Open-Ended

Many design critics and theorists, including me, have commented on the shift from spatial to temporal preoccupations in landscape theory and practice since the late 1980’s. More recently, more premiated entries in large parks competitions, from Landshaftpark Duisburg-Nord, to Freshkills, to Downsview Park, have employed design strategies that exploited the temporal qualities of the landscape as a dynamic, performative, open-ended process medium.

Elizabeth K. Meyer, Uncertain Parks: Disturbed Sites, Citizens and Risk Society (2007)

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James Corner + Field Operations, Freshkills (2000-)

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(See Freshkills Park Timeline)

Vanished

A generation ago, humans eluded nuclear annihilation; with luck, we’ll continue to dodge that and other mass terrors. But now we often find ourselves asking whether inadvertently we’ve poisoned or parboiled the planet, ourselves included. We’ve also used and abused water and soil so that there’s a lot less of each, and trampled thousands of species that probably aren’t coming back. Our world, some respected voices warn, could one day degenerate into something resembling a vacant lot, where crows and rats scuttle among weeds, preying on each other. If it comes to that, at what point would things have gone so far that, for all our vaunted superior intelligence, we’re not among the hardy survivors?

The truth is, we don’t know. Any conjecture gets muddled by our obstinate reluctance to accept that the worst might actually occur. We may be undermined by our survival instincts, honed over eons to help us deny, defy, or ignore catastrophic portents lest they paralyze us with fright.

If those instincts dupe us into waiting until it’s too late, that’s bad. If they fortify our resistance in the face of mounting omens, that’s good. More than once, crazy, stubborn hope has inspired creative strokes that snatched people from ruin. So, let us try a creative experiment: Suppose that the worst has happened. Human extinction is a fait accompli. Not by nuclear calamity, asteroid collision, or anything ruinous enough to also wipe out most everything else, leaving whatever remained in some radically altered, reduced state. Nor by some grim eco-scenario in which we agonizingly fade, dragging many more species with us in the process.

Instead, picture a world from which we all suddenly vanished. Tomorrow.

Alan Weisman, The World Without Us (2007)


Prípiat after Chernobyl Disaster (1986)

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Landscape Branding

Some Korean environmental associations have criticized the operation for its high costs. They condemn it as a purely symbolic project, one that will have no real consequences in affecting the environmental health of the city. It is true that the orientation of the people promoting the plan was not towards ecological recovery. What has been created is not the re-naturalisation of an existing water course; nor is it appropriate to speak of a historical restoration, because the original character of the site was irremediably lost long ago: old Seoul was a city of little wooden houses, while the modern capital is a forest of skyscrapers.

To understand the entire operation, it is more useful to look elsewhere.

The colourful and fairly informative website devoted by the Seoul Metropolitan Government to the Cheonggyecheon Project, opens with the slogan: “With the restoration of the Cheonggyecheon, Seoul will change, and Korea will change”. What does it mean? In which sense is this project seen as an operation capable of bringing dramatic renewal not only to the capital city of the Republic of South Korea but also to the whole nation? That slogan emphasizes that the project is derived from a radical action – the destruction of an urban highway – which is considered as the first stage of the great change for the city of Seoul. One association might be the fall of the Berlin Wall; pieces of the dismantled highway are sold as souvenirs, just like fragments of the Wall in the capital of Germany. They are tangible signs of an epochal event, which justifies the level of self-celebration in the whole intervention.

