It is always a bit of a dilemma to write about the landscape’s role in sustainability. How do we sound relevant when our basic training and ethos have been conjoined to the ideal of sustainability even before the word ‘sustainable’ became common parlance? Learning how to site buildings so they sit softly upon the landscape and operate passively to conserve and generate heat; to shelter them from winds; to control and harness water and protect a site’s permeability; to create and protect habitat and encourage bio-diversity; to use plants to remediate and modify climate conditions; and to create beauty are what we learn and teach at school. As landscape architects, learning to design with “green” in mind is core to what we do as a profession. 

So how does “ecological urbanism” expand the core values to a profession that is essentially focused on the role of the landscape- a field whose basic ethos is to work within an ecological framework? How does this really differ from basic training?

Martha Schwartz, Ecological Urbanism and the Landscape (2009)

Rients Dijkstra + MAXWAN + MASA architects, Instant Utopia (2012)


Photogenic Models

Having reached what one architecture critic described as the midpoint in my career, I feel I have nothing to show. Or at least nothing that resembles the seductive images in architecture books, nothing reminiscent of photogenic models, nothing that could be compared to the paradisiacal computer-generated images that clutter the trade journals. My work requires few objects—ideally none at all—and only ordinary materials. It does not entail any heroic feats of execution or any extravagance. So it is distinguished by a certain poverty. It is not a deliberate desire for an architettura povera, but rather the option of rusticity. It is a rigor that stands out in my mind. A structurally unrewarding youth. I do not feel any frustration about it. This was not always the case, and I sometimes resorted to appurtenances that were likely to give my efforts the status of works of architecture: the use of layouts or familiar objects, for example. This provided me with a very fleeting reassurance.

Michel Desvigne, Introduction to Intermediate Natures.(2009)

Michel Desvigne, Parc aux Angéliques Bordeaux (2012-2017)


Rituals: crit

Notorious among the rituals is the design jury (crit), a strange act of tribal initiation that is played out in schools around the world. Within weeks of arriving in architecture school, students are asked to pin up an initial, and usually clumsy, attempt at architecture on a wall, stand in front of it and talk about it, with tutors then taking the floor to criticize it. The word alone, crit, is a stab of negativity. The crit places into a pressure cooker a combination of potentially explosive ingredients: students catatonic with tiredness and fear, tutors (mainly male) charged on power and adrenaline, and an adversarial arena in which actions are as much about showing o= as they are about education. Some students survive this; some are deeply scarred by the experience. One of the mistaken arguments for the retention of the crit is that it prepares for the real world—but at what cost? Answer: the development of alien vocabularies (spoken and drawn) understood only by architects, arrogance (attack being seen as the best form of defense in a crit), and a complete inability to listen on the part of both tutor and student.

Jeremy Till, Architecture Depends (2009)


Hein Koh: School of Art (2006)



Edward Burtynsky, Los Angeles (2003)


When landscapes are designed to look as if they are naturally created it entitles them to be inevitable, beyond our control. This is when landscpes function like an ideology-they naturalize cultural acts. For some geographers and historians landscapes do not simply signify or symbolize power relations, they are powerful agents in the practice of power.

Susan Herrington, On Landscapes (2009)

Clarence Stein and Henry Wright + Marjorie Sewell Cautley, Radburn (1929)


Technical reproduction


Anselm Kiefer, Barren Landscape (1969)

The consequences of the possibilities of reproduction by way of technical engineering one will have to say that they destroy what nature once was, as was the case with art. More so than with actual nature, what we are dealing with here is the destruction of nature as one of the core elements of European culture; it is the invalidation of nature as guiding principle of culture. (…) With all due caution we can say the following: as a consequence of the possibilities of reproducing nature by means of technical engineering, everything that is nature loses its certainty through its opposite, through technique, culture, civilization, though the human realm. That means that nature, in the range of practical relevance, has to be conceived as of as itself being a cultural product, as “socially constituted nature”.

Gernot Böhme, Nature in the Age of the Reproduction by Technical Engineering (2009)

Junya Ishigami, Art Biotop Water Garden (2018)



When asked where landscape architects work, many people might point out their back door to the garden. It would be more accurate, however, to look out the front door. The landscape is anywhere and everywhere outdoors, and landscape architects are shaping the face of the Earth across cities, towns and countryside alike. Landscape architecture involves shaping and managing the physical world and the natural systems that we inhabit. Landscape architects do design gardens, but what is critical is that the garden, or any other outdoor space, is seen in context. All living things are interdependent, and the landscape is where they all come together. Context is social, cultural, environmental and historical, amongst other considerations. Landscape architects are constantly zooming in and out from the details to the big picture to ensure that balance is maintained.

Tim Waterman, The Fundamentals of Landscape Architecture (2009)


Ujirany + New Directions Landscape Architects, Teleki Square Community Park (2014)



Landscape drawing is an important issue. I am not speaking only of the debate between the supporters of computer software and the defenders of drawing by hand. I am talking about the kind of drawing that results—although it does seem to me, without wanting to fight a rearguard action and reject useful technological advances, that it is difficult to entirely overlook work by hand. The drawing plays a role that is at once descriptive and analytical—it is an instrument for visibility that makes it possible to understand how a landscape is made. But at the same time, it plays a constructive role since, in revealing this role, it creates the very thing that it unveils. It is the responsibility of the landscape architect to extend his gesture toward a futuristic area that is his alone to understand but that, if it is really made visible, will be clear to everyone in the end.

