Of Course

It is, of course, true that “nature” is culturally constructed. When a French theorist like seventeenth-century Jacques Boyceau claims that garden symmetry is predicated on nature’s own efforts at abstraction, he appeals to a nature differently conceived- not least as a result of post-Renaissance scienticism- either from those on which Denis Diderot, a century later, could base his claim that spatial principles of symmetry or proportion were simply not to be founding nature or from a world that modern photography celebrates in its ecological concern to give amazing proofs of nature’s abstractions. Thus it follows that we must carefully scrutinize every context of the term’s use to adjudicate its local and/or historical meaning. Especially in casual or colloquial usage, such phrases as “it’s natural” or “naturally” inevitably camouflage ideological assumptions by pretending that some expressed opinion, far from special pleading, is grounded in a way of things beyond dispute.

“Nature” is a term, however, that won’t go away; above all, for our purposes, it is endlessly, inevitably, and invoked landscape architects. The term has performed various duties, some less strenuous than others: it can refer to a few bushes around a building (a lazy architectural assumption met with too frequently in professional circles); less residually, it can mean an invented countryside (Fairmount Park along Schuylkill River in Philadelphia however devised and remodeled from the late eighteenth century onward, provides a “natural” site, especially when contrasted with the inner adjacent city); or at his most strenuous (for instance in Ian McHarg’s Design with Nature), it can signal an intricate congeries of causes and effects to which the precisions physical  of science seem to give us the best access, but even here cannot at times escape being colored a rhetoric that endows it with a value beyond the normative and objective.

John Dixon-Hunt, Ruskin the Design of Nature and the Transcription Manuscripts (1997)

Olafur Eliasson, Hall Art Foundation Waterfall (2004)





The techniques of disinformation and the pseudo-explanation of the
automaton chess-player illustrate once again the supreme and enduring
test of all information design, the integrity of the content displayed!

Is the display revealing the truth?
Is the representation accurate?
Are the data carefully documented?
Do the methods of display avoid spurious readings cf the data?
Are appropriate comparisons and contexts shown?

Sometimes we have a clear empirical test of visual truth-telling:
Was a wise decision made and prudent action taken on the basis of
the displayed information? Thus, in our examples, the epidemic ends
or persists, the space shuttle survives or explodes, the stairs escort us
safely or trip us up, the map efficiently guides us to our destination
or it confuses and misleads us.

Also professional standards of quantitative and graphical integrity
point the way. For example, economists agree that graphs depicting
money over a period of time should show inflation-adjusted (constant)
monetary units.” To use undeflated monetary units is to distort the
evidence, mixing up changes in the value of money with real changes in
the data, just as rainbow color-coding of quantitative data confounds
What happens in a color scheme with what happens in the data.

Edward R. Tufte, Visual Explainations (1997)

Meir Lobaton Corona + Ulli Heckmann + Julia Pankofer, Outside-in (2013)


Header: image from landscape (35mm) blog (don’t miss it)


Conventions of landscape practice and representation are thick with the sediment of habit and tradition. Often cited as a force behind these conventions is the early eighteenth-century English garden, the harbinger of the picturesque landscape. One particular understanding of the picturesque relates to the practice of comparing landscape scenes to, and composing them from, landscape paintings. Seeing landscape as a three-dimensional work that mimics a two-dimensional image sets up the stubbornly pervasive techniques and attitudes that currently define and delimit landscape’s -and nature’s- pictorialization.

Julia Czerniak, Challenging the Pictorial: Recent Landscape Practice (1997)

10575_1362653212930_PFCharles Jenks, Nothcumberlandia The Lady of the North (2012)

FIND IT on the map