Dominant Narrative

The dominant narrative upon which conservation’s global mandate rests is therefore one of immanent ecological catastrophe. In this tragedy, humanity is cast as a destructive force in an otherwise harmonic environment. In this account nature is right and humanity is wrong and as such clear moral lines can be drawn. It is however possible to think that the nature, of which we are now undeniably a part, is in itself as destructive as it is creative, the one necessary to the other. Similarly, the new paradigm in ecology, as ecologist Robert Cook explains, is one in which the ecosystem is understood as inherently chaotic and humans increasingly accepted as a ‘natural’ albeit currently destructive part of both its history and its future.

Optimistically, as neither destroyers nor saviors we can begin to re-imagine ourselves as participants in, and perhaps managers of, endless ecological change. As Jedidiah Purdy writes, “the question is no longer how to preserve a wild world from human intrusion; it is what shape we will give to a world we can’t help changing.” Michael Soule, the founder of the Wildlands Network brings Purdy’s point full circle, explaining that “when we choose the kind of nature we will live with, we are also choosing the kind of human beings we will be. We shape the world, and it shapes us in return. We are the creator and the created, the maker and the made. Zuzanna Drozdz, a student of landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania puts it perfectly when she writes: “by making a cultural decision to embrace, protect, and engender an ecologically robust, biodiverse world, we start to build a new identity for ourselves as a constructive force in nature.”

Richard Weller, Atlas for the End? (2017)

Richard Weller, Claire Hoch, and Chieh Huang, Atlas for the End of the World (2017)

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Cyborg

I have argued that in bringing together landscape design, infrastructure, and the concept of the cyborg, a framework emerges that enables land- scape designers to shape future landscapes based on the integration and synthesis of human and non-human actors as well as biotic and abiotic processes. The three examples in this article illustrate how the profession is already (knowingly or unknowingly) working within this framework. Purposefully designed as co-dependent socioecological networks, these projects transform and choreograph landscape processes across multiple spatial and temporal scales. This results in new spatial and material conditions, exchanges, and temporalities that enrich the experience of everyday life; promoting an aesthetic that is predicated on relationships between dynamic things and systems, not static, single objects alone. (…)

Taken together, the design approach outlined in this article offers tremendous opportunities for the discipline of landscape architecture. The cyborg challenges us to reconsider our relationship with the environment and technology, thereby prompting designers to reimagine the physical nature of these metabolic interactions. An overemphasis on control and efficiency gives way to dynamic and open-ended linkages between people’s intentions for the landscape and the non-anthropogenic forces at work. By structuring non-hierarchical relationships and co-evolutionary processes, it is possible to create more sustainable and resilient interactions among all elements, actors, and systems that make up complex socio-ecological systems. In doing so, cyborg landscapes aspire to create multifunctional landscapes that do not simply operate in the present, but learn from experiences in order to adapt and grow smarter over time.

Kees Lokman, Cyborg landscapes: Choreographing resilient interactions between infrastructure, ecology, and society (2017)

Kate Orff + SCAPE, Oyster-tecture Gowanus (2010)