Gilles A. Tiberghien, A Landscape Deferred (2009)



preparing-ground-slide-26 preparing-ground-slide-37Mathur-Da-Cunha-Mississippi-Floodspreparing-ground-slide-15Anuradha Mathur + Dilip da Cunha, Mississippi Floods (2001)



The main objectives of our activity can be described as:

– the contribution for the construction of a better World, in which the different survival logics, often antagonised, could be harmonised;

– the contribution for the collective construction of a common patrimony made of actions and its marks and signs, susceptible of provoking pleasure and astonishment;

– the contribution for keeping primary productivity and site diversity where these actions are taking place, where these signs are being printed;

– the contribution for the eradication of social injustice and the arrogance of power;

– conclusively, the contribuition for the conservation of the colective heritage, made of antropic and natural values and of a mutual understanding between people and sites.

The general methodology can be described in the following sequence:

1 – reading and de-coding signs in the landscape. Identifying relevant processes and actors. Vertical /time reading as far as documents and people’s memory allows. Analysis and de-codification are a two phase process — the immediate, intuitive, emotive and the documental, confirmative;

2 – critical reading of the proposed or envisaged, required transformation program, through the necessary evaluation of the compatibility with the site, namely its charge capacity;

3 – critical evaluation of the compatibility / susceptibility between different actors and system components;

4 – proposing a set of alternative substitution systems and forms of integrating the existing and previewed actors;

5 – evaluation of results (and eventually going back to 3.)



Joao Ferreira Nunes + PROAP, Valdebebas Urban Park Competition Winner Entry (2009)

find it on the map

Placeless design

One of the challenges of contemporary landscape architecture is the globalization of place. Nowhere is the threat of homogenization more apparent than in places vulnerable to change, where the potential loss of heritage fabric rings alarm bells. St. Petersburg is one such place, a UNESCO World Heritage site and a city which had existed outside of the excesses of late 20th-century Westernisation owing to its sequestration inside the Soviet Union. The city is changing in response to exposure to the West, and this could be a cause for concern, a worry that the city will become just another ‘placeless’ place. However, we argue that this is a superficial reading and that in looking more deeply into the history and culture of St. Petersburg, a legacy of borrowing from elsewhere is revealed. Moreover, the aspirations for global ideals are not necessarily ‘placeless’, as we illustrate through the ways in which St. Petersburg has made the landscapes its own through the invention of tradition and a persistent sense of ‘the local’ which is indelible to change.  (…)

The emblematic view of the effects of globalization on landscape architecture is often abbreviated to discussions of the homogenizing influence of ‘placeless’ design. This ‘McDonalds’ brand of landscape design is one of the profession’s key concerns, because with the homogenization and universalization of landscape comes the loss of one of our key sources of identity as individuals and as cultures: the uniqueness of place. However, while the standardizing influence of globalization on the landscape is of great concern, it is only one aspect of a very complex issue.

Jacky Bowring et alt., ‘As good as the West’: two paradoxes of globalization and landscape architecture in St. Petersburg. (2009)

Maybe one of the most common landscapes of consumerism is the beach. You can find in all over the world, and indeed, in the populous Toronto waterfront. This globalized panorama, is not related to the site’s culture, because all in it is an ironic image of global consumerism. Everything is fake: you can’t even jump into the water, because you are on a pier, so you’ll use an urban fountain if you want to refresh yourself. Besides this, of course, after the short Summer, the image of the beach will become a kind of “détournement”: a consumerism image out of its context

Just beside this sharp exercise on globalized, Comier shows the radical opposition of real landscapes, transporting in pieces a huge rock from the Canadian ranges in an exercise that somehow, equals the surrealist effect of the pink umbrellas because at last we still are in an urban pier. This time we would be speaking about an “objet trouvé”.

The ensemble appears as a provocative reflection on identity that is pointing to the risks of essentialisms around the site.

Claude Cormier, Canada’s Sugar Beach (2010)


Must be made

Without much fanfare, The Landscape Urbanism Reader, takes leave of living as the designer’s primary point of departure. The task of designing the city’s metabolism in the form of distribution centers, water-purification installations, high-tension lines, waste-disposal locations, and infrastructure bundles is at least of equal importance. In precise analyses supported by diagrams and aerial photos, Alan Berger y Pierre Bélanger, among others, sketch these components of the new programme. The book also denounces both the suburban city’s spectacularity wasteful use of space and its failure to reuse such things as disused industrial estates and abandoned agricultural land, whose reanimation and completion/revitalization must be made, with the help of environmental know-how, into primary tasks.

Dirk Sijmons, A reflective Plague organism (2009)

That’s the point: things that must be made: a group claim for commissions that seeks the support of the whole group of the discipline appealing to the common interest. It’s true that is necessary to think about new programmes for the contemporary city but, one can say too that this is not the only possible analysis, especially if you think about all the cities of the world or that, claiming for work too often mean to renounce to have a critical point of view on urban policies as disciplines used to do in the past. You can say indeed, as Leanne Muir and other do (check this), that all that is just marketing bullshit. And all this can be true, sometimes, we need to understand when a project is pure self-marketing and when is not. And maybe we should recover some discursive devices for the critic of urban policies and support the brave authors that openly make those critiques. That’s not bad for enthusiasm.

Alan Berger+P-REX lab, Pontine Marshes Study (2007)

(See also the New York Times article)