Dig Down

ln its original meaning, ‘landscape’ was not a net draped over the surface of things. lt was a thing shaped from, and the act of shaping, the earth. It was the digging of ditches and canals, the mounding up of berms and walls, the shaping and reshaping of these things over centuries. The substrate was the matrix of this shaping. Landscape went deep beneath the feet into the topsoil, into the gurgling bubbling under that, then deeper still into rock and heat. This early, earthy side of landscape was all but lost in the seventeenth century, and we live in the shadow of that loss. For without knowing the world under your feet, you will never fully know the world before your eyes.

So: get down on your knees. Lay your hands on the ground, then start digging and do not stop until your hands are bloody. Then turn your palms upward and smell the landscape there. Feel the roots of things. 

Thomas Oles, Go with Me. 50 Steps to Landscape Thinking. (2014)

THUPDI + Thinghua University, Shangai Quarry Garden (2010)



Mosbach’s unique education in the life sciences that was precursor to her training in landscape informs and nourishes her aesthetic approach. The ground at Louvre-Lens is designed as a sensitive surface.
The intention is to expose this surface to variations in time, playing with relationships between materials through the processes of contagion, superimposition, and coverings. It is about drawing the ground via flows and traversing different environments in the park.
An existing wood at the edge of the site yields to a large clearing of meadow. which then becomes a mix of hard planted surfaces near the building. The ground is locally perforated to allow water to infiltrate; it folds over to become seating at the entrance to the museum: it protects the building from the intrusion of vehicles and it dips to accommodate a pool. Around the building, desirable mom exists as the first pioneer stratum, collecting atmospheric dust and preparing for successive ecological cycles. For Mosbach, the way the park responds to temporal and ecological dynamics is multidimensional and becomes a new heritage for the site.

Thierry Kandjee & Sarah Hunt, The Invisible Made Present (2013)

Louvre-Lens by SANAA and Imrey Culbert03Louvre-Lens-By-SANAA-59-Hisao-Suzuki Louvre Lens By SanaaCatherine Mosbach, Louvre-Lens Museum Park (2012)


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)



Take One Creative, Stone River: The Passion of Jon Piasecki (2011)

 I built this project by myself. There were no other laborers.  I hammered each stone joint and moved each stone down the path on a small wooden cart. I transferred tens of tons of gravel and sand as a setting bed with a wheelbarrow and I moved nearly 400 tons of stone in the wall and as paving over the 800-foot length of the path. I opened the existing stonewall, chose the course of the path within it and rejoined the residual wall stone in such a way that the path appears to have grown organically within this stonewall where it resides. I was able to personally lay stones so as to avoid individual clumps of ferns, standing trees, fallen logs and existing stones with mossy growths in the wall. This was done in an attempt to preserve as much as of the preexisting life of the enormous wall as possible. (…)

This project is an illustration of the labor of one person inspired to change the world. In this instance by joining stone and by making a path into the woods with great sensitivity, I am working to heal, in a small way, the rift between culture and nature that is intrinsic to our modern relationship to the land.

Today, design and fabrication are generally distinct entities. Labor is devalued.  Unknown people toil to make our things. Machines spew out the stuff of our needs and desires and the making of them dehumanizes the production class and despoils the land.  Of course the machines are essential, and some disconnect between design and fabrication is inevitable, but this project openly asks if perhaps our fascination with the virtual over the actual, or with design over build, has gone too far? I would suggest that it has and that this disconnect certainly harms nature but it endangers our humanity even more so.

The goal of this project is to integrate the visitor with nature as he or she walks along this path through the woods. I hope to help these visitors feel the life and wonder of the natural world of which we all are a part.

Jon Piasecki, Stone River (2010)



Jon Piasecki, Stone River (2010)



Richard Serra, Verb List (1967-1968)

The “Verb list” established a logic where by the process that constituted a sculpture remains transparent. Anyone can reconstruct the process of the making by viewing the residue.

The sculptures resulting from the “Verb list” introduced two aspects of time: the condensed time of their making and the durational time of their viewing.

Both tasks and materials were ordinary. I was tearing lead in place, lifting rubber in place, rolling and propping lead sheets, and melting lead and splashing it against the juncture between wall and floor. The activities were experimental and playful. It wasn’t the question of how to accomplish this or that, nor was it the question of making it up as I went along: it was rather a free-floating combination of both.