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Taxonomy

Taxonomy is both the science of classification and the language of botany. As a science, it facilitates identification, evaluation and specification by comparing shared and common qualities. As a language, taxonomy provides a Latin name for the plant, or a binomial label that systematizes across cultural and physical divides. Thus, the science of classification increases our understanding of the plant while the language of botany expands scholarship, generating a coherent global currency. This familiarity is recognized through evidence contained in a herbaria specimen. At once a science, a language, and an artifact, taxonomy establishes confidence that the natural World is known and that knowledge can be fixed. Each authoritative procedure informs our capacity to exploit, as plants are bought, sold, traded and specified through the exacting terms of taxonomy.
Landscape architects rely on the orders of taxonomy to shape planted environments. Although plant taxonomists and landscape architects share a common interest in the natural world, techniques and outcomes vary tremendously. Landscape practices depend upon familiarity with living plants, rather than data obtained from desiccated specimens or sampling methods. Designers aim to make their make practices comprehensible to a broad public, and to transmit imagination and speculation through experience. Manipulating the location, aspect, and form of an individual plant is a known practice; just as the maneuvering of water, earth and rock underpin our profession. Yet designers seldom interrogate the mutable characteristics of science, or question established procedural orders. When confronted with plants, designers tend to digress into botanical laymen, accepting the influence of taxonomy as an expertise that lies outside their field of knowledge. This limitation also extends to other scientific discords such as native and non-native dichotomies. In other words, the Held of landscape architecture is more comfortable manipulating the tangible world (soil, water and plants) than in manipulating the theory of science. This tendency facilitates the expanding distance between design and botanical speculation, delaying the advancement of a critical agenda on plant life. Outside of formal characteristics or classificatory status, perhaps the enjoyment of plants as live organisms with particular behaviors and mutable contexts is the territory of the landscape architect.
At the core of this book is a perspective on the relationship between identification and experience, according a more effective role to the latter. While taxonomy offers a window into a rich and wide-ranging history of knowledge, the herbaria specimen has gradually expired as a useful fool for expressing the behavioral and mutable characteristics of plant life. Taxonomy continues to expand the ordering of plants, but indexes do little to advance an understanding of the relationship between plants.  Yet, the binomial and the specimen continue to feature prominently. As environmental risk escalates and ecological scales become the new norm for sites, novel and experimental directions in planting are required in response. How can plant life re-engage with human knowledge through this thick tangle of cultural and scientific history?
 
 
 

Rosetta S. Elkin, tiny taxonomies at the Jardins du Métis Festival (2016)

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Mapping Fever

The geographic and mapping fever of the last decades, rather than indicating (as has been suggested) a “geographic turn” or even a “geological turn” may instead be a symptom of deep anxiety about the waning agency of architects, urban designers, planners, and landscape architects. The search for a merging or hybridization of these disciplines, the attempts to integrate environmental and social sciences into design practice, and the loudly vocalized ambition of architects and landscape architects to reclaim the right to design infrastructure at a territorial scale–all raise at least two orders of problems. The first relates to the obvious need to address the ongoing process of redefinition of the interrelated notions of space, territory, border, and network, a process in which a few architectural theorists are already engaged. The second demands equally urgent investigations of the frontiers and agency of each design discipline. Questions may be formulated as follows: Is there a territory of architecture (or landscape architecture, or urban design)? And if so, what are its borders? Are the disciplines undergoing a process of deterritorialization? Is it advisable to suppress the frontiers between art, architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, engineering, physical sciences, environmental sciences, and social sciences? Is it plausible to think that all these sciences and disciplines are engaged in design practices, and that this is the bond that unites them? If this is the case, how would this coming together of the arts and the sciences under the banner of design differ, for example, from the 1960s’ frustrated efforts to build a discipline a of “environmental design”? Should the scope and meaning of the notion of design be expanded?

Alessandra Ponte, Mapping in the Age of Electronic Shadows (2017)

 

Adriaan Geuze & West 8 + Ginés Garrido Colomero et alt. Madrid Rio (2011)

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Green

We should be careful of green. Greenwashing does not help anyone. Green intentions are all very good, but a lot of follow-through and care is required to get to a green result in both senses of the word: color and sustainability. Even the best of intentions can go in all sorts of ungreen directions if someone’s asleep at the wheel. For instance, much of the paper and plastic packaging on green products is contaminated through the dyeing process. This surely is a metaphor for the highly irrigated and highly chemicalized green spaces in our cities, the worst of which are “sterile, monocultural, soaked in poison,” as the political ecologist Paul Robbins puts it. Despite, or perhaps because of, its economic, political, social, and cultural importance, green becomes a huge drain on natural resources, with cities like Manama using over half their water resources on the irrigation of greenery.

