Social Order

Olmsted employed the term pastoral instead of the beautiful or picturesque to evoke a familiar, tranquil, and cultivated nature as a counterpoint to the city. Olmsted’s pastoral wove together the precepts of eighteenth-century landscape theory and Jeffersonian agrarianism.

Even more than Downing, Olmsted regarded the landscape as an instrument of social order. Gently undulating grass, serpentine lakes, sinuous pathways, and leafy woodland groves provided urban dwellers a much-sought-after alternative to the dense industrial city, presumably with salutary moral as well as physical effects. Not intended as a zone of active use, the pastoral public park presented composed scenery for passive viewing. The purpose of this engagement Olmsted described with typical zeal: “No one who has closely observed the conduct of people who visit Central Park can doubt it exercises a distinctly harmonizing and refining influence upon the most unfortunate and lawless of the city —an influence favorable to courtesy, self-control, and temperance.”

Urban dwellers proved much more resistant to “harmonizing” than Olmsted expected, and in the face of American pluralism, public parks became more diverse in their activities and accommodations. Nevertheless, as reiterations of Central Park appeared in cities large and small across the United States by the beginning of the twentieth century, the enveloping pastoral aesthetic of the public park prevailed and carried with it the equation of pastoral scenery and ameliorative social influence.

Louise Mozingo, Pastoral Capitalism (2011)

Frank Leslie, The Central Park. A delightful resort for the toil-worn New Yorkers (1869)

Header: Frederick Law Olmsted + Calvert Vaux, Map of Central Park, New York City (1868)

Drawing time

In all design disciplines, we speak airily about ‘representation techniques’. ‘Representation’ is often used where we might have said ‘presentation’, being the set of drawings you show to present a project. In reality, representation is quite a complex notion. Generally, representation is understood as ‘standing for something else’. In our design world, this ‘something else’ is the designed building or landscape. Linguistically, Corner argues that one could, in fact, say the built building represents the drawing – as the drawing was earlier. (…)

This does not solve two other problems. The title of my research is ‘Drawing time’. Once again I admit to favoring the short and less abstract words, instead of ‘Representing time’. Is drawing the same as representing? No – but the question could also be put the other way around: what architects do, is that drawing or representing? Until now, I have found no definitions which sufice to make clear the distinctions between ‘drawing’ and ‘representing’. For my research, I favor the physical aspect of drawing versus the quite abstract word representing.

The second problem is related to the first. If landscape architects represent landscapes, I would argue that only a complete plan (the set of drawings, text and oral explanation) is the representation.

James Corner + Alex McLean,

Taking Measures Across the American Landscape (1996)


Fewkes Canyon at Mesa Verde National Park





Caspar David Friedrich, The wanderer above the sea of fog (1818)

The problem of landscape arises precisely because landscape, whether it appears in literary or painterly form, whether thought of in terms of the presented or that which presents, is indeed a function, and a representing, of our relationship with place. Is the term “landscape” inadequate to describe the complexity of that relationship? If we treat landscape purely in terms of the narrowly spectatorial and the detached (or as associated with a single historical formation or artistic genre), then perhaps it is. Yet the argument I have advanced here is that this conception of landscape is itself inadequate to describe the complexity of landscape as such. The problem of landscape is thus that landscape represents to us, not only our relationship with place, but also the problematic nature of that relationship—a relationship that contains within it involvement and separation, agency and spectacle, self and other. It is in and through landscape, in its many forms, that our relationship with place is articulated and represented, and the problematic character of that relationship made evident.

Edward S. Casey, The Edge(s) of Landscape: A Study in Liminology (2011)



Where does a landscape begin —and where does it end? Which is to say: Where is its edge? We are tempted to think that landscapes just go on and on indefinitely—one vista giving way to another, one stretch of land blending into the next. And if this is the case, is not any attempt to deter-mine, even to imagine, an edge, an act of human hubris?

More pointedly: Does a landscape have any edge other than an arbitrary one?

