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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Interconnectedness

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.

Kate Orff, Toward an Urban Ecology: SCAPE / Landscape Architecture (2016)

Kate Orff + SCAPE and Richard Misrach, Petrochemical America (2009)

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Impervious

If the disciplines of urban planning and civil engineering respectively form the impervious architecture and fixed framework of cities of Western industrial society today, then planners and engineers are thefoot soldiers in the maintenance and management of the myth of instrumental reason. Perpetuated by State-driven policy, the over-emphasis on “legibility” in strategies of abstraction (land use keys) and data aggregation (demographics) have simplified complex information, and where “predictions have often been wildly wrong.” The risk of reason is personified in the positivist role of technocratic engineer “the best exemplar of the power of expertise… reinforcing directly and indirectly the rule of instrumentalism and unending economic growth. Over time, the implementation of legal limits, and categories of accountability-institutionalized through standardization and systematization, have gradually contributed to the rigid and segregated space of cities today. “The modern engineering enterprise is primarily a colonizing project, ” both self-aggrandizing and totalizing. Removed more and more from regional resources and dynamic biophysical processes, the neutralization and normalization of process is heightened by the security found in quantitative logic and numerical precision. Anthropocentric economies of expediency and exactitude simply externalized ecologies of race, class, and gender. The assumed neutrality of infrastructure is perhaps its most dangerous weapon.

Pierre Bélanger, Is Landscape Infrastructure? (2016)

DnD Landschaftsplanung, Earth Cubes on the Vienna Outer-Ring Motorway (2005)

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Header: Pierre Bélanger + OPSYS, Waste Flows, Backflows, and Reflows, Maas-Rhine River Delta, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, (2009)

Tripled War

Floods. Droughts. Cyclones (hurricanes and typhoons). Tornados. Tsunamis. Wildfires. Volcanic eruptions. Landslides. Earthquakes. World news brings the calamities of natural disasters from all corners of the planet close to home via newspapers, television, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Meanwhile, the travesties of outright man-made disasters through armed conflict continue to flare across continents and threaten global security. Both are devastating, bring death and wreak havoc on the built and natural environment. The Norwegian Refugee Council Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC-IDMC) reported that in 2013, 22 million people were driven from their homes through a combination of mega and small natural disasters_three times more than through war and conflict in the same period. The risk of such disasters is also rising, outpacing population growth and even rapid urbanization. Global population has doubled since the 1970s and urban concentrations have tripled since that time, particularly in vulnerable countries. IDMC director, Alfredo Zamudio, claimed that ‘most disasters are as much man-made as they are natural. Better urban planning, flood defenses, and building standards could mitigate much of their impact’. (…)

Clearly, the profession has an increasingly important role to play. Preparedness for impending disasters and the reduction of environmental risk is well within the purview of design. Landscape architects can work across scales to build resilience into landscapes and territories before disasters can happen, and develop various projects that mitigate risks and adapt to vulnerability and exposure.

Kelly Shannon, Preemptive design opportunities to mitigate disasters (2015)

Martin Knuijt + OKRA, Katwijt Coastal Defence (2008- )

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Resilience

Long-term sustainability necessitates an inherent and essential capacity for resilience – the ability to recover from disturbance, to accommodate change, and to function in a state of health. In this sense, sustainability typically means the dynamic balance between social-cultural, economic and ecological domains of human behavior necessary for humankind’s long-term surviving and thriving. As such, long-term sustainability sits squarely in the domain of human intention and activity – and thus – design; it should not be confused with the ultimately impossible realm of managing “the environment” as an object separate from human action. Instead, the challenge of sustainability is very much one for design, and specifically, design for resilience.

A growing response to the increasing prevalence of major storm events has been the development of political rhetoric around the need for long-term sustainability, and in particular, its prerequisite of resilience in the face of vulnerability. As an emerging policy concept, resilience refers generally to the ability of an ecosystem to with- stand and absorb change to prevailing environmental conditions; in an empirical sense, resilience is the amount of change or disruption an ecosystem can absorb and, following these change events, return to a recognizable steady state in which the system retains most of its structures, functions and feedbacks. In both contexts, resilience is a well-established concept in complex ecological systems research, with a history in resource management, governance and strategic planning. Yet despite more than two decades of this research, the development of policy strategies and design applications related to resilience is relatively recent. While there was a significant political call for (implied) resilience planning following New York’s Superstorm Sandy in 2011 and the ice storm of 2013 in Toronto and the North- Eastern US, there is still a widespread lack of coordinated governance, established benchmarks, implemented policy applications, tangible design strategies, and few (if any) empirical measures of success related to climate change adaptation. There has been too little critical analysis and reflection on the need to understand, unpack and cultivate resilience beyond the rhetoric and to develop specific tactics for design. Design for resilience would benefit from an evidence-based approach that contributes to adaptive and ecologically responsive design in the face of complexity, uncertainty and vulnerability. Put simply: What does a resilient world look like, how does it behave and how do we design for resilience?