The paradox of green environmentalism is not restricted to arid beige environments such as Bahrain and Dubai. Indeed, Rem Koolhaas, who is not especially known for his environmental credentials, remarked, “Embarrassingly, we have been equating responsibility with literal greening.” William McDonough and Michael Braungart have chronicled
another form of green desert, the American lawn: “The average lawn is an interesting beast: people plant it, then douse it with artificial fertilizers and dangerous pesticides to make it grow and to keep it uniform-all so that they can hack and mow what they encouraged to grow. And woe to the small flower that rears its head!” Americans allegedly spend more money on watering lawns every year than they do on their federal tax returns. In an essay on public space in Cairo, Vincent Battesti says that green spaces “promote public frenzy.” He argues that the limited green space in Cairo has become a magnet for citizens during holidays and weekends. The draw of green is almost universal, although that attraction may be particular and culturally bound.

Gareth Doherty, Paradoxes of Green (2017)

Gilles Brusset, L’enfance du pli (2017)

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Nature as ideology

But what do we mean by “nature” or “the natural”? The English philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) addressed the problem long ago, pointing out that many of the connotations attached to the two terms led to terminological confusion because they were based on a commingling of moral concepts legitimization, and normative aspects? This article, however, is not primarily concerned with the Millsian definition of nature, which characterized it as, among other things, “a name for the mode, partly known to us and partly unknown, in which all things take place.” This article deals much more with the concept of “nature as ideology,” which the German landscape designer Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn described as, “Nature, understood in this way, is a (more-or-less) systematic scheme of ideas, held by particular social, political, cultural, and other groups.” In that assessment, nature represents an intellectual construct. And according to Wolschke-Bulmahn, it is only human reflection on nature that produces an emotional bond and the assignment of values to nature.

The terms nature and naruralness are associated with positive or negative values depending on the cultural context. In the European context, “natural” is assigned a predominantly positive value and often functions as a kind of seal of approval, with which products, but also landscapes, are stamped. Urban dwellers in particular often express a yearning for “the natural.” But the German philosopher Thomas Schramme argues that when people think of “the natural” they mean only a specific part of “nature”–to wit, exclusively the beneficial part of nature. Everything else, such as the dangers or unpleasantness associated with nature, is ignored. The historian Rolf Peter Sieferle characterized nature as “that which is elementary, self-contained, spontaneous, sprouted, unavailable, unproduced, while on the other side is that which is artificial, technical, regulated by arrangements and agreements, made and compelled, designed and cultivated.” And even things that have the positive connotations of “natural” are subject to differing levels of meaning: “the natural as biological, as self-evident, as non-artificial, as non-cultural, and as non-technical.” When we talk about the “naturalness” of a landscape in a landscape architecture project, the emphasis is often on the “non-artificial” aspect. However, landscape architecture has in fact a long, historical-cultural tradition of dealing with artificial representations of nature, with the imitation of putatively untouched landscapes. Landscape architects have always been busy creating images that suggest “nature” and “natural,” but are thought through down to the tiniest technical detail and “artificially” effectuated by humans.

Representing landscape as a facsimile of nature is a gardening tradition that has its roots in the Chinese gardens, in which the emphasis was not on the construction of a paradise, but rather on a devotion to honoring nature, by creating as perfect a copy of real landscapes as possible. Chinese garden designers adhered to geomantic principles and focused on designing an efngy of an ideal microcosm that was closely allied to traditional, allegorical Chinese landscape painting. No trouble was spared, and they constructed artificial seas as well as artful replicas of entire mountainous massifs. In Asia, the “natural landscape garden,” which had spread out over ]apan, was replaced over time by sublimely excessive citations of landscapes. Landscapes were reproduced on a smaller scale, or individual aspects, such as water, were symbolized by materials like gravel, turning them into artifacts. An artificial refinement of “raw nature,” in place of purely replicating it, became the expression of the gardening art.

Susann Ahn & Regine Keller, False Nature? (2017)

Z+T Landcape Architects, Vanke Eco-Campus (2011) 

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