We are living in intellectually troubled times for landscape architecture. Part of the reason for the awkwardness in the present debate is not only due to imminent environmental degradation, but also to the rapid degeneration of our own symbolic understanding of nature. We are the receptacles of models of thinking inherited from our forefathers, and when it comes to nature, these models seriously hamper our actual perception of things. What we find out there has little to do with much of the idealized landscape preconceptions we carry. Older landscape models work effectively, only as ideals, with a deeply warped reception and conception of nature, which in turn, has measurable repercussions on the way we act upon the world. It is my belief that we should start to investigate possible options for a renewed relationship with nature that could also foster a new kind of landscape architecture, defending stronger cultural values of beauty and harmony.
Mosbach’s unique education in the life sciences that was precursor to her training in landscape informs and nourishes her aesthetic approach. The ground at Louvre-Lens is designed as a sensitive surface.
The intention is to expose this surface to variations in time, playing with relationships between materials through the processes of contagion, superimposition, and coverings. It is about drawing the ground via flows and traversing different environments in the park.
An existing wood at the edge of the site yields to a large clearing of meadow. which then becomes a mix of hard planted surfaces near the building. The ground is locally perforated to allow water to infiltrate; it folds over to become seating at the entrance to the museum: it protects the building from the intrusion of vehicles and it dips to accommodate a pool. Around the building, desirable mom exists as the first pioneer stratum, collecting atmospheric dust and preparing for successive ecological cycles. For Mosbach, the way the park responds to temporal and ecological dynamics is multidimensional and becomes a new heritage for the site.
Inevitably, many community-based initiatives tend to be framed in conventional terms—a “wished-for world” based on familiar ideals from the past. What is most challenging under such dislocated conditions is to envisage new strategic possibilities that can deliver long-term “necessities of landscape performance.” Brett Milligan’s concept of “corporate ecologies” envisages strategic action being implemented through organizational networks, rather than by top-down policy or single site intervention. In Christchurch, it is not corporations, but non-governmental organizations and not-for-profits such as Gap Filler, Greening the Rubble, and the Student Volunteer Army that have emerged as key agents in bottom-up recovery actions. They prefigure a significant extension of landscape architectural activity from specific sites, to multiple spaces and places of engagement with landscapes—where human relationships with landscape are “designed” through manipulating the tools and practices of everyday life.
Perhaps the problem is that, as designers, we misunderstand the significance of indeterminacy. The contemporary world is in thrall to the paradigm of choice and open-ended possibilities—What would you like to buy? Which scene do you prefer? Which design should we select and how many different ways might it turn out? Sudden, unpredictable, and traumatic landscape transformations challenge the presumption of ever-expanding choice and the excitement of uncertainty, and instead focus attention upon how to make decisions over those things that are vital to life and which we can have some hope of influencing.
The English landscape garden, with its extensive pastoral parklands dotted with mansions and follies in the Palladian style became emblematic of the ideals of civic humanism. The landscape was an idealized version of a shepherd’s commons, but it was a commons symbolic, as the poet Alexander Pope noted, of the pastoral environment of a golden age, as described for example by Virgil, when the ‘best’ of men were shepherds. This idea of landscape grew out of both pictorial art and theatre, and it was related to philosophical thinking which saw politics and law as a kind of theatre in which the citizen was to perform. The idealized landscape of the landscape garden thus provided the necessary scenic setting for the achievement, at least in ideal, of a modern enlightened society based upon representative government and the rights of the individual, not the least the right to break with the feudal system and own and dispose of private property. It was thus hardly an accident that Thomas Jefferson, who framed the American democratic constitution, lived in a Palladian villa (of his own design) surrounded by a pastoral landscape garden park which he saw as being contiguous with the larger landscape of Virginia and America. This, then, was a landscape symbolic of law, but of an ideal of law in a larger and more abstract sense than the kind of laws and regulations compartmentalized within Landschaftsforschung. This is the sort of law which is concerned with individual human and property rights as enshrined, for example, in the Bill of Rights attached to the US Constitution. It is, of course, easy to point out the glaring contradictions between the situation of a British Whig estate owner/parliamentarian, living off lands enclosed from the commons, or a rich slave owner with a large Virginian estate, like Jefferson, and the enlightened ideals which they expressed, but these ideals were nevertheless foundational for the laws guaranteeing the democratic liberties many people of lesser wealth now value today.