Nina-Marie Lister,  Resilience. Designing the new sustainability (2015)

Landslag, Anti Avalanche structure for Siglufjördur (2011)

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Coffin

Ian McHarg, too, was concerned about unrestricted developement. The idea that some developments are more suitable to some landscapes than to others seems only common sense, but when homes built on floodplains are inundated, or hotels built on cliff tops fall into the sea, the extent of human folly becomes evident. We could avoid such calamities and live more harmoniusly whit nature, thought McHarg, if we took natural processes and values into account. He proposed a method for bringing everything into the picture. Known as ‘landscape suitability analysis’ or sometimes just as ‘sieve-mapping’, the technique he developed involved layering information on acetate sheets. So, for example, in considering the optimal route for a new highway, McHarg would combine layers showing the engineering properties of the substrates with layers showing productive soils, significant wildlife habitats, important cultural sites, and so on. When these were combined, it was the areas which were clearest of symbols that were the better areas in which to construct the road. The method also worked” well for planning development at a regional scale. Typically, after gathering physiographic, climatic, and geological data, McHarg could produce suitability maps, usually zoned for agriculture, forestry, recreation, and urban development. The method, which relied on extensive gathering and manipulation of data, became much easier with the growing availability of computers, and ‘McHarg’s Method’ became the basis of the technology known as GIS (Geographical Information System) which uses digital map layers instead of superimposed drawings.

Ian Thompson, Landscape Architecture. A Very Short Introduction. (2014)


Some years later, however, another nail in the coffin of the designed landscape was drilled: the publication of Ian McHarg’s Design with Nature, which cited the natural world as the only viable model for landscape architecture. This text provided landscape architects with both an analytical method and sufficient moral grounds to avoid almost completely decisions of form and design -that is, if design is taken as the concious shaping of landscape rather than its stewardship alone. McHarg emphasized the evolving study of natural ecology and remained within the bounds of natural processes and planning. A strong moral imperative underpinned the discourse; it mixed science with evangelism -a sort of ecofundamentalism. In his writtings and lectures, McHarg took no prisoners and allowed no quarter.

Marc Treib, Nature Recalled (1999)

Ian McHarg, Minimum Social Cost Alignment of a Road (late 1960s)

 

Gardens of all Sorts

Gardens of all sorts come in all sizes and guises. And our interest in them also takes many approaches. We study the process of their design, their built forms, their materials and plantings, their meanings, their use or how they are experienced on the ground and represented in word and image, their decay and maybe their recuperation. We are interested in who their designers were, who commissioned them, and the motives of both designers and patrons, along with the political and social contexts in which gardens came into being. But sometimes we also construct our own memories of these places.

A history of gardens is best undertaken as a cultural history, even if its primary focus is design, botany, hydraulics or sculpture. People engage in place-making because our choice of habitation is of supreme importance, as we find our identity and a sense of belonging in the process of colonizing and cultivation, which the word ‘culture’ (derived from Latin colere) implies. It is not enough to look at gardens for their style (endlessly and emptily touted as ‘formal’ or ‘informal’, ‘baroque’, ‘picturesque’, ‘arts and crafts’), nor even enough to assess their visual appearance. We need to ask why they came into being, what advantages and pleasures (including the visual, to be sure) accrue from them, and how and why they have survived, changed or vanished.

The range of places that can be envisaged within the category of ‘garden’ is also enormous and various, and it changes from locality to locality, and from age to age. Yet this diversity does not wholly inhibit us from knowing what it is that we want to discuss when we think of gardens. Above all, it is useful to think of the garden as typically a place of paradox, being the work of men and women yet created from elements of nature, the two held in some precious and often precarious tension. And while a garden is often acknowledged to be a ‘total environment’, a place that may be physically separated from other zones, it also answers and displays connections with larger environments and concerns, not least agriculture and cities. Gardens, in short, are both entities within themselves and a focus of human speculations, propositions, and negotiations, concerning what it is to live in the world.

John Dixon Hunt, A World of Gardens (2012)

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Peter Greenaway, The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982)

John Evelyn, Groombridge Place Estates (circa 1650)

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Parks are not

Parks are not the answer. Not for impoverished cities plagued with socio-economic crises that are painfully embodied in immense tracts of land abandoned by defunct industries and antiquated infrastructure. The question is: what if reframing formerly urban fallow sites as fertile ground for regeneration constitutes a means for a city to reinvent itself? When traditional redevelopment under-delivers or fails to materialize, as it often does in times of fiscal distress, can landscape architects offer resourceful design strategies that require a new way of seeing and a fresh vocabulary?

