Hate Nature

Nature causes death. It takes up too much space. It brings ice onto the roads, germs into our living rooms, and water through the windows.

REAL Nature is disconnected from our FANTASY about it: I, like most people, want Nature… functional and in its place.

How we Americans view NATURE, and how we think about it, is different from how we occupy and use it.

We all say that we love nature, but if we stop for a moment and are honest with ourselves, we can see the radical difference between what we say and what we do. This is a much-needed reality check for all of the Nature-lovers out there. Nature today is a commodity that is inserted, in bits and pieces, into an environment that is itself a constructed product of our will. It does what we want, and sadly, all we want is to enjoy the view without being inconvenienced.

Martha Schwartz, I hate nature (2008)

Martha Schwartz, Splice Garden (1986)

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Not Neutral

It has been said that we can realize only what we can imagine; but to realize what we imagine, we must convey those ideas to others as well as present them to ourselves. We use images, models, and words—alone or in combination—to conceive, study, test, construct, and evaluate new landscapes or modify old ones. Given the transient nature of most landscapes—always growing, always changing— landscape representation presents a special challenge. It is by no means neutral in a political sense or even in terms of design evaluation.

Marc Treib, Introduction to Representing Landscape Architecture (2008)

MAP Office, Hong Kong is a Land (2014)

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Representative Representation

In a democracy, the design of the landscape depends on the representation of the public. This public representation forces inventive drawing. Drawing against or for others is substantially different from drawing with or by others. Among their many tools, community designers consistently employ two focused drawing processes: “drawing on your feet” and “designing upside down.” They suggest that representative representation relies upon special drawing abilities not common among other design professionals.

By “representative representation” I refer to the way drawing engages the public through grassroots democracy for designing open space, neighborhoods, cities, and regions. This requires representing both the public and the landscape. Face-to-face collaborative drawing provides political representation. Graphic depictions provide what we professionally call “representing the landscape.” The complex combination gives us a special way of drawing: representative representation.

Randolph T. Hester,  No Representation Without Representation (2008)

Even when representations and mappings try to explain the reflection process of projects, an important part of the causes of decision making is almost always in the dark. All the requirements and wills of the commission, the desires of politicians or participative groups that are always present in democratic states seem to be hidden in the power of the process of design thinking. 

From Lawrence Halprin, some designers research in democratic design has tried to reveal that “other side” of design thinking describing how the projects make its evolution in time in a dialectical context where designer’s thinking and public representation are revealed.

But that kind of experiments seems to be few and not enough relevant in the context of the discipline. Especially if we consider the constant claim for democratic design that the discipline constantly suggests.

1. Information of the event, place and/or context in which you are immersed / or to describe.
2. Drawings of the protagonists of the space, event and/or place with a brief description drawn and/or written.
3. Hashtags of the event, place and/or context, project, collective, etc.
4. Data about the data -metadata- (labeling system, user license, etc.).
5. Posters that highlight concepts, institutions, groups, projects, geographical locations, etc.
6. Webs, books and/or places to expand more information.
7. Ballons that collect dialogues.
8. Icons, symbols, drawings that relate the environment or context in which you are.
9. Ideas or concepts to highlight.
10. Summary of the knowledge acquired, questions and/or reflections.
11. Drawn description of the people who dialogue and questions.

Carla Boserman, Storygram Morphology (Morfología del Relatograma) (2013)

Formation, Information and Propaganda

 
The distinction among formation, information and propaganda is melting in our profession just like it does in our everyday life. Everybody tend to believe that, when an image is presented to us, it brings trustable information but, the only thing that an image transmit is a moment of moving shapes and events that the observer can identify or not.
The issue of meaning comes out in the construction of the information between the emitter and the receiver. The dimension of an image is attached to the observer’s knowledge and to his curiosity that cultivates to learn the complexity the image reveals. Nevertheless, examining an image can or can not give access to its context. Nowadays, the exception state created around us through the image’s saturation, fosters the kingdom of the indifference. Excess of information banalize information. Information masks reality when creates the illusion that the point of view that gives us access is enough, just because it gives us access to any data or databank. The Digital Image offers us tools to an infinite manipulation. The mental image unleashes the onirical, through the building of points of view based on the origins of experience. When someone considers the whole from one only point of view, usually an idealistic view comes out. When all that is similar is put together, a positivistic view comes out. The social liaison as hope for a community is menaced when the individual’s singularity and the events do not foster anymore the collective imagination. To Hannah Arendt, the objective of the political and strategic action is to reveal what is singular into the plurality of the links. Hence, the aim is to fight against what is banal to show what is unique.