Nicolas Poussin, The Arcadian Shepherds (Et in Arcadia Ego) (1638)
Henry Hoare II, Stourhead Gardens (c.1754)
(Header: Jane Braddick Peticolas, View of the West Front of Monticello and Garden, depicting Thomas Jefferson’s grandchildren at_Monticello, (1825))
On the West side of Manhattan there is the High Line, a defunct section of the elevated railway, once a ruin where an intrepid soul did occasionally Walk but now converted into a long, thin pedestrian zone so that walkers can stroll high above ground level and look down on the poor suckers beneath them. New Yorkers seem justifiably proud of the High Line and a lot of people, no doubt some of them out-of-towners, do walk there with great enthusiasm, but it’s a very specific kind of walking, actually I think more a form of promenading. People walking up and down, savouring the pleasure of walking, looking around, showing themselves off, checking each other out: very old school. Few, if any, of these people are using the High Line, as a way of getting from A to B. The place functions as a kind of pedestrian theme park, a piece of reclaimed territory, decked out with designer sidewalks and exuberant landscaping while keeping some of the old rails still visible.
The first couple of times I went to the High Line, a small industrial building was being demolished very close to the southern end of the walkway. ]ust one man was doing the job, operating a surprisingly small machine, one with a single long arm with an hydraulic hammer on the end, something that looked like a giant hole punch. Smashing walls and roofs wa easy enough but once in a while the operator encountered metal girders, that were much harder to break down, resulting in an explosion of grinding and juddering, though he always got the job done sooner or later. The whole process delivered quite an ear-bashing to the walkers on the High Line, and clouds o demolition dust rose up and billowed in our direction. The noise and the dirt were the kind of thing that you might think would spoil a good walk, But it didn’t. I, naturally, absolutely loved it, but so did most of the other walkers. We paused in our walking, moved to the side of the High Line, pressed up against the railing and stared down in fascination to see how one man could destroy aiwhole building. A certain amount of ruin, the chance to see a ruin being made, didn’t spoil the walk at all: it made it. If I’m ever called upon to design la pedestrian theme park I’ll make sure there’s some industrial-scale destruction going on there.
Cities are loosing the places where one can create an affective relationship with a landscape. Instead, the traces of history are now becoming luna parks as Geoff Nicholson say. With the over-design of heritage, cities identity is becoming just propaganda, and business that threatens the citizen’s lives in many ways.There is a pleasure in the ruins… when a new design let them survive, avoiding their commodification and creating a place that visitors can make theirs. In these projects, the infra-design allows the feeling of discovering and the relief in front of the over-determinated spaces. Indeed, this kind of spaces invites us to transform them, as a way of enrichment of the information and freedom of expression and they have the shinning aura of the real too.
Siiri Vallner, The Pier (2012)
Following this logic, Iris Marion Young, in her influential book Justice and the Politics of Difference, offers a cultural politics concerned to explain (in)justice also beyond ‘equitable distribution of life’s necessities, comforts, luxuries and burdens, to include the potential for people to participate fully in the conditions, situations and decision processes that give rise to particular distribution in the first place’. Young’s theory is important because she demonstrates how injustice or oppression is always social, contingent and systemic. This allows her to identify more than one source (i.e. the economic, distributive system) of oppression. In outlining five facets, or ‘five faces of oppression’ – exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism and violence – Young draws attention to the multifarious ways (in)justice is (re)produced.
My teacher, Kevin Lynch (1918-1984), had a very important idea. He said that planners should understand and consider the way ordinary people perceive their environment before proposing changes. Lynch wrote many books on many topics, but his first and most important work is The Image of the City. For the first time, interviews were conducted to learn how ordinary people perceive and understand the city. Lynch believed that design could make the city clearer and stronger and more understandable. He assumed that a good city form should have an understandable structure and image which is not imposed by designers and planners but derived from the perceptions of the people who use the place.
In the psychophysical approach, the perceived qualities of a landscape are derived from perceptual responses of different groups of respondents. Considered from the perspective of the cognitive approach, landscape perception becomes a process of interpretation, mediated by emotional responses to sites, perceived meanings, and physiological reactions (e.g. stress reduction). Design is thus a cognitive activity made up of thought processes, such as the search for ideas, the generation of solutions, the evaluation of information, the consideration and production of visual representations, and the development of strategies, while learning and experiencing.