Edward Casey, The Edge(s) of Landscape: A Study in Liminology (2011)

Snøhetta, Path of Perspectives (2018)



 Nina-Marie Lister, Interview with Jared Green (2011)

Mahan Rykiel Associates, Design with Dredge: Resilient Infrastructure for Chesapeake Bay (2017)



Take One Creative, Stone River: The Passion of Jon Piasecki (2011)

 I built this project by myself. There were no other laborers.  I hammered each stone joint and moved each stone down the path on a small wooden cart. I transferred tens of tons of gravel and sand as a setting bed with a wheelbarrow and I moved nearly 400 tons of stone in the wall and as paving over the 800-foot length of the path. I opened the existing stonewall, chose the course of the path within it and rejoined the residual wall stone in such a way that the path appears to have grown organically within this stonewall where it resides. I was able to personally lay stones so as to avoid individual clumps of ferns, standing trees, fallen logs and existing stones with mossy growths in the wall. This was done in an attempt to preserve as much as of the preexisting life of the enormous wall as possible. (…)

This project is an illustration of the labor of one person inspired to change the world. In this instance by joining stone and by making a path into the woods with great sensitivity, I am working to heal, in a small way, the rift between culture and nature that is intrinsic to our modern relationship to the land.

Today, design and fabrication are generally distinct entities. Labor is devalued.  Unknown people toil to make our things. Machines spew out the stuff of our needs and desires and the making of them dehumanizes the production class and despoils the land.  Of course the machines are essential, and some disconnect between design and fabrication is inevitable, but this project openly asks if perhaps our fascination with the virtual over the actual, or with design over build, has gone too far? I would suggest that it has and that this disconnect certainly harms nature but it endangers our humanity even more so.

The goal of this project is to integrate the visitor with nature as he or she walks along this path through the woods. I hope to help these visitors feel the life and wonder of the natural world of which we all are a part.

Jon Piasecki, Stone River (2010)



Jon Piasecki, Stone River (2010)


Two main aspects can define a landscape machine: for one, its identification as ‘machine’ should be taken quite literally. These are machines that have a certain material input and output and are driven by a critical amount of energy input. For example, in the estuaries of the south-west Netherlands landscape machines can be related to water, salt, sediments and surplus nutrients as input, and clean water, food, blue energy and silted-up lands as output. Their fuels are solar energy, enabling photosynthesis, providing heat, and tidal forces influenced by the moon. The rationale behind the design includes coastal defence, sustainable fisheries and agriculture and nature development goals. 

Secondly, the natural processes within the landscape machine are continuously interfering with each other and therefore affecting the type, shape, size and position of the resulting landscape components. The landscape machine is evolving through interaction with physical, chemical and ecological processes. Its mechanical components are natural processes or the specific behaviour of flocks of animals that themselves are affected by on-going events. This implies that parts of the machine may fade out or even vanish and that new functional parts may come into being. The landscape changes, the machine changes, but the input does not change. A key difference between conventional farmland and a landscape machine is that succession is not prevented in the latter.

Demand for Landscape

The evolution of material and symbolic spatial practices, on the one hand, and the weakening of political territorialities, on the other, constitute, in my view, the two main motifs of the contemporary demand for landscape. This demand is considerable, as has been already acknowledged long ago. The term has invaded public debate and the question has become the object of numerous public policies. Landscape design (paysagisme) and landscape architecture as a profession have become important components of town planning and of rural development, especially in Europe. As for landscape consumption, it is, and has been for a long time, one of the main reasons for tourism. This trivialization of the invocation of landscape and of landscape concerns in any form of intervention constitutes the visible face of what I propose here to call the empaysagement of our societies. This neologism should not be understood as a synonymous with landscape design, or with paysagement, where these terms refer to a growing social demand for landscape, and a growing technical ability to produce them, respectively. Empaysagement rather designates, on a more general level, a turning point in the way in which contemporary societies see themselves and see their material inscription through the intervention of landscape representation and landscape action.

Bernard Debarbieux, The Political Meaning of Landscape (2011)

Olafur Eliasson, Versailles Waterfall (2016)

FIND IT on the map

Most Wanted

Komar and Melamid are two Russian artist emigrés who undertook a fascinating project. Their book, Painting by Numbers, explains that “with the help of The Nation Institute and a professional polling team, they discovered that what Americans want in art, regardless of class, race, or gender, is exactly what the art world disdains–a tranquil, realistic, blue landscape.”
Once they received the general consensus, they painted the result. The painting above is what Americans prefer to see, complete with a historic figure (George Washington), deer, and children. It’s an ugly amalgamation for sure, but it is quite revealing of the aesthetic preferences of the general populace. One thing that immediately strikes me is that it looks absolutely nothing like what the Art World tells us is ‘good art.’ Although, I do suspect (like Arthur Danto) that most people would rather not actually hang this on their wall. I know I wouldn’t like to.
Not content to stop there, the duo polled countries from all over the World. The results are in (and not a surprise): People the world over tend to prefer a strikingly similar landscape. The elements we have laid out earlier are all there. What does this tell us about aesthetics and human evolution? The argument has been made that the results are an aberration due to the ubiquity of Hallmark calendars in all the countries polled – that the results have been skewed. I like to think that the ubiquity of Hallmark calendars is exactly the proof we’re looking for: Hallmark is everywhere precisely because that’s what we prefer to look at.
Komar and Melamid have just laid out Hallmark’s market research for them, and Evolutionary Psychology has backed it up: The experience of beauty belongs to our evolved human psychology.

