DI: You talked about a sort of reverse-engineered forest in the Novartis pilots and about the concrete applications of your design theories. My question would be: do you come back and revise your design database? In other words, after building your prototypes and pilots, do you check the results against your catalog of tree spacing, screen, buffer, edge?

MD: Of course, we work in both directions. Also, maintenance comes into play. Some of our projects have grown and need to be revisited, others require specific upkeep. For instance, I will likely consult on the pruning regime for the plantings of the Saint Louis Art Museum addition. Pruning sounds like a trivial matter but it is, in fact, essential to the design concept. We need to accompany the project as it evolves and matures. This also allows us to check the validity of design concepts. What works, what doesn’t work. In Bordeaux, for instance, the Parc aux Angéliques which is located on the right bank of the river Garonne, is planted with very young trees. It looks more like a nursery than it does a typical park or garden. So we have to be vigilant that our design intentions are maintained. Sometimes, of course, we realize that a certain tree spacing is not appropriate-too tight or too wide-and we revise the layout, but maintenance is a serious issue. 

Several of our current public commissions are long-term and we have to be cunning. A garden is never finished and neither are our landscapes. The projects for the right bank of Bordeaux, for instance, are to be implemented over twenty years or longer. They evolve, conditions change, and we need to be present throughout this evolution, accompanying, modifying, and revising the structure. lt is ultimately a living organism that provides immense pleasure. This is a cliché, but it is very satisfying, very moving, to come back ten years later and witness growth. I don’t often speak about this aspect of my practice, but l love trees.

DI: Over the years you have acquired a landscape lexicon. You speak of agricultural traces, urban forests, tree spacing, maintenance. There is a matter-of-fact quality to these elements, precedents, and techniques. There is a near transposition from nursery to landscape in your practice. Could you speak about the relation between these working landscapes, whether pertaining to agriculture or nurseries, and your own design process?

MD: This is very important. I see the agricultural landscape as a construction site with furrows, fences, hedgerows, ditches. It is being built and it is beautiful. Similarly, nurseries are beautiful, even in the trees are very young. The appreciation of these landscapes is inherently tied to an understanding of why things are done a certain way. The other reason behind my interest in nurseries is that I hate young parks, and as a landscape architect I have to deal with young parks. Some of my fellow landscape architects’ young parks look terrible. You could use the image of ugly babies. You see lawn and young trees, and with some imagination, you can foresee how this and that tree will look in a century and how this park could develop over time, but in my lifetime, it will not look like much. Light fixtures and fancy furniture prematurely announce this future park, but now, it’s like a big baby wearing accessories or jewelry. I love that image! So, to go back to your question, I imported the vocabulary of nurseries to deal with this question of young parks. Maybe they become old nurseries instead of big babies, but they have an immediate presence. I can work with this material: the plantings can be cut, if necessary, burned, or shaped. These plantings have a presence.

Dorothée Imbert, A Landscape Inventory. Michel Desvigne Paysagiste (2018) 

Michel Desvigne and Christine Dalnoky, Square des Boleaux (1989-1992)


Shapely City

In a 1958 editorial of the journal Landscape Architecture, the journalist Grady Clay observed that ‘more men […] than ever before are working to shape our urban landscape according to principles of design’. Clay’s editorial was entitled ‘Shapely Women and Cities: What’s the Urban Equivalent of “38–24–34”?’ In sexist lingo common at the time, he compared the formal and aesthetic qualities of the city to the customary figures used to describe the beauty of the ideal female body. He noted that ‘few influences more subtly repel our advances or more surely arouse us than the spatial qualities of our cities’. Clay was writing when the American city was subject to white flight, disinvestment in the urban core, and large urban reconstruction projects characterized by postwar modernism. Jane Jacobs was criticizing what she considered socially alienating urban renewal schemes, while Kevin Lynch and his colleagues at MIT were conducting studies into the visual perception of cities. In a speech held in 1960, Clay deplored the unordered growth of cities and argued that a new urban environment had to be created that was ‘not only workable but beautiful’. He disagreed with what he considered a pervasive argument at the time, that ‘any concern with the final, visible results of this filling-up process i.e. urban growth is sissified, European, and possibly un-American’. Clay’s plea revealed the residue of the conflicted nineteenth-century gendered discourse revolving around the city, both in Europe and the United States. It also shows that he was primarily addressing men, despite the fact that women had been active in shaping the city for a while. One of the means women had been using to assert themselves as activists, reformers, and design professionals in the public realm was the planting of street trees. 

By focusing on the role that North American women have played in the efforts of greening the city, in particular street tree planting, this article argues that female landscape architects, as well as social and environmental activists, embraced street trees as a means and symbol of empowerment, emancipation, and even resistance. The women transgressed the separation of private and public spheres, and the binary of male-coded architecture and female-coded nature by initiating and playing a role in the planting, management, maintenance, and care of street trees. The trees themselves were both living nature, and architectural, structural elements in the modern