Catherine Mosbach, Passages: à l’endroit-à l’envers (2008)

(check Mosbach’s studio website, absolutely coherent with her speech)

Catherine Mosbach, La Bastide Botanic Garden (2005)

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(Head Image: Logan Zillmer, Photography inspired on Magritte (2015))

Narrative Essence

What clouds the vision and makes it frustrating, indeed, useless to be an architect, is the way that the reality of occupied spaces, branded and scarred with use, compares with the perception of them. If I have understood correctly, the question is that architecture knows nothing of that precisely narrative essence from which spaces are made. Pamuk became a writer, because that makes more sense; it is more honest in facing the way his city is made up. He wants to bear witness to this city, he wants to be present in it, gathering with a sharp eye and witty shrewdness the past of places, of events, of its stones. Better to write, to narrate, because places don’t stand still, they change with the swelter of the lives that leave their imprints there, with the elusive approximation of intrinsicality.

 

Franco la Cecla,  Against Architecture (2008)

Lawrence Halprin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (1997)

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Handwriting

Van Gessel’s handwriting can be found in his design process. In van Gessel’s case, this doesn’t take place in the bustling and creative hubbub of a large office, but in silence, solitude and contemplation. An environment that, in terms of design, has no distractions and is dominated by large wall expanses, light from outside, off-white, grey tints and black office furniture.

Two photographs by Bas Princen (1975) and Elgar Esser (1967) of monumental open landscapes bring space into the studio like literal signs on the wall, while at the same time functioning as symbolic images representing their importance as a constructive and aesthetic design principle. The silence of van Gessel’s studio is not disturbed by computers or screens. Van Gessel works like an artisan, by hand. Rolls of transparent drawing paper, black markers, rulers, topographical maps and a collection of ornaments are his tools. In a process of abstract selection, the elements traced from the topographical maps will later form the backbone of the design: landscape elements, infrastructure, and boundaries, all according to the landscape analysis he learned at university. These, together with observations made on site, will result in inventories, spatial analysis, or master plans.

The design process itself is selective and interpretive because annoying elements in the topographic map that van Gessel chooses to “clear away” are not incorporated in the outlines of the design’s intended image. The prints of ornaments will be placed under the transparent paper at a later stage. They form the counterpart to the straightforward outlines and represent elements of abundance within the simplified, clearly defined spatial whole. These ornaments often relate to flowerbeds in garden and park designs, and to detailed specifications for bridge parapets, garden pavilions, entrance gates and fences; they are a means to bestow spatial allure to details in the space. (…)

This handwriting metaphorically represents the effect of his intuitive imagination as well as his analytical design approach. They embody preferences, ideas and strategies that consciously or unconsciously, calculatedly or intuitively influence his work. Van Gessel says that he is not a theoretician. We cannot pluck his design views from handy pamphlets or published works he himself has written; we have to extrapolate them from his drawn designs, the accompanying commentaries, and finished projects and from articles and interviews. They consist of a number of recurrent basic principles and are elucidated by looking at the variety of typologies in his work.

Christian Bertram, Erik de Jong, Analysis and Intuition Designing Landscapes (2008)

Michael Van Gessel, Twickel Estate (2011)

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Transient Nature

It has been said that we can realize only what we can imagine; but to realize what we imagine, we must convey those ideas to others as well as present them to ourselves. We use images, models, and words—alone or in combination—to conceive, study, test, construct, and evaluate new landscapes or modify old ones. Given the transient nature of most landscapes—always growing, always changing— landscape representation presents a special challenge. It is by no means neutral in a political sense or even in terms of design evaluation.

Marc Treib, Representing Landscape Architecture (2008)

 

Clement Valla, Postcards from Google Earth (2014)

Role of Beauty

Sustainable landscape design is generally understood in relation to three principles -ecological health, social justice and economic prosperity. Rarely do aesthetics factor into sustainability discourse, except in negative asides conflating the visible with the aesthetic and rendering both superfluous.

