented by painting, drawing, or engraving; by photography, film, and theatrical scenery; by writing, speech, and presumably even music and other “sound images”. Before all those secondary representations, however, landscape is itself a physical and multisensory medium (earth, stone, vegetation, water, sky, sound and silence, light and darkness, etc.) in which cultural meanings and values are encoded, whether they are put there by the physical transformation of a place in landscape gardening and architecture, or found in a place formed, as we say, “by nature”. The simplest way to summarize this point is to note that it makes Kenneth Clark’s title, Landscape into Art, quite redundant: landscape is already artifice in the moment of its beholding, long before it becomes the subject of pictorial representation.

William J. Thomas Mitchell, Imperial Landscape (1994)

Henri Bava + Agence TER, Aqua Magica Park (2000)

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Little Influence

The public was never made fully aware of the scope of landscape architecture, and among those who were aware, attitudes have changed over the past forty years from hopeful interest to, at worst, critical wrath.

Why has a field so full of idealism and both practical and economically available solutions had so little influence and effect? The answers do not seem to lie in the arguments and dichotomies of the field itself, though insecurities that may have been both cause and effect certainly have played a role.

One basis of insecurity may have been inherited from the modern architectural movement’s dictum that history is not important. While being educated for a greatly expanded contemporary role, students of design were routinely underprepared to measure their current efforts against the work of previous generations and other cultures. This has not only psychologically orphaned the young practitioners but also denied them the means to evaluate previous work in any but their own terms. The emphasis on learning about, and assimilating, increasing amounts of science and technology in the schools has limited students’ access to cultural and philosophical inquiry. This has tended to remove students from debates about the political and economic forces that have controlled the direction of society. What is more, the mistaken faith that technical knowledge would give the power to lead may have reduced the designer’s ability to affect society by the power of iconic example. If one is service oriented, how much scope does one have for offering philosophical guidance or cultural leadership?

Peter Walker, Melanie Simo, Invisible Gardens (1994)

Peter Walker + PWP Landscape Architecture, Barangaroo Reserve (2015)

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Alfred Caldwell, Promontory Point Park (circa 1937)

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Ideology

LIKE ALL OTHER ASPECTS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, our distinctively American ideology of space has a history, and I propose to sketch something of its origin, its later development, and its presently visible consequences. I call my subject the ideology of “space” rather than “landscape” because space is an essential component of both architecture and landscape. Architecture and landscape architecture are two of the chief forms in which we shape and experience the spaces we inhabit. The term space also may remind us initially that a landscape is a physical entity whose meaning and value we construct and for which we have a variety of other names: land, topography, terrain, territory, environment, cityscape, country-side, scenery, place. One could go on, but all of these may be thought of as forms of space-geographical space. Indeed, the initial European conceptions of North America-the blank white areas often labeled terra incognita on early maps–had more in common with our shared idea of space (an empty three-dimensional field) than with the received idea of landscape (a pretty stretch of natural scenery).

The distinction points to another attraction of the word space: its relative neutrality. It does not carry the inescapably pictorial sense of place that the word landscape has carried since it First came into the English language in the early seventeenth century. (The word evidently was borrowed from the Dutch landskip, which closely associated it with the emergence of landscape painting as an independent genre.) This pictorial idea of space was reinforced by eighteenth-century devotees of natural scenery, who developed elaborate theoretical distinctions among beautiful, sublime, and picturesque landscapes and representations there of by that time, landscape had become the essentially aesthetic concept it still is. Space, on the other hand, invites consideration of the actual state of the nation’s terrain. The term may help to remind us of the differences among (1) ideas and images of topography, or its subjective existence; (2) the relatively small sector of the national terrain that might be called  the designed landscape, consisting of deliberately planned gardens, parks, nature reserves, housing developments, and suburbs; and (3) the rest of the national terrain, most of which consists of a “built environment” shaped by the countless uncoordinated decisions of govermnental bodies, firms, and individuals, and by the operation of various markets, especially that of real estate. I particularly want to emphasize the contrast between the small sector of the terrain shaped by the design professions -architecture, urban planning, and landscape architecture- and the rest of the national terrain, an immense unplanned area where the consequences of the prevailing American ideology of space are massively exhibited. This area is shaped by the decisions -in large measure market-driven-of countless real-estate investors, speculators, and developers.

Leo Marx, The American Ideology of Space (1994)

Avery Lawrence, Mowing-the-Lawn (2013)