Environmental Ethics

Environmental ethics matter to everyone, and the sort of virtue ethics approach outlined in the preceding section has implications for everyone alive. However, in terms of scale and impact, it is those who take managerial decisions about land, whether they are politicians, policy-makers, farmers, planners, landscape architects, property developers or foresters, who ought to examine their characteristic values and reflect on their actions the most closely. Those ethicists who have argued in favour of plural sources of values and who have been willing to embrace anthropocentric reasons for protecting the environment, are surely closer to the thinking of the majority of such professionals, as well as to that of the wider public. Recognizing this however, we should never allow ourselves to slip into the sort of resourcist thinking which sees the environment with its multitude of component landscapes as a warehouse of reserves solely for the use of human beings, a point made powerfully by Heidegger in his later writings. The main message of environmental ethics is that environmental problems are not just managerial or resource problems but are moral issues, which, as Jamieson observes, ‘brings them into the domain of dialogue, discussion and participation’.

Ian Thompson, Landscape and environmental ethics (2013)

 

This ecosystem-focused project becomes a political statement when analyzed in relation to the threat posed to the environment in Poland. Since 2017, following the green light granted by the Ministry of Environment and State Forests Agency, the forests of Poland have been ravaged, including even the most precious primeval woodlands. Logging activities threaten the whole ecosystems – both plants and animals – as the harvesting is nonselective and enormous areas are destroyed producing ‘environmental massacre’ landscapes.

In this context the project is seen as a unique example of environmental awareness accomplished after an intense investors engagement process – The City Council of Iława, environmentalists, local historians and a broad team of designers and engineers from different disciplines. Since the very beginning of the project it has been clear that the more subtle a design intervention is, the better for the ecosystem. Also, after a long process of encouragement the decision was made to change the character of the project to non-productive and natural forest, which resulted into a no-wood-harvesting policy and protection of the dead wood.

Landscape Architecture Lab, Iława Forest (2018)

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Mad Scientists

On the eve of the Euro 2016 final between France and Portugal, ground staff at the gigantic Stade de France in Paris had left the stadium’s lights on, for security reasons. Attracted by the blinding floodlights, thousands upon thousands of migrating Silver Y moths descended into the empty arena. Those not killed by the heat of the lamps eventually ended up among the grass of the playing surface, where, after the lights were turned off, they hid throughout the day of the big match. As evening fell, 80,000 spectators took their seats and the lights were turned back on. The sleeping moths stirred, and soon thousands were zigzagging among the players. Photographs taken that night show annoyed football officials picking moths off each other’s suits, while the swarm blocked the lenses of TV cameras and hung from the goalposts. Perhaps the highlight came when Cristiano Ronaldo sat injured and weeping on the pitch, while a lone Silver Y sipped his teardrops away.As the Portuguese superstar had discovered, the mingling of urban development with the natural world can throw up some weird and wonderful occurrences. Cities are like mad scientists, creating their own crazy ecological concoctions by throwing all kinds of native and foreign elements into the urban melting pot, then spicing it up with artificial light, pollution, impervious surfaces and a host of other challenges. Researchers around the globe are documenting how globalisation and urbanisation are changing the behaviour and evolution of animals.Indeed, evolutionary biologists no longer need to travel to remote places like the Galápagos todiscover their holy grail: speciation, the formation of new and distinct species in the course of evolution. The process is going on right in the very cities where they live and work. In tune with their human population, cities have been assembled from immigrants from around the globe.

The Guardian , Darwin comes to town: how cities are creating new species (2018)

Moebius, Arzach, 1976

Stop

There has been no lack of architectural responses to the threat of rising tides, especially in the metropolitan cities of the Global North; in fact, what might be called ‘climate megastructures’ have become something of an entire genre of architectural proposal, both real and fictional. Going beyond more prosaic calls for the sustainability of individual buildings, climate megastructures operate at the scale of neighborhoods, cities or regions. Some are imminently buildable, based on contemporary technologies and knowledges up to the task of mitigating sea level rise and the increasing frequency of storms associated with it. Others are far more speculative and cleave to a faith similar to that found in climate geoengineering — the belief that humanity can, someday, figure out a technological magic bullet that can stop or even reverse the worst of climate change. Large, infrastructural-scale thinking is a first step in the right direction towards coping with a problem as daunting and inevitable as sea level rise. But too often, both of these categories of climate megastructure share a common, deeply flawed assumption: that architecture can, and should, be deployed to rescue the urban status quo in the face of existential threat. “Green” megastructures that dutifully fulfill their role as an economic investment first — or just ignore their own place in a global real estate industry that ensures the consequences of climate change will be unevenly felt — might be “thinking big,” but fail to think systemically. When architecture proposes to save the flooding cities of the world, who or what exactly is it trying to save?