I cannot overemphasize the need for play, for in play you don’t extract yourself from your activity. In order to invent I felt it necessary to make art a practice of affirmative play or conceptual experimentation. The ambiguity of play and its transitional character provides suspension of belief whereby a shift in direction is possible when faced with a complexity that you don’t understand. Free from skepticism, play relinquishes control. Play allows one to accept discontinuities and continuities; it also allows one to happen upon solutions or invent them. However, even in play the task must be carried out with conviction. It’s how we do what we do that confers meaning on what we have done.

Richard Serra, Verb List Commentary (2004)

Richard Serra, Tilted Arc (1981-1989)

Approaching Serra’s art according to its relationship to space leads to the most infamous work of his career, and indeed one of the most important debates about public sculpture in 20th-century art history. It surrounds Tilted Arc (1981), a 12-foot-tall, 120-foot-long wall of curved steel placed across the plaza of the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building in lower Manhattan. Commissioned by the U.S. General Services Administration for its Art-in-Architecture program, Tilted Arc drew criticism from neighboring government employees as soon as it was installed.

By slicing the space of the plaza in half, Tilted Arc served as an obstacle for anyone who wished to traverse it in a straight line. That was Serra’s goal. “Step by step, the perception not only of the sculpture but of the entire environment changes,” he argued, refusing to sanction numerous employees’ requests to have it moved. “To remove the work is to destroy the work.” If moved from the place it was made for, then Tilted Arc would be nothing more than a hunk of steel, Serra said. As a work conceived as “site-specific,” it would cease to be a work of art at all. (Titles of Serra’s work have often paid homage to pioneering site-specific earthwork artists like Robert Smithson and Michael Heizer.)

The dispute swelled until 1985, when a public hearing was held to address legal and philosophical challenges to the work. As taxpayers, did members of the public “own” this art, and if so, why shouldn’t they get to decide what to do with it? Did the First Amendment right to free speech apply to the creation of art? In the end, although 122 of the 180 people who testified voted to retain the sculpture, a jury from the National Endowment for the Arts voted to remove it. Tilted Arc was cut back into three pieces and sent to a storage yard in Brooklyn.

An important episode in the history of public arts patronage, the controversy also helped Serra define his profession. Defending Tilted Arc, he said, “the experience of art itself is a social function.” With echoes of Joseph Beuys’s expanded concept of art as social sculpture (…)

George Philip LeBourdais, How Richard Serra Shaped the Discourse about Public Art in the 20th Century (2016)

After a controversial mobilization against Titled Arc that the world of art will consider as a manipulated one affirming the ability of art to make public be aware of public space appealing to conceptual devices never heard before in Serra’s work, the artist will turn in to a kind of public space fetish. Serra will work in many public spaces all around the world claiming for this awareness that New York had rejected and replaced by a banal installation of a “more human” landscape.


Martha Schwartz, Jacob Javits Federal Building Plaza (1997-2011)

In front of that ambivalent situation, Marta Schwartz project is impregnated of a subtle irony (a virtue not common among landscape architects) because if people complained of the lack of the fluidity of the space when the huge arc was there, it builds a kind of labyrinth that is even worst to the fluidity of the space. But, in the other hand, Schwartz builds a place to be lived, to enjoy an out-of-the-office lunch for example, with soft geometries in front of the cold sky scrappers surroundings following the William H. Whyte research.


Michael Van Valkenburgh, Jacob Javits Federal Building Plaza (2013)


Nevertheless, it’s like if the conflict generated by Titled Arc had generated a popular disease because the Schwartz project won’t last for more than thirteen years before a new project is needed: this time, Michael Van Walkenburg designs with curly lines an invocation to nature. Maybe, at last, is true that Richard Serra’s Arc made people pay attention and claim for a good public space. 


In a Smithson sculpture like Aslphalt Rundown (1969), in which truckload of the viscous material was poured down the gullied slope of a quarry near Rome, Hargreaves saw the expression of this contemporary conception of landscape. Although far from beautiful in any familiar sense, Hargreaves found such work deeply compelling for the way it brought time, gravity, erosion, human commerce, and the physical properties of matter all into play. ‘For the first time,’ Hargreaves recalled, “I understood that designed landscapes could be extraordinarily meaningful. The Smithson works reintroduced the concept of landscape as idea -something lost in the pursuit of the functional landscape- and opened a door to a world not yet fully explored and still expanding.

John Beardsley, Entropy and the New Landscapes (1996)

Robert Smithson, Asphalt Rundown, 1969 (Roma) (2)

Robert Smithson, Asphalt Rundown (1969)




George Hargreaves + Hargreaves Associates, Byxbee Park (1988)