A clear image of the environment will contribute to wayfinding performance in the future. Thus, to learn the large-scale structure of space, the traveler must necessarily build a cognitive map of the legible environment by integrating observations over extended periods of time, inferring spatial structure from perceptions and effects of actions.
Based on the above discussion, it is evident that the configurational properties of the environment are important variables in acquiring environmental knowledge. Cognitive representations and legibility comprise an subjective evaluations of the urban environment. It seems impossible to understand human-landscape interactions and specifically the experience of landscape without knowledge of their psychological foundations. Experience is first and foremost a psychological phenomenon.
While Cosgrove notes that ‘landscapes have a special significance within heritage debates’, he also argues that it is heritage which forces an engagement with the ‘realities of a postcolonial, polyvocal and globalized world’. While a ‘landscape approach’ has aided heritage scholars to move beyond what was a site-based engagement with their subject matter, therefore, an increased recognition of heritage – both tangible and intangible – has encouraged landscape scholars to heed the importance of the affective qualities of how, as Holtorf and Williams note, memories and mythologies, community and personal histories were ‘inherited, inhabited, invented and imagined through the landscape’. With its focus on the present and future, I would argue that a heritage sensibility would appear to provide a sense of hope and engagement.
The place can be described as an astonishing and complex geological structure. The tectonic gesture of the place is made visible by the sea eroded cliffs and its several lava and ashes layers of orange, black, brown and grey. An old conical lime kiln characterizes the image of the place. An artisanal industry of drying fish and salt extraction completed the principal local economic activity of fishing, more recently developed on touristic service. This social condition of very humble and poor economic situation was accentuated by a strong feeling of isolation and segregation shared by this community. The recent regional connection and several investments on public services, inverted a process of social erosion and conflict, stressed by a previous wrong policy on social housing. By adding the new and complex program of public space and connections, an extraordinary change took place on social and collective representation and valuation of space.
Visual culture is the primary conduit for globalization, with ideas travelling with ease across the Internet, on television, films and in print media. Inevitably, this leads to a reduction in the range of sensory experience to almost a single sense, where sight and sometimes sound become the sole means of relating to landscape. The focus on the visual – or ocularcentrism – is one of the threads of research that informs the tension between the global and landscape. Ocularcentrism is not a recent practice, but has influenced the landscape for centuries, with the overemphasis on the visual gaining ground through theories like perspective and the picturesque, and the rise of viewing-based practices such as museums, zoos and tourism. Reclaiming the landscape from an ocularcentrist perspective is one of the imperatives for those seeking to resist the homogenising influence of globalization.
We need to ask if the fact of thinking about landscape is not ultimately opposed to landscape itself, or whether, which amounts to the same thing, making landscape an object of thought excludes landscape thinking. We must not forget, of course, to evaluate this question in the general framework of social life. The landscape is born in the thinking of a literate elite: will it self-destruct when it evolves into an object of common representation?
This question is not as convoluted as it seems. Those familiar with architecture will recall a still famous book, which was of decisive historical importance in the sixties; indeed, it led to the first widespread questioning of the foundations of architectural modernism. Until then, this questioning had been limited to quarrels between different architectural schools, or between the happy few capable of understanding Heidegger’s comments in Bauen Wohnen Denken. Beyond these elites, no one really dared to ask the question: “Actually, why this particular architecture?” The book I refer to loosened people’s tongues: I am thinking of Bernard Rudofsky’s Architecture without Architects. The magnificent illustrations said more than any specialized arguments. It spoke directly to the souls of most readers, the generation that had fully experienced the consequences of modernism in the concrete transformation of the built environment. Reacting against modernism and massively enthralled by all forms of premodern habitats, this generation was to invent, among other things, postmodern architecture.
As far as we are concerned, this phenomenon illustrates the problem that I have just posed in a related field, for the built environment is par excellence that which transforms the landscape. What I have called the landscape thinking of the countless generations without landscape theory, guided “the architecture without architects” discussed by Rudofsky. The doubt he expressed about the dominant ideology in architecture is precisely the question I am formulating about those two forms of thought.
Let us clarify this first approximation. The abovementioned homology does not mean that I am confusing symptom and cause and intend to make landscape architects the scapegoats for the disaster of our landscapes. That would be absurd. The cause is much more general. It is the result of the sum of our behaviors. Landscape architects are now like doctors facing a pandemic of a new sort: they do what they can, and occasionally they do great things, but by themselves they can do nothing against existing conditions.
also see: Opportunists?
Alberto Burri, Crack of Gibellina (1984)