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)



Natural Artifacts

lan McHarg pursued this goal. He tried to construct artifacts that had natural logic- “natural artifacts.” He advocated planned habitation coherent with the characteristics of each biome, consonant with tropical rainforests, with deserts or grasslands or temperate woodlands. The biosphere is not at all uniform. From pole to pole, across the equator, inside caves and in the upland forests. exist a range of distinct situations, of climatic conditions within their corresponding extensive biomes. A fantastic diversity lies within the heart of each biome. today a striking consequence of profound change brought about by incessant human labor. The activities and plans called for in Design with Nature demand that we be conscious of the non-human diversity and to at least know its broadest painted strokes. Nature is far from uniform, nor can design be generalized. We need conceptual tools that help us recognize and thrive amidst global diversity. (…)

Scientists, ecologists, or social ecologists provide specialized information in a fragmented manner that is usually inaccessible to the general public. Even their professional colleagues take in, evaluate, and respond to the specialized knowledge in a fragmented manner. As McHarg insists:

“This is what modern science is; the egg is shattered, all the fragments lie scattered on the ground. The fragments are called geology and physics and chemistry and hydrology and soil science, plant ecology, animal ecology, molecular biology, and political science. There is no one who can put together again the entire system. Information fragmented is of no use to anybody. What we always need to proceed is really the one Whole system?”

Ramon Folch, Biosphera, Global Knowledge for Community Design (2007)

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

Whose Landscapes?

Who benefits from landscape architecture? To move beyond the simple, aspirational answer – everyone – raises further questions. Who do we think the beneficiaries ought to be, and what is their place in the texture of society as a whole? Planning and designing our future landscapes takes place in a cultural context, and culture is not monolithic. So whose culture, whose landscapes, are we conserving, enhancing or developing anew? 

The challenge in these terms reflects the condition of the western world as we enter a new millennium. Do we properly recognise the value of cultural landscapes, should we make explicit the cultural assumptions implicit in the way we manage landscapes, and how do we weigh the importance of developing new cultural expressions against that of conserving the old?

Catharine Ward Thompson, Who benefits from landscape architecture? (2005)


Is the Natur-Park Südgelände a good example of a successful integration of urban wilderness into the open-space system of a metropolis? What speaks in its favor is the simple fact that this kind of nature development has indeed been successfully safeguarded despite substantial competition for use in the reunited German capital. The contrast between dynamic nature and the remnants of the railway industry heritage is fascinating to all visitors. Unfettered wilderness development is always taking place in parts of the Südgelände. Through the spatially differentiated maintenance plan, the earlier and middle stages of nature development are maintained and thereby the diversified vegetation complexes are maintained in the long term. The species targeted for nature conservation profit as well from the maintenance measures. The public acceptance of the nature park is extremely high.

The original railway wilderness has, however, clearly been affected by design interventions in the form of the new path system, the maintenance and the art objects. Has this destroyed the original uniqueness, the “wilderness” of the Südgelände? Certainly the character of the site has changed. The few who earlier had discovered the Südgelände on their own recognize the contrast very clearly. To wake Sleeping Beauty, however, also means to open the urban wilderness to a multitude of visitors who did not have an inherent sympathy for the nature of urban abandoned areas. That such access, even designed access, satisfies a need for wilderness has been shown in studies such as the one by Bauer.


    Odious, Natur Park Schoeneberg Sudgelande (2009)



    A requirement had been that the brutal charm of the still-present trenches, concrete elements and anti-tank walls remain intact. At the same time, the preservation of the site’s ecological value was a priority, in which regard the client supplied Bureau B+B with detailed information. B+B took on the challenge of designing on these terms, with the result that the opposite poles of recreation and nature conservation were both taken fully into account in the design. With regard both to the existing wood landscape and military paraphernalia, little was changed, and simple interventions turned out to be sufficient to turn the rough area into a park. The firm’s free approach to the landscape – for instance the addition of recycled green glass to the loose-fill pavement, which sparkles by day and is illuminated by countless embedded solar-cell lamps in the evening – turned out to be an eye-opener for the German client. The terrain’s different biotopes were classified according to their respective degrees of sensitivity. Thus, the number and location of paths was ultimately determined by how intensively the park is used. Where nature needs more protection, there are, quite simply, fewer paths. There are even a number of spots that are entirely inaccessible to the public. Interestingly enough, though, these were not the ecologically most valuable spots, but those that, due to breaking branches and the danger of falling trees, were selected for clearing. These ‘islands’ are surrounded by fascines and are now used by the University of Brandenburg as research locations. However, despite the no-go areas, the circa 5-km-long network of paths gives visitors the feeling that they are free to wander wherever they wish. The intensive program was concentrated on the park’s periphery, around four ‘terminals’: large, brick-red concrete elements equipped with slides, climbing holds or trampolines. (…) Their form and use are not immediately clear at first glance. This is indeed their strength: you can sit, sunbathe or picnic on them or just look around; they can be used as décor for theatrical productions or outdoor concerts. The magical attraction of the terminals brings the recreational function of the Waldpark into focus – only nature lovers penetrate deeper into the park.

    Bureau B+B, Waldpark Postdam (2001)

    Bureau B+B, Waldpark Postdam (2001)



    I should like to insist once more on the theme of devastation, which is more serious in tropical countries than in temperate ones. I wish to point out that its principal effects are climatic and microclimatic changes and the destruction of a common capital represented by the fertility of the soil. The suppression of the flora and fauna and the transformation of areas into deserts is hardly a reversible process. It represents a human attack against the sources of life and a form of destruction of future generations.
    The social mission of the landscape architect has a pedagogical side of communicating to the masses a feeling of esteem and comprehension of the values of nature through his presentation of it in parks and gardens. ln Brazil-where there is sometimes a suspicious aversion to local plants, a preference for foreign ones over what are considered to be weeds-l have had, over long experience, to insist again and again, against much opposition, on a fuller understanding of the importance of our action and our contribution to changing the public’s mentality. We should show that someone was worried about leaving a valid aesthetic and useful legacy to those who come after us.

    Roberto Burle-Marx, Gardens and Ecology (1987)

    Roberto Burle-Marx & Oscar Niemeyer, Ibirapuera Park (1954)


    (Header: Image of one of the 2019 Amazon rainforest wildfires (see Wikipedia Report))