Alan Carroll, An Instinct for Beauty (2011)

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Revolution without Faith

Imagine you’re eating an ice cream. You tell yourself that you will only have a lick after you have felt a moment of true happiness. The happiness never comes—and the ice cream also melts.
The ice cream is the world quite literally. It’s melting. We have no time to think the right thoughts about it. We just have to save it. Objects are beginning to compel us, from outside the wall. The objects we ignored for centuries, the objects we created in the process of ignoring other ones: plutonium, global warming. I call them hyperobjects. Hyperobjects are real objects that are massively distributed in time and space. Good examples would be global warming and nuclear radiation. Hyperobjects are so vast, so long lasting, that they defy human time and spatial scales. They wouldn’t fit in a landscape painting. They could never put you in the right mood.
If we’re going to think beyond the modern period, beyond the era of philosophy, society and ecology in which we have been stuck for about two hundred years, then we will have to let go of the idea of landscape as a picture in a frame, even if the picture is liquid and motile, like a movie. Why? The problem is the notion of the frame, and the distance the viewer has to assume for the landscape to appear as such. Because of this distance, the landscape embodies a subjective (whatever word works best for you here, “spiritual,” “ideological,” whatever) state. The picture is about the attitude you must assume to look at the picture. It’s less about land, then, and more about scape. We talk about the mood of a landscape, the feeling it evokes in us. How ironic that this kind of aesthetic distancing, so woven into our social and cultural practices, not to mention actually existing structures and designs, was part of the modernity that summoned the hideous saviors, the hyperobjects, into our social, psychic and ecological space. After all, it’s our supposed need for rolling hills and pastoral scenes that encourages us to fend off developers wanting to install wind farms to wean us off the oil that runs invisibly in pipes beneath the landscape.
The idea that landscape is about instilling an attitude presents us with a major problem. It’s a profound form of idealism. Materialism, in all its varieties, just hasn’t been powerful enough to break through the idealist tendencies of the last two centuries, perhaps because it’s hell bent on reducing objects to their relations.  Idealism: it’s all about the subject. It’s all about me. What kind of an ecological view is that? To have a truly ecological view we must exit from this idea of landscape, based on a first – or third- person perspective, and instead look for a zero-person perspective, as absurd as this sounds from a traditional modernist point of view. We could at least allow other entities, sentient and non-sentient, to talk to us.
“If I can just get the attitude right, maybe I can change the world.” By the time you find you can’t get the right attitude, the world has changed already.

Timothy Morton, Zero Landscapes in the Time of Hyperobjects (2011)

  A total overthrow, however useless, a revolution without faith is all we can still hope for from a period in which no one is sufficiently honest to be a true revolutionary. When, tormented by the frenzy of the intellect, we give ourselves up to that of chaos, we react like a madman in possession of his faculties, a lunatic superior to his lunacy, or like a god who, in a fit of lucid rage, delights in pulverizing his work and his being. Our dreams of the future are henceforth inseparable from our fears. Utopian literature, at its beginnings, rebelled against the Middle Ages, against the high esteem in which they held Hell and against the taste they professed for doomsday visions. It seems as if the reassuring systems of a Campanella or a More were conceived with the sole purpose of discrediting the hallucinations of a Saint Hildegarde. Today, reconciled with the terrible, we are seeing a contamination of utopia by apocalypse: the heralded “new earth” increasingly assumes the aspect of a new Hell. But this Hell is one we are waiting for, we even make it a duty to precipitate its advent. The two genres, utopian and apocalyptic, which once seemed so dissimilar to us, interpenetrate, rub off on each other, to form a third, wonderfully apt to reflect the kind of reality that threatens us and to which we shall nonetheless assent with a correct and disabused yes. That will be our way of being irreproachable in the face of fatality.

E. M. Cioran. History and Utopia (1960)

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Lars von Trier, Melancholia (2011)