The term ‘wildland’ posited here attempts to brand cultivated urban wilds along with other unconventional landscape- based tactics to fill the gaps and dispel the stigma of disinvestment. Can wildland assume a role as healthy urban fabric, no lesser an asset than parkland? For well over a decade, notable examples in Germany invented ‘urban nature parks’ promoted by progressive planning policies to convert fallow land into productive resources for the current and future city. Yet American municipalities default to mowed lawns to keep blight at bay, albeit at a great cost. The unfortunate urge to tame urban wilds denies the reality of urban entropy and sacrifices the socio-ecological benefits that citizens could harvest from a landscape with a savage tenacity.

Julie Bargmann, Why not Wild? (2012)

GTL Gnüchtel Triebswetter Landschaftsarchitekten, Old Niddawiesen Airfield (2004)

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Body

More recently (…), we could observe a new diagram of the human body in relation with its environment. The winning entry of the Phase Shift Park (Taichung) competition by Philippe Rahm architectes and Catherine Mosbach depicts indeed the body, not anymore by its anatomical dimensions but rather by its biological affections by the environment. Heat, humidity and pollution, as three factors having physiological consequences on the body, are mapped and exploited in the creation of the park proposition. Léopold Lambert, A subversive approach to the ideal normalized body (2012)

However, while the Downsview Park does reclaim a form of agency for architecture at the scale of the city, it still leaves open the question he actual citizens. It is in this respect that the Jade Eco Park gives an extraordinary response, challenging the city-as-a-forest paradigm in a radical way. The city-as-a-forest embodies all the contradictions of our relationship with the state of nature, a condition that is seen both as barbarism but also innocence, productive ground but also wild junkspace: Held but also jungle. It is to this jungle that the jade Eco Park reacts by becoming, quite explicitly, a machine: while the visitor is allowed to become fully just an animal body, architecture takes control of the jungle. But Mies’s and Laugier’s ‘jungle’, ultimately, is a narrative trope before anything else: that is to say, a cultural trope, rather than a spatial one. On the contrary, by working on physical reactions, the Jade Eco Park asks the users to recuperate a primordial form of agency: the awareness of one’s own body. In doing so, Rahm and Mosbach’s project stands out as it questions the very use of the word landscape. Landscape, as a term, is inextricably linked to sight – a sense that becomes almost irrelevant in the haptic environment of the jade Eco Park. And, after all, the highest kind of critical agency lies perhaps in the possibility to rethink and redeine the intellectual categories we work with as architects, and as human beings.

Maria Shéhérazade Giudici, How to live in a jungle. The (bio)politics of the park as urban model. (2018)

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Philippe Rahm & Catherine Mosbach, Jade Park, Taichung (2011-2016)

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Corporate Ecologies

The magnitude of the social, political, economic and environmental effects of corporations as the dominant institutions of our time is extraordinary and overwhelming. Yet there is tremendous open-ended design potential in the processes and constructed landscape systems that humanity employs to produce goods and services. Approaching corporations as networked landscape ecologies reveals the expanded role landscape architecture can play in the analysis and design of these systems. The discipline of landscape architecture excels at the analysis of site, and the envisioning of corporate ecologies advocates more intensive investigations of these vast, insufficiently studied productive landscapes. Myriad forms and interrelationships of these systems have yet to be mapped and understood. As these ecologies are revealed and more extensively defined, they can be more broadly affected, either by trying to finesse how these systems fit into the landscape or by designing better systems.

Corporate ecology contrasts what corporate landscape has historically signified in landscape architecture discourse and practices (a preoccupation with the rarified symbolic content of corporate headquarters) with the broader implications and design opportunities latent in ubiquitous production sites by considering corporations as complex spatial ecologies. The historical definition of corporate landscape is a relic of past trends and motivations in landscape architectural practice such as object and scenic-based design practices that grew out of 18th-century landscape painting traditions, earlier professional marketing and media (how design offices marketed their services and the types of projects that were published in trade magazines) and how corporations have historically operated. However, all of these trends have since shifted; ecological performance criteria have returned to the foreground of contemporary design theory and practice, and corporations have, however reluctantly, been forced to consider a wider range of success criteria for their investors and customers than profit alone. Over the last decade, there has been a significant change in both consumer and investor expectations, evidenced in the exponential increase in Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) stocks, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), International Standards of Organization (ISO) performance ratings, and the fact that nearly every corporate website has a section devoted to sustainability and concern for the environment. Diminishing resources and rising energy costs are also forcing corporations to find more efficient, sustainable operating solutions.

Brett Milligan, Corporate ecologies
 (2010)

Bret Milligan et alt., Schemes of the networked ecologies (2010)