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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Retooling

This is where landscape as an idea, an operative agenda, and a set of material dynamics offers potent ways forward. Landscape has the capacity to mark time, initiate transformation, adapt to ongoing inputs (whether physical, environmental, political, or bureaucratic), and engage multiplicity and indeterminacy in productive ways. In so doing, landscape as a mode of thinking and operating shares characteristics with systems ecology, which describes the environment as always in a state of change, constantly adapting to evolving circumstances and inputs. Ecological health is now defined more in terms of an organism’s or ecosystem’s ability to change and adapt rather than to embody a particular idealized state or form. By extension, we might apply landscape and ecological thinking to Lerup’s metropolis-in-motion and discover new starting points for instigation and intervention that help to reimagine and reframe the 21st-century metropolis moving forward.
Retooling, then, is as much conceptual as it’s physical and operative. It invokes an imaginative rethinking of what constitutes the meitropolis 20-some years after Lerup. It entails speculation about design intervention that can physically reshape territory at both the site and urban scale. And it embraces time and indeterminacy in creative and productive ways, allowing for catalytic actions that play off and redirect, the dynamics of an extended metropolitan landscape and its formational systems-in-action.
Chris Reed, Rethinking a Reformulated Metropolis (2017)

 

Chris Reed + STOSS, Reimagining the A2 Freeway (2016)

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The Significance of Indeterminacy

Inevitably, many community-based initiatives tend to be framed in conventional terms—a “wished-for world” based on familiar ideals from the past. What is most challenging under such dislocated conditions is to envisage new strategic possibilities that can deliver long-term “necessities of landscape performance.” Brett Milligan’s concept of “corporate ecologies” envisages strategic action being implemented through organizational networks, rather than by top-down policy or single site intervention. In Christchurch, it is not corporations, but non-governmental organizations and not-for-profits such as Gap Filler, Greening the Rubble, and the Student Volunteer Army that have emerged as key agents in bottom-up recovery actions. They prefigure a significant extension of landscape architectural activity from specific sites, to multiple spaces and places of engagement with landscapes—where human relationships with landscape are “designed” through manipulating the tools and practices of everyday life.

Perhaps the problem is that, as designers, we mis­understand the significance of indeterminacy. The contemporary world is in thrall to the paradigm of choice and open-ended possibilities—What would you like to buy? Which scene do you prefer? Which design should we select and how many different ways might it turn out? Sudden, unpredictable, and traumatic landscape transformations challenge the presumption of ever-expanding choice and the excitement of uncertainty, and instead focus attention upon how to make decisions over those things that are vital to life and which we can have some hope of influencing.

Jacky Bowring, Simon Swaffield, Shifting Landscapes In-Between Times (2013)

Thierry Kandjee + Taktyk, Alive Architecture, Parkfarm (2014-2015)

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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)

Natural/Artificial

Seeing landscape in static terms and treating it as an aesthetic unity is a practice corresponding less and less to our reality. Today, change, caesuras and discontinuities are the dominant elements of our urban landscapes. Thus the natural/artificial dichotomy as a central design theme is becoming increasingly obsolete. When disused railways are declared protected habitats and every second park lies over a subterranean garage, artificiality loses its relevance as a theme of design.

Parallel to the disappearance of the dialectic of nature and culture which had a formative effect on the landscape architecture of the 1970s and 80s, the difference between city and landscape has also dissolved. The landscape is being urbanisedand the city scenically organised. In a landscape of places the landscape architect is faced with the task of re—siting the landscape.

Yet one frequently still sees instances in which the design of out-door public space is informed by an image of society that no longer exists. Parks seem to still be built for the upper middle class of times past, even though today a far more complex mix of groups and social strata use these parks.

Gunther Vogt, Distance and Engagement (2010)

Günther Vogt + Vogt Landschape Architects, Allianz Arena Landscape (2005)

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Open-Ended

Many design critics and theorists, including me, have commented on the shift from spatial to temporal preoccupations in landscape theory and practice since the late 1980’s. More recently, more premiated entries in large parks competitions, from Landshaftpark Duisburg-Nord, to Freshkills, to Downsview Park, have employed design strategies that exploited the temporal qualities of the landscape as a dynamic, performative, open-ended process medium.

Elizabeth K. Meyer, Uncertain Parks: Disturbed Sites, Citizens and Risk Society (2007)

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James Corner + Field Operations, Freshkills (2000-)

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(See Freshkills Park Timeline)

Large Parks

Large urban parks are complex and diverse systems that respond to processes of economic growth and decay, to their own evolving ecology, to shifts in demographics and social practices, and to changes in aesthetic sensibilities. Because of their size (defined here as having at least 500 acres in area) their location (often close to dense urban environments!, and their site histories (such as former industrial zones that need remediation to make them suitable for recreation), these parks require a process-driven design approach that does not intend to provide a definitive plan for the site as much as it seeks to guide its transformation into a public recreational space. Because the design and construction of large parks take years, if not decades—often with changes in public administration and funding in the interim, and lengthy public processes that require ongoing revisions—designs are open-ended, incorporating diverse approaches and uneven levels of intervention and management. They focus on frameworks that adapt to changing conditions rather than forms composed to conform to an aesthetic whole.

