Have we reached a post-landscape condition? Have new designs, representations and physical forms been realized which provide for collective actions and alternative relations with where we live, work and visit? In Recovering Landscape, Corner describes his inspiration for advocating a ‘recovery’ of landscape as ‘less the pastoralism of previous landscape formations’ but instead the ‘yet-to-be disclosed potentials of landscape ideas and practices’. But as economic and political contexts shifted, during the global economic collapse and the subsequent recession, can we identify an emergence of alternative practices and landscape forms? Concerns for ecological restoration and programmatic approaches to landscapes are emphasized by Corner whose Field Operations designed the master-plan for New York’s Fresh Kills Park and realized the rehabilitation of the High Line as a public park. However, Corner describes that ‘massive process[es] of deindustrialization’ have placed new complex demands on land-use planning requiring the ‘accommodation of multiple, often irreconcilable conflicts’. Landscape projects that remediate and repurpose polluted post-industrial sites have gained currency in urban redevelopments, building on the work of land artists Such as Mel Chin, and landscape architects like Peter Latz. But while we can identify inventive approaches that decontaminate formerly abandoned landscapes, few contemporary landscapes or urban design projects have confronted their contribution to increasing land-values, displacement of remaining industries and aggressive gentrification. Environmental recovery of landscapes facilitates urban redevelopment, provides a foundation for spatially and aesthetically reproducing cities and furthers opportunities for economic returns for individuals and organizations that own brownfield sites. Projects improve ecological conditions but fail to address, and in many cases exacerbate, businesses displaced, jobs lost and individuals excluded from renewed urban areas. While in some cases, as Cosgrove claims of recent critical thinking, ‘landscape is approached as a spatial, environmental, and social concept rather than as a primarily aesthetic term’, prevailing landscape practices remain tied to economic priorities. And although Corner reminds us that landscape is inextricably ‘bound into the marketplace’ neither his writing nor his landscape practice provide clues for how these relations can be uncoupled or rethought.
Since the 1990s, the landscape field has reinvented itself in different guises including, but not limited to: landscape-as-art, landscape urbanism and landscape infrastructure. Each of these frameworks combines new ways of thinking about the city as an environmental system with varying emphases on form, performance, and program. Further, technological advances in digital terrain modeling, Google Earth, diagramming, and the use of computer programs to generate photorealistic perspectives have all changed the content of landscape architectural design processes and content.
Beyond technology, the field has been expanded and enriched by an expanded understanding of process derived from evolving ecological theory, including the systems-based emphasis of landscape ecologists such as Eugene Odum, who developed the modern notion of ecology as an integrated discipline. Odum’s work has provided a ground for further evolution in the topic by Richard T.T. Forman, Steward Pickett, Steven Handel, and Nina-Marie Lister, among many others. This emphasis provides a crucial corrective to the traditional, interventionist mode of landscape architecture and the emphasis on ecological systems in this vein can to be further enriched with an equal attention to sociology and political science. Moving forward, we need to think analytically about the interconnectedness of social and physical systems, knit these strands together, and derive new territories for action.
The sly and the clever creatively misuse words and torture “landscape” in particular. Cityscape, townscape, streetscape, brainscape, hairscape, cloudscape, airscape, hardscape, bedscape, and other nonce words exist because “landscape” is now a promiscuous word indeed. Its progeny confuse anyone looking around thoughtfully, even at the ocean. In art history circles, seascape designates a concept and image type older than “landscape,” something even young children seem to know when asked which is older, the sea or the fland. They look up from their pails and shovels, away from their castles and embankments, walls and gateways, gaze seaward and instinctively know the great age of the sea and the comparative newness of the land. Variable, moody, implacable, unstable, the sea endures beyond shovels and shaping. The built fabric inland from the beach and dunes appears stable, and so beguiles and reassures the thoughtless. It lends itself to advertising hype, to word-making about making and shaping, to expressions like moral landscape and financial landscape, phrases designating things not subject to sudden sea change. Its complexity occludes the very words intended to name its components and facilitate understanding, especially the basic, old words children learn before they learn to read.
Nature, ecology, and landscape are important reference concepts for landscape architecture. Traditionally, all three have been considered polar opposites from culture or humanity, in a dualistic relationship. With regard to the latter two, this position has changed ecology has been conceptualized as something cultural that can be designed by humans, and a similar shift has occurred with the traditional understanding of ‘landscape’; for example, with recent definitions by J. B. Jackson as a man-made, artificial system, or by the European Landscape Convention as ‘the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors’. A like integrative understanding of ecology and landscape has also been proposed in landscape architectural theory (as well as in philosophy) for some decades now, serving as the foundation for new movements, such as landscape urbanism or ecological urbanism. Yet nature, the most far-reaching of the three concepts, is still mainly understood in the traditional way. Nature is seen as a counterpart to human culture, as something independent from human influence a concept that has dominated the Western world since Aristotle. But, is this a problem? It would be if this type of nature -something independent from human influence- no longer existed, which is precisely what many philosophers or scientists propose today.
According to philosopher Slavoj Zizek, ‘Today, with the latest biogenetic developments, we are entering a new phase in which nature itself melts into air: the main consequence of the breakthroughs in biogenetics is the end of nature. Once we know the rules of nature’s construction, natural organisms are transformed into objects amenable to manipulation. Nature, human and inhuman, is thus “desubstantialized”, deprived of its impenetrable density’.