This article examines the role of beauty and aesthetics in a sustainability agenda. It argues that it will take more than ecologically regenerative designs for culture to be sustainable, that what is needed are designed landscapes that provoke those who experience them to become more aware of how their actions affect the environment, and to care enough to make changes. This involves considering the role of aesthetic environmental experiences, such as beauty, in re-centering human consciousness from an egocentric to a more bio-centric perspective. This argument in the form of a manifesto is inspired by American landscape architects whose work is not usually understood as contributing to sustainable design.

Elizabeth K. Meyer, Sustaining Beauty (2008)

Piet Oudolf, Hummelo (2017 video)

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Clue to Culture

For him, aesthetic judgments about the landscape were secondary. Primary was the question of why the landscape looked the way it did. What clues did the landscape itself present as to its own making?

To answer that question, [Peirce] Lewis suggested seven axioms:

Landscape is a clue to culture. It “provides strong evidence of the kind of people we are, and were, and are in the process of becoming”. By reading the landscape we could glean important insights into “who we are.” As a corollary, Lewis argued, if landscapes looked different, it was because there were significantly different cultures at work. If they were growing more similar, it was because cultures were growing more similar. Moreover, both the diffusion of landscape items across space and local cultural “tastes” were central in giving landscape its particular look and feel.

●  Nearly every item in the landscape “reflect[s] culture in some way”. We need to pay attention even to what at first glance might seem commonplace, trivial, or just plain haphazard and ugly. At the same time we need to make judgments about when an item really just is the idiosyncratic whim of an indi- vidual and thus truly is unique.

 Landscapes are difficult to study “by conventional academic means”. Rather, scholars need to turn to “nonacademic literature” (like trade journals, journalism, promotional literature, and advertisements). Most of all we need to train ourselves to “learn by looking”: we need to train ourselves to pay attention to the visual evidence. (Lewis gives little idea of what constitutes “conventional academic means” but the sense is that it is limited to reading scholarly books).

●  History matters to the structure and look of a landscape. We inherit a landscape which forms the basis for any changes or developments we subsequently make. Change itself is uneven (historically “lumpy”). Both technological and cultural change comes in great leaps forward, perhaps more so than as gradual evolution.

●  Location matters too: “Elements of a cultural landscape make little cultural sense if they are studied outside their geographic (i.e., locational) context.” Indeed, “to a large degree cultures dictate that certain activities should occur in certain places, and only those places”. Thus “context matters”.

●  So does physical environment, since “conquering geography’ is often a very expensive business.” Physical geography may not determine, but it does establish the limits of possibility and the costs of exceeding those limits.

●  Finally, while all items in the landscape convey meaning, they do not do so readily: meaning can be obscure. Even so “chances are” any disagreement over meaning “can be cleared up by visual evidence”.

Don Mitchel, New Axioms for Reading the Landscape: Paying Attention to Political Economy and Social Justice (2008)

Peking University + Kongjian Yu + Turenscape, Shenyang Architectural University Campus (2004)

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Political Struggle

In modern times, when Israel was being pioneered by European immigrants, they brought with them an image of the land of their dreams. This image, like the Renaissance paintings of the Holy Land, seemed to be a verdant copy of central Europe. They laboured in the dry heat of the desert, but this image never wavered. They cleared the stones, ploughed the land, planted and watered their newly marked fields, and in many places pushed through a revolution which did begin to approach their dreams.
However, there is a natural limitation to dreams: with time, the physical reality of the earth, climate and water in the area in which they laboured led to a new understanding of what is possible, and even of what is desirable in such an area. That deeper understanding is leading to a change, of course, a redefinition of the vision of an “ideal” landscape for lsrael.
Many countries in arid and semi-arid climates are now facing the harsh reality of burgeoning populations that place enormous stress on the environment. The ability of technology to meet every need still has its limits, however. There may be plenty of light and stone, and one day a technological solution that will provide unlimited power and water to people in arid lands may well appear. But perhaps there is not enough time to develop these remedies before scarcity and habitat destruction result in even more serious problems. It is currently debatable which is growing faster, our needs or our capabilities. An imbalance between these two things might bring about severe social and political struggle.

Shlomo Aronson, Aridscapes. Designing in harsh and fragile lands. (2008)

Shlomo Aronson, Israel National Outline Plan for Afforestation (1970-1995)

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