Gigantic

Gilles Vexlard’s large landscaped park, with its areas of woodland and ground movement which seem to have come into being by chance, fits in well with the flat landscape of the Munich fluvial gravel area. Unfortunately, the woodland is set across the sight lines of the dwellings towards the Alps, which offer a show that is well worth seeing when the foehn is blowing. The long straight paths and huge forestry monocultures are reminiscent of 19th century state forests. Such forests are now generally being changed into ecologically sensible mixed woodland. I do not understand why gigantic monocultures are being planted in Riem.

Gottfried Hansjakob, The architecture of landscape (2005)

Gilles Vexlard + Latitude Nord, Riemer Park (2005)

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Confusion

Landscape comes into English language geography primarily from the German landschaft. Much has been written about the fact that the German word means area, without any particularly aesthetic or artistic, or even visual connotations.

Denis Cosgrove, Landscape as cultural product (1984)

The word landscape finds its roots in the Old Dutch word landskip, which designates a stretch of cultivated land. The word paysage in French stems from the Latin word pagus, which simply means an extent of land made by the peasant. In other words, landscape is the belabored making of the peasant, and has nothing to do with the ideal of untouched wilderness.

Christophe Girot, Immanent Landscape (2012)

Historically, landscape has had a range of meanings, some quite unrelated to art. One such meaning applies to civic classification of territory. It has been argued that the German Landshaft or Lantshaft was not originally a view of nature but rather a geographic ares defined by political boundaries. In the late fifteenth century, the land around a town was referred to as its landscape, a meaning that still survives in some places, as in the Swiss canton of Basel Landschaft.

Malcolm Andrews, Landscape and Western Art (1999)

This distinction can be traced back to the Old English term landskip, which at first refered not to land but to a picture of it, as in the later, selectively framed representations of seventeent-century Dutch landschap paintings. Soon after the appearance of this genre of painting the scenic concept was applied to the land itself in the form of large-scale rural vistas, designed estates, and ornamental garden art. Indeed, the development of landscape architecture as a modern profession derives, in large measure, from an impulse to reshape large areas of land according to prior imagining.

James Corner, Eidetic Operations and New Landscapes (1999)

Landscape is a familiar term that is rich and evocative, but also complex and at times confusing.

Simon Swaffield, Landscape as a way of knowing the world (2005)

img06Relais Landschaftsarchitekten, The Written Garden Berlin (2011)

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Opportunists?

Landscape designers may see themselves as agents of mitigation and mediation, but are we really just opportunists? (…) Should landscape architects have more scruples than others? Landscape architects are no more holy than any other people and should neither place themselves nor be placed in a holier-than-thou position.

Saying that, I believe that we should be operating in a way that helps the earth – and all who inhabit it – in any way we can, and to give something back so we leave this world a better place than when we entered it. But I believe this to be true for everyone. However, the topic of the environment is very wide and broad, and there are many, many ways to contribute to this topic, from the heroic site-specific art pieces done by the ‘earthworks artists’ of the 1960s (such as Robert Smithson, Nancy Holt, Michael Heizer and Walter De Maria), to ecological research, to devoting oneself to saving the snail-darter. These are all within the purview of ‘landscape’ and all make contributions. In a field as broad as landscape architecture, it is important that we must recognize that there are equally broad ways of making contributions, and that one way is not necessarily superior to another. I am definitely an opportunist: I am always looking for opportunities to do something interesting. Given that the landscape is a much more complex, larger and more expensive canvas than most studio art, I must depend on others to supply my ‘canvas’.

Martha Schwartz, Designer, client and user (2005)

 

Nancy Holt, Sun Tunnels (1973-1976)

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Empowerment

In more recent decades, social and ecological issues have again stimulated a range of more radical ‘landscape’ initiatives, in which the science of landscape ecology combines with a focus upon the experiential, everyday land- scape of local communities to resist the worse excesses of globalisation. An early expression of this reformulation of landscape as a radical challenge to conventional practice was the ecological design approach pioneered in Holland and introduced into the British New Towns in the 1970s. Initially, emphasis was placed upon restoration and recreation of largely indigenous woodlands, grasslands and wetlands within the new urban areas, frequently on former industrial or mining sites, with the aim that they would make natural environments more accessible to children and communities.