Joshua McWhirter, Stop Seeing Climate Change as an “Opportunity” for Architecture (2018)

Bjarke Ingels, + BIG et alt, The Big U (2014)

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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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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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That’s the theory

The substantive project this century will not be just the perpetuation of vibrant public space – in fact the public and the so called placemakers – whoever they really are – have pretty much now worked out they can just “pop it all up” for themselves.

The future of substantial and interesting work for landscape architects lies in redesigning cities in terms of social justice and ecological performance. This means going deeper into socio political processes and harnessing and actively redirecting their internal forces to more just and more ecological ends.

It means understanding the city metabolically and systemically which in turn means not just working “in the old idea of the city as a place of many buildings and filling designated sites with design composition – it means tracking supply chains to the ends of the earth – identifying the relationality between where you and your project are in both space and time in relation to the sources and sinks that can be traced to it.

It means identifying points along those continuums to apply design intelligence with particular accuracy so that change might reverberate through the system. It means working with time more than space.

This ultimately means a correlation of planetary urbanism with the complexity and holistic nature of the earth system across all scales.

At least that’s the theory.

And before you think I’m just swinging the old pendulum back from art to instrumentality, working with the ecological mechanics of the city doesn’t mean we just apply the cold hand of reason – the evolution of planetary urbanism is not just a technical matter of performance metrics, nor is it a moralizing, punitive project – it is an artistic, critical and beautiful project.

The possibility of society becoming a constructive rather than destructive force of nature is as profound and poetic as it is practical.

Richard Weller, OMG, There is an Anthropocene in my Backyard! (2016)

Kongjiang Yu + TURENSCAPE, Houtan Park (2010)

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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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Nobody

Nobody likes it when you mention the unconscious, and nowadays, hardly anybody likes it when you mention the environment. You risk sounding boring or judgmental or hysterical, or a mixture of all these. But there is a deeper reason. Nobody likes it when you mention the unconscious, not because you are pointing out something obscene that should remain hidden—that is at least partly enjoyable. Nobody likes it because when you mention it, it becomes conscious. In the same way, when you mention the environment, you bring it into the foreground. In other words, it stops being the environment. It stops being That Thing Over There that surrounds and sustains us. When you think about where your waste goes, your world starts to shrink. This is the basic message of criticism that speaks up for environmental justice, and it is the basic message of this book.

Timothy Morton. Ecology Without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics. (2000)

Leviathan-poster

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Andrey Zvyagintsev, Leviathan (2014)

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Most critical readings of Leviathan focus on its treatment of the relationship between state power and the individual, overshadowing the importance of the land. Yet, land is a central issue in the film. It is Nicolai’s land that functions as a motor of the story; its prized position on the edge of the cape is what sparks the Mayor’s desire to acquire it, and it is Nicolai’s ancestral connection to the land that drives him into a self-destructive opposition to state power. The central question of Leviathan can thus be read not only as, “How much power should the state have over the individual?” but also how much power it has over land and nature. The destruction of Nicolai’s house and its replacement by a new church serves as the key visual metaphor of the film; Nicolai’s organic bond to his natural surroundings is destroyed in a methodical act of house-demolition, paralleling the moral, judicial, and psychological destruction of its owner. However, as Simon Schama suggests, landscape, in contrast to nature, is constructed by the mind and pervaded by memory.

Julia Vassilieva, Russian Leviathan: Power, Landscape, Memory, 2018

 

Desubstantialized

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.

T.R.O.P., Botanica Khao Yai (2014)

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Metamorphosis

Climate change is creating existential moments of decision. This is unintended, unseen, unwanted, and is neither goal oriented nor ideologically driven. The literature on climate change has become a supermarket for apocalyptic scenarios. Instead, the focus should be on what is now emerging—future structures, norms, and new beginnings.

Metamorphosis is about a new way of generating and implementing norms in the age of climate change. A brief look at the history of world risk society illustrates this concept. Before Hiroshima happened, no one understood the power of nuclear weapons; but afterward, the sense of violation created a strong normative and political momentum: “Never again Hiroshima!” Violations of human existence like Hiroshima induce anthropological shocks and social catharsis, challenging and changing the order of things from within.

“Never again Holocaust!” This metamorphosis decouples our normative horizons from existing norms and laws. I am referring here to something profound. A former basic principle of national law was that an act could not be judged in hindsight against a law that did not exist at the time the act was committed. So while it was legal under Nazi law to kill Jews, it became, in hindsight, a crime against humanity. It was not simply a law that changed, but our social horizons—our very being in the world. This is exactly what I mean by metamorphosis. In the case of climate change as a moment of metamorphosis, nature, society, and politics coalesce.

Ulrich Beck. How Climate Change Might Save the World: Metamorphosis. (2014)

Ecosistema Urbano, Eco Boulevard Vallecas (2007)

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Header: Maurits Cornelis Escher, Metamorphosis II (1940)