Yet for all their susceptibility to the ebb and flow of urban circumstances, large parks remain fundamental to cities, not only because they take on infrastructural and ecological functions displaced from densely built centers but because they are distinct, memorable places. They absorb the identity of the city as much as they project one, becoming socially and culturally recognizable places that are unique and irreproducible. Those large public parks that we are continuously drawn to as designers, ones that have captured the imagination of writers, artists, social historians, and philosophers, and that continue to be used intensely centuries after their making, have in common seemingly contradictory characteristics: they are flexible, adaptive, socially dynamic, emerging sites, and they are also visually powerful, unforgettable places. They are the product of deliberate decisions that leave them open-ended in terms of management, program, and use, and they result from equally conscious decisions that isolate, distill, and capture for the long term that which makes them unique. This chapter examines the relationship between process and place. More specifically, it explores how process-based practices, those that leave the site open to contingency and change—a contemporary requisite of large and complex sites—also incorporate strategics that accentuate a place’s enduring qualities.

Anita Berrizbeitia, Re-Placing Process (2007)

Iñaki Alday & Margarita Jover + Christine Dalnoky, Meandro de Ranillas Water Park (2008)

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Uncertain

Large Parks on disturbed sites should be recognized as landscapes of consumption as well as production. It is tempting for designers of large parks built on abandoned industrial sites to heroize the buildings and machines that remain. Such strategies, however, privilege the histories of production over the histories of consumption that are also embedded in such sites. This allows visitors to distance themselves from the histories of human, material, and chemical flows on and off the site, and to limit their own culpability in and responsibility for such histories. (“Malevolent industrials polluted the air and water, not my ancestors and certainly not me.”)

Similarly, design strategies that focus primarily on the ecological processes of remediating a toxic industrial site fail to account for the intermingling of the natural, social, and industrial processes that permeate such sites. Forest, earth, and rivers are processed into lumber, ore, and water that are the raw materials for industrial production. The results of the processes are consumer goods and emissions into the ground and waterways. Technology doesn’t simply transform nature into commodities, it cycles back new and often toxic byproducts into nature. Thinking about landscapes on consumption and production requires thinking of the circulation of need, desire, material, goods, energy, and waste across disciplinary categories such as nature and culture, ecology and technology, and even public and private. We need design strategies that make visible the past connections between individual human behavior, collective identity, and these larger industrial and ecological processes.

A timescape conception of large parks leads to a recognition of uncertain sites-spaces where matter, flow, and waste know no boundaries -and to a different conception of consumer society.

Toxic discourse is an expression of a collectivity of consumer-citizens who perceive their environment through the lens of uncertainty and risk. Disturbed sites are byproducts of economic policies that viewed nature as a resource and that accepted environmental degradation as the inevitable consequence of technological progress. The experience of designed landscapes on and in disturbed sites can render visible the consequences of the economic, political, and social decisions that led to those risks. 

Elizabeth K.Meyer, Uncertain Parks: Disturbed Sites, Citizens and Risk Society. (2007)

HOSPER Landscape Architecture and Urban Design, GENK C-m!ne (2012)

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School of Thought

As a school of thought, landscape urbanism compresses the polarisation between design and planning in an effort to combine the strengths of each. It shifts the landscape architectural project from an art (or craft) of making beautiful landscapes to one of interdisciplinary negotiation and the seeding of strategic, development processes. Just as it has been inspirational, the landscape urbanist polemic has also been grandiloquent. Accordingly, I have tried to condense the rhetoric into a set of basic principles without falling prey to reductionism. In short, as I interpret it, landscape urbanism claims to do the following:

include within the purview of design all that is in the landscape—infrastructure and buildings, etc., and shuffle across scales so as to bridge the divides between landscape design, landscape ecology, and landscape planning.

bring greater creativity to planning operations and greater rationality to design operations.

• conceptualize and then directly engage the city and its landscape as a hybridized, natural, chaotic ecology.

emphasize the creative and temporal agency of ecology in the formation of urban life as opposed to envisaging an ideal equilibrium between two entities formerly known as culture and nature.

understand and manipulate the forces at work behind things and less with the resultant aesthetic qualities of things.

interpret and then represent landscape systems so that these systems can in turn influence urban forms, processes, and patterns.

prefer open-ended (indeterminate and catalytic) design strategies as opposed to formal compositions and master plans.

Richard Weller, Landscape (Sub)Urbanism in Theory and Practice (2006)

Dirk Sijmons + H+N+S, Coastal Urban System Flanders (2017)

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Dynamic State

The processes at work in the world produce landscapes where everything is in a constantly dynamic state. The competition for resources, the interaction of organisms with each other and with inorganic, physical processes, the cycles of carbon, nitrogen and water, together with a wide range of weathering and erosion activities, combine to drive the engine of the biosphere fuelled by the energy of the sun and of nuclear reactions deep in the earth. Out of this endlessly shifting cycle of growth and decay, a myriad of patterns is apparent, evolving at various rates into an uncertain future. Humans are part of this world and contribute to the patterns and processes to varying degrees.

This uncertainty is an important concept, as experience indicates that everything is determined by possibilities and probabilities: the likelihood of a fire burning a forest, of an avalanche burying some animals, of a Volcano erupting and covering an area with hot ash or a hard winter killing a late hatched brood of baby birds. Some of the events that alter the evolution of landscape are more predictable than others, in the sense that they are significantly more likely than unlikely to occur. Some are unexpected, only because we have not experienced them before. Others follow regular, or nearly regular cycles. Few are completely random.

Simon Bell,  Landscape. Pattern, Perception and Process. (1999)

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Vista, Haarlemermeer Polder (2010-2060)

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