Over time, emphasis has shifted to community participation in the re-making of urban landscapes, through organisations such as Groundwork and Common Ground. These initiatives are tangible expressions of a phenomenological commitment to ‘dwelling’ through landscape, combined with the instrumental knowledge of ecology. Drawing upon both public and private funding, these new vehicles for landscape knowledge contrast dramatically with the ‘elitist’ history portrayed above, as a fundamental part of their operation is the empowerment of local communities, frequently in lower socioeconomic areas, to become engaged in their local landscape setting.

Simon Swaffield, Landscape as a way of knowing the world (2005)

Basurama+Makea, Barna on wheels (2009)

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Site-Readings

How could one design for a site seen only in photographs taken by someone else? Impossible. Site analysis, at a large scale and recorded through detached rational mappings, has given way to site readings and interpretations drawn from first-hand experience and from a specific site’s social and ecological histories. These site-readings form a strong conceptual beginning for a design response, and are registered in memorable drawings and mappings conveying a site’s physical properties, operations, and sensual impressions.

Whose Landscapes?

Who benefits from landscape architecture? To move beyond the simple, aspirational answer – everyone – raises further questions. Who do we think the beneficiaries ought to be, and what is their place in the texture of society as a whole? Planning and designing our future landscapes takes place in a cultural context, and culture is not monolithic. So whose culture, whose landscapes, are we conserving, enhancing or developing anew? 

The challenge in these terms reflects the condition of the western world as we enter a new millennium. Do we properly recognise the value of cultural landscapes, should we make explicit the cultural assumptions implicit in the way we manage landscapes, and how do we weigh the importance of developing new cultural expressions against that of conserving the old?

Catharine Ward Thompson, Who benefits from landscape architecture? (2005)

 

Is the Natur-Park Südgelände a good example of a successful integration of urban wilderness into the open-space system of a metropolis? What speaks in its favor is the simple fact that this kind of nature development has indeed been successfully safeguarded despite substantial competition for use in the reunited German capital. The contrast between dynamic nature and the remnants of the railway industry heritage is fascinating to all visitors. Unfettered wilderness development is always taking place in parts of the Südgelände. Through the spatially differentiated maintenance plan, the earlier and middle stages of nature development are maintained and thereby the diversified vegetation complexes are maintained in the long term. The species targeted for nature conservation profit as well from the maintenance measures. The public acceptance of the nature park is extremely high.

The original railway wilderness has, however, clearly been affected by design interventions in the form of the new path system, the maintenance and the art objects. Has this destroyed the original uniqueness, the “wilderness” of the Südgelände? Certainly the character of the site has changed. The few who earlier had discovered the Südgelände on their own recognize the contrast very clearly. To wake Sleeping Beauty, however, also means to open the urban wilderness to a multitude of visitors who did not have an inherent sympathy for the nature of urban abandoned areas. That such access, even designed access, satisfies a need for wilderness has been shown in studies such as the one by Bauer.

 
 

    Odious, Natur Park Schoeneberg Sudgelande (2009)

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    Eye-Candy

    With modern Dutch urban planning’s almost religious dedication to function, every site, every millimeter, is given a specific, dedicated meaning. Planners, terrified of spatial non definition and other forms of perceived anarchy, organize the city with rigid efficiency. Easy-to-define, one-dimensional spaces and “experiences” are arrayed on the shelves of the urban super-supermarket waiting to be “bought,” consumed and shat out again by the modern city dweller. The result is a perpetual and numbing sameness. Xerox cities, urban cloning, planning laws, and regulations have jammed the city dweller’s global positioning system. His sense of address/identity has been eroded and with it the awareness of, and ability to decode, his environment. Within this contemporary landscape -a world of commerce,  functionality, efficiency, and eye-candy- the rules for urban this-and-thatness have already been written in stone and are not about to be erased to satisfy the whims of designer A, B, or C. The point, then, is for landscape planners and urban designers to lose their fear of the cloned metropolis and offset the weight of repetitive similarities embracing oddity and strangeness as part of the design toolkit. The introduction of off-beat and introverted spaces, unique objects, and indefinable elements, in addition to the freedom to play with indigenous natural elements and forgotten local flavors, offers the city dweller a refresher course in the identification and definition of specific places. The tree in the middle of a concrete desert; a rock balancing precariously above a stainless steel bridge; the simplicity of a water pool as  to a million marble slabs- perhaps the result of daring site manipulation become “addresses” of interest which the individual incorporates into his perpetual dream about a place of his own (different from the futile and nostalgic effort to recreate a place where he has been) a platform for exhibitionism, a world (or even just a zone) brimming with apocalyptic sensations, somewhere to relish the beauty of silence.