A little further in the abovementioned website, the goals of the project are clearly laid out: according to a scheme dated 2002 – i.e., before it was implemented – the Cheonggyecheon project was to foster the “development of Seoul’s capital identity”, the “building-up of a new paradigm in city management” and the “enhancement of Seoul’s industrial competitiveness”. The objectives listed in the scheme sound like marketing goals: reconstruction of the Cheonggyecheon might be seen as an operation in ‘branding’. According to the Oxford Dictionary, branding is that technique organized for the ‘promotion of a particular product or company by means of advertising and distinctive design’. The product, in our case, is the metropolis of Seoul. (…)

One of the main aims connected with the Cheonggyecheon river and urban park was linked to the idea that it would foster massive potential for economic regeneration and city development. Another goal of the Seoul city administration with this project was to create a recognisable and powerful landmark, a distinct symbol to represent the city of Seoul – and, by implication, South Korea as a whole – with its own unique identity to the entire world. The reconstruction of Cheonggyecheon, through which the city is promoting a specific identity for a downtown area otherwise indistinguishable from that of so many modern Asian cities, is a feat of territorial branding. This is a new frontier for landscape architecture.

Bianca Maria Rinaldi, Landscapes of metropolitan hedonism The Cheonggyecheon Linear Park in Seoul (2007)

Mikyoung Kim, Cheong-Gyecheon Canal Restoration Project (2007)

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Toxic Discourse

Large Parks on disturbed sites should be recognized as landscapes of consumption as well as production. It is tempting for designers of large parks built on abandoned industrial sites to heroicize the buildings and machines that remain. Such strategies, however, privilege the histories of production over the histories of consumption that are also embedded in such sites. This allows visitors to distance themselves from the histories of human, material, and chemical flows on and off the site, and to limit their own culpability in and responsability for such histories.(…)

Toxic discourse is an expression of a collectivity of consumer-citizens who perceive their environment through the lens of uncertainty and risk. Disturbed sites are byproducts of economic policies that viewed nature as a resource and that accepted environmental degradation as the inevitable consequence of technological progress. The experience of designed landscapes on and in disturbed sites can render visible the consequences of the economic, political, and social decisions that led to those risks.

Elizabeth K. Meyer, Uncertain Parks: Disturbed Sites, Citizens and Risk Society. (2007)

10369986_619454298189906_8759324547411185758_nÉdouard Manet, Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1863)

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Collectif 6, Déjeuner sur l’herbe version

Constructed Visibility

Many landscape architects understand their task in parallel fashion. They manipulate landscape forms to induce ordered spatial and visual experiences of significance. For them, this process is an assumed aspect of their profession, and manipulation of the eye is taken for granted. Yet landscapes are often regarded by both scholars and the general public as transparent or even “invisible.” The designed landscape seems common enough to go virtually unnoticed in everyday life. For example, on a typical architect’s plan drawing, the buildings are figural while the landscape is “ground”; the architecture emerges as solid, material, and substantive, while landscape, if it appears as anything other than a white void, seems soft, formless.
Our tendency to regard landscape as neutral ground may be enhanced through architectural means to make the viewer adopt a preferred view. The result is what might be called “spaces of constructed visibility,” in which forms are masked or revealed so as to render “things seeable in a specific way.” If design can enhance vision, it can also hinder it, making spaces of constructed invisibility. In the Islamic world, such invisibility historically maintained the divide between the sexes and between public and private space. In antebellum America, rows of trees separated the plantation manor from the slave quarters, hiding from view slaves whose sweat and toil produced the wealth that supported the owners.
If landscape is less frequently noticed and harder to discern than architecture, it is by that very fact more persuasive. Landscape is “always already there” and thus seems not to have been created but simply to be, not a constructed form but rather a preexisting or even primordial one. It appears above all “natural” because it is composed of plants, soil, geological formations, sunlight, and water and because it seems to exist in the absence of human management or design. Even human interventions such as topographical leveling, deforestation, and drainage appear natural when landscape and nature are thus conflated. From an analytical perspective, this associationis deeply problematic. Hiding human agency naturalizes cultural processes that areby no means spontaneous or innate. Even more importantly, ideologies and social constructs are rendered invisible, or at the very least, made to appear equally inherent. Scholars of the English landscape and its textual and visual representations have demonstrated that the rural and garden scenery of the eighteenth century masked the political, economic, and social hegemony of an elite landed class. With verdant rolling hills, shade trees, serpentine waterways, and distant vistas, the so-called picturesque landscape gave the appearance par excellence of a benign Arcadia, justly given in disproportionate amounts to a powerful landed minority. The distribution thus seemed morally right, an inherent characteristic of the land itself, ordained by heavenly powers. The frequent presumption that landscapes are God-given and natural has led with equal frequency to the notion that what we believe we see in the landscape must be so. When one combines this premise with scientific assumptions the physiology of vision (“seeing is believing”), it becomes easy to imagine nature, landscape, and vision as a powerful trio for conveying ideology.
Herein lies one of the perplexing ironies of landscape: it is regarded as natural and eternally present, and yet it is also ignored as if it did not matter. How then can the study of landscape and vision illuminate cultural discourses that are essentially spatial, yet normalized to the point of invisibility? How does one study such an elusive, unstable object? One strategy entails focusing on mechanisms that are not easily seen, such as the frame, the controlling perspective, illusionism, the lens or screen through which we are induced to look, and the wall or landform that intentionally conceals. Spatially determined, vision can support the construction of “difference” through what is revealed and what remains concealed- marking class, race, and gender. What we see, and the manner in which the built world directs our gaze, contributes to our daily instruction about insiders and outsiders, privilege and denial, domination, submission, and, in some cases, resistance.
 