Inspired by the nearby mountain range, Khao Yai, Thailand’s largest rain forest, the landscape is created as the link between the architecture and Nature. Instead of trying to produce a faked natural forest, the architecture is interpreted as big trees while the landscape represents the green areas underneath. Working with different qualities of sunlight, the landscape solution successfully introduces the man-made sustainable forest, which inspires the residents to understand and appreciate what Nature is all about.
Radicant design can make do with these sites. Instead of creating an oeuvre, radicant design evolves along with continuous inquiries, interventions and evaluations into a dialogue. This evolution and the related design processes are as much part of the work as the various elements, persons. materials, events, memories, and atmospheres. The work cannot be described as a classical form; it is a progressing form. Its authorship is blurred: the classical framework of designers, clients, and public no longer fits — all are co-creators. Not that these evolutive and cooperative work modes would be unfamiliar to landscape architects — on the contrary, but they didn’t propel 20th-century landscape discourses. Let’s do so now with Bourriaud who calls the ethical mode of altermodernity ‘translation’ and its aesthetical expression the ‘journey-form’. Performative aspects are easily part of a journey-form, as the Seljord Lake Sites project shows – a forgotten place where both the legends of old and the international students’ building activities form the landscape architectural work, to say nothing of the experience of being on the (wondrous) ways that link these minimalistic interventions. The work takes place rather than form.
While the current climate crisis tightens its stranglehold on contemporary society, many are those who put their faith in groundbreaking design and artistic innovation. As a side effect of the climate threat, this renewed celebration of creative agency may be welcome, not the least from a landscape architecture perspective since, in the context of sustainable development, every design action is also a landscaping gesture with environmental implications. Nevertheless, isolated from a broader societal context, these new eco-scapes risk ending up as nothing but attractive emerald patches disguising a sprawling global ‘junkspace’. As an expanded field of aesthetic and political agency, however, the emerging sustainability culture offers new perspectives on creative spatial practice. Approaching the environmental issue from the perspective of contemporary landscape related art practices, this article seeks to contribute to the articulation of a landscape aesthetics that would meet the requirements of our agitated time. Such articulation, however, requires a reconsideration of landscape aesthetics beyond the consoling and beautiful, as well as a fundamental shift in landscape thinking from representation to agency. The future eco-scape is not necessarily a sphere where you feel ‘at ease’, but a performative and unsettled space in constant transformation and change.
(Upper image: James Corner with Prince William and the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson (now Prime Minister) visiting the Queen Elizabeth Olimpic Park in London, (Field Operations Website)
The urban park was a 19th-century concept, its invention necessary to provide relief to the urban victims of the new, untamed metropolis. (…) Planning, real estate development, and the poetic presence of nature were combined. Properly regarded, these were the purest forms of landscape urbanism—or landscape-as-infrastructure.
This Olmstedian principle seems still to be the ideal of landscape urbanism, although in practice hardly any critical attention is paid to some of its weaker aspects. Why is it so easily taken for granted that the green of parks will bring a better world?
First, the steadily increasing area of suburban green structures is of a dubiously hybrid character: they are often loud statements of overdesigned park architecture expressing a desire for liveliness, and for the cultural significance of beloved 19th-century city parks; but on the other hand, they attempt to create an idealistic wilderness. Realization of these plans often results in a strange nonworld of cultivated innocence. The essential characteristics a park needs to survive, so exhaustively described by Jane Jacobs, are almost always lacking. According to her analysis, for parks and greenery to succeed, a good context is fundamental. Many city dwellers see peripheral green zones as valuable green background, but also as potentially dangerous, and as places to be avoided. There is simply too little activity and no mixing of user groups. Park designers have not succeeded in giving these parks the allure of nature and wilderness.
Second, landscape architecture is fundamentally linked to nature, to mother earth. But the perception of “nature” is a cultural phenomenon, quite different from one country to another. The elemental forces of nature have also, through prosperity or privation, shaped behavioral second natures— yielding national identities, religions, livelihoods, and even wars. From these basic conditions cultures are formed, each with its particular perceptions of nature. When you talk with di erent nationalities about nature, you are confronted by deeply rooted feelings and cultural convictions, all of which are assumed to be a matter of “common sense.”
Finally, the pretension often is that parks are the result of ideology and craftsmanship, and are therefore inherently unique and valuable. However, landscape architecture, in contrast to architecture, is concerned almost exclusively with the public realm—parks, boulevards, riverfronts, streetscapes, and so on. To reach decisions and establish nances, we must work with politicians, local citizens, and bureaucracies with diverse legal systems. Landscape architecture will always focus on outreach, public opinion, interaction, public policy, implementation, and compromise. The discipline cannot avoid responding to sociopolitical contexts.
Economists have an acronym to identify the forces driving development: PESTEL (politics, economics, sociology, technology, environment, and law). It is critically important that contemporary planning initiatives explicitly take these factors into account. Clearly such diverse issues as governance and legislation, high- and low-tech implementation strategies, grassroots advocacy, and megaprojects all are attendant on public policy. So in practice landscape architects and park designers work in a realm between illusion and public policy, and our work is inevitably the most banal and compromised among the design disciplines. At the end of the day, are the built realities anywhere close to the dreamt-of parks and artist’s impressions?