    Adriaan Geuze, Colonizing the Void (2005)

    Adriaan Geuze + West 8, Interpolis gardens (1998)

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    Paradise Gardens

    A visitor to Kesh in 1403 wrote: ‘The whole of this mosque with its chapels is very finely wrought in blue and gold, and you enter it through a great courtyard planted with trees round a water tank. Here daily by the special order of Timur the meat of twenty sheep is cooked and distributed in alms’. In madrasahs (theological colleges), courts for teaching and prayer are designed and used as religious gardens. In urban open spaces, courts and fountains were used, like paradise gardens, for rest and contemplation. Fountains in mosque courts were used for ceremonial ablutions. In later centuries the planning of mosques became geometrically integrated with the maidan, a public space. Shah Abbas (1587–1628) made Isfahan into a capital city with an intricate complex of gardens which Khansari rightly compare with the urban structure of Versailles and Washington, DC. Its development continued in the eighteenth century, with the Madrasah-ye Chahar Bagh. The Central Avenue, known as the Chahar Bagh is now a depressingly busy traffic artery.

    Tom Turner, Garden History (2005)

    Isfahan’s Naqsh-e Yahán Square (1619)

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    Beautiful, Sublime and Picturesque

    Initial capitals have been used in the account of Knight, Price and Repton for the words Beautiful, Sublime and Picturesque, to mark their use as part of a specialised aesthetic vocabulary. As explained by Edmund Burke, ‘Beautiful’ meant smooth, flowing, like the body of a beautiful woman. ‘Sublime’ meant wild and frightening, like a rough sea or the views that might be obtained while crossing the Alps on a rocky track in a horsedrawn coach. ‘Picturesque’ was an intermediate term, introduced after Burke, to describe a scene with elements of the Beautiful and the Sublime. Without its initial capital, ‘Picturesque’ means ‘like a picture’. In what is called the landscape style in this book, Picturesque gardens have a sequential transition from a Beautiful foreground, through a Picturesque middle ground to a Sublime background. Composing gardens like paintings integrated the design ideas of the eighteenth century to create a landscape design concept of significant grandeur and exceptionally wide application.

    The landscape style is the chief support for the claim that British designers made a unique contribution to western culture during the eighteenth century. In his 1955 Reith Lectures Nikolaus Pevsner used the term ‘English picturesque theory’ for what he described as an ‘English national planning theory’. Pevsner stated that it ‘lies hidden in the writings of the improvers from Pope to Uvedale Price, and Payne Knight’ and that it gave English town planners ‘something of great value to offer to other nations’. He then asked whether the same can be said ‘of painting, of sculpture, and of architecture proper’. His answer was that Henry Moore and other sculptors had ‘given England a position in European sculpture such as she has never before held’, but that English painting and architecture of the period were of markedly lower quality.

    Tom Turner, Garden History (2005)

    Humphry Repton, Woburn Abbey Gardens (1805)

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    Various ways

    In his remarkable essay The Beholding Eye, D. W. Meinig explores an extended definition of landscape through an analysis of the various ways in which we view landscape and the complexities of the human relation to it. He crystallizes how the landscape is freighted with competing views:

    … there are those who look out upon that variegated scene and see landscape as …

    Nature: amidst all this man is minuscule, superficial, ephemeral, subordinate

    Habitat: what we see before us is man continuously working at a viable relationship with nature

    Artifact: the earth is a platform, but all thereon is furnished with man’s effects so extensively that you cannot find a scrap of pristine nature

    System: such a mind sees a river not as a river, but as a link in the hydrologic circuit

    Problem: the evidence looms in almost any view: eroded hills, flooding rivers, shattered woods

    Wealth: the eyes of an appraiser, assigning a monetary value to everything in view

    Ideology: the whole scene as a symbol of values, the governing ideas, the underlying philosophies of a culture

    History: a complex cumulative record of nature and man

    Place: every landscape is a locality, an individual piece in the infinitely varied mosaic of the earth

    Aesthetic: that there is something close to the essence, of beauty and truth, in the landscape.

    Landscape, then, has powerful physical, environmental, economic, cultural, psychological and aesthetic components.

    John Hopkins, Music-makers and the dreamers of dreams (2005)

    PENTAX Image

    Gillis van den Vliete, Villa d’Este Garden’s Diana of Ephesus (1568)

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