 

Mcregor + Coxall, GASP! – Glenorchy Art & Sculpture Park (2011-) 

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Indigenous

Landscape urbanism is often heralded as the saviour of the built professions, as the new –ism with concerns that are congruent with the politically correct, ecological biases and priorities of the developed, Western world. Much of the contemporary discourse on landscape urbanism – and the projects aligned with this emerging field – focus upon the challenges posed by post-industrial urban voids. The recovery of brownfield sites and the reintroduction of natural processes and habitats are key issues linked to landscape urbanism. At the same time, it is arguable that such projects are more landscape architecture – as opposed to landscape urbanism. Often, the urbanism component is lacking.

This paper will develop an argument that landscape urbanism – understood as structuring landscapes to guide their occupation, use and urbanization – is not new, but has indeed been in practice for several millennia. It argues that there is an ancient, indigenous landscape urbanism whereby an integral system of urbanization is tied to the logics of landscapes. More specifically, it investigates territories structured by water resource management and the relationship of such landscapes to urbanization.

Kelly Shannon & Samitha Manawadu, Indigenous Landscape Urbanism: Sri Lanka’s Reservoir & Tank System (2007)

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Angammedilla Gal Amuna (Rajabemma) at Polonnaruwa (ca 1175)

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Large Parks

Large urban parks are complex and diverse systems that respond to processes of economic growth and decay, to their own evolving ecology, to shifts in demographics and social practices, and to changes in aesthetic sensibilities. Because of their size (defined here as having at least 500 acres in area) their location (often close to dense urban environments!, and their site histories (such as former industrial zones that need remediation to make them suitable for recreation), these parks require a process-driven design approach that does not intend to provide a definitive plan for the site as much as it seeks to guide its transformation into a public recreational space. Because the design and construction of large parks take years, if not decades—often with changes in public administration and funding in the interim, and lengthy public processes that require ongoing revisions—designs are open-ended, incorporating diverse approaches and uneven levels of intervention and management. They focus on frameworks that adapt to changing conditions rather than forms composed to conform to an aesthetic whole.

Yet for all their susceptibility to the ebb and flow of urban circumstances, large parks remain fundamental to cities, not only because they take on infrastructural and ecological functions displaced from densely built centers but because they are distinct, memorable places. They absorb the identity of the city as much as they project one, becoming socially and culturally recognizable places that are unique and irreproducible. Those large public parks that we are continuously drawn to as designers, ones that have captured the imagination of writers, artists, social historians, and philosophers, and that continue to be used intensely centuries after their making, have in common seemingly contradictory characteristics: they are flexible, adaptive, socially dynamic, emerging sites, and they are also visually powerful, unforgettable places. They are the product of deliberate decisions that leave them open-ended in terms of management, program, and use, and they result from equally conscious decisions that isolate, distill, and capture for the long term that which makes them unique. This chapter examines the relationship between process and place. More specifically, it explores how process-based practices, those that leave the site open to contingency and change—a contemporary requisite of large and complex sites—also incorporate strategics that accentuate a place’s enduring qualities.

Anita Berrizbeitia, Re-Placing Process (2007)

Iñaki Alday & Margarita Jover + Christine Dalnoky, Meandro de Ranillas Water Park (2008)

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Natural Artifacts

lan McHarg pursued this goal. He tried to construct artifacts that had natural logic- “natural artifacts.” He advocated planned habitation coherent with the characteristics of each biome, consonant with tropical rainforests, with deserts or grasslands or temperate woodlands. The biosphere is not at all uniform. From pole to pole, across the equator, inside caves and in the upland forests. exist a range of distinct situations, of climatic conditions within their corresponding extensive biomes. A fantastic diversity lies within the heart of each biome. today a striking consequence of profound change brought about by incessant human labor. The activities and plans called for in Design with Nature demand that we be conscious of the non-human diversity and to at least know its broadest painted strokes. Nature is far from uniform, nor can design be generalized. We need conceptual tools that help us recognize and thrive amidst global diversity. (…)

Scientists, ecologists, or social ecologists provide specialized information in a fragmented manner that is usually inaccessible to the general public. Even their professional colleagues take in, evaluate, and respond to the specialized knowledge in a fragmented manner. As McHarg insists:

“This is what modern science is; the egg is shattered, all the fragments lie scattered on the ground. The fragments are called geology and physics and chemistry and hydrology and soil science, plant ecology, animal ecology, molecular biology, and political science. There is no one who can put together again the entire system. Information fragmented is of no use to anybody. What we always need to proceed is really the one Whole system?”

Ramon Folch, Biosphera, Global Knowledge for Community Design (2007)

Ian McHarg, Minimum Social Cost Alignment of a Road (late 1960s)

Uncertain

Large Parks on disturbed sites should be recognized as landscapes of consumption as well as production. It is tempting for designers of large parks built on abandoned industrial sites to heroize the buildings and machines that remain. Such strategies, however, privilege the histories of production over the histories of consumption that are also embedded in such sites. This allows visitors to distance themselves from the histories of human, material, and chemical flows on and off the site, and to limit their own culpability in and responsibility for such histories. (“Malevolent industrials polluted the air and water, not my ancestors and certainly not me.”)

Similarly, design strategies that focus primarily on the ecological processes of remediating a toxic industrial site fail to account for the intermingling of the natural, social, and industrial processes that permeate such sites. Forest, earth, and rivers are processed into lumber, ore, and water that are the raw materials for industrial production. The results of the processes are consumer goods and emissions into the ground and waterways. Technology doesn’t simply transform nature into commodities, it cycles back new and often toxic byproducts into nature. Thinking about landscapes on consumption and production requires thinking of the circulation of need, desire, material, goods, energy, and waste across disciplinary categories such as nature and culture, ecology and technology, and even public and private. We need design strategies that make visible the past connections between individual human behavior, collective identity, and these larger industrial and ecological processes.

A timescape conception of large parks leads to a recognition of uncertain sites-spaces where matter, flow, and waste know no boundaries -and to a different conception of consumer society.

Toxic discourse is an expression of a collectivity of consumer-citizens who perceive their environment through the lens of uncertainty and risk. Disturbed sites are byproducts of economic policies that viewed nature as a resource and that accepted environmental degradation as the inevitable consequence of technological progress. The experience of designed landscapes on and in disturbed sites can render visible the consequences of the economic, political, and social decisions that led to those risks. 

Elizabeth K.Meyer, Uncertain Parks: Disturbed Sites, Citizens and Risk Society. (2007)

HOSPER Landscape Architecture and Urban Design, GENK C-m!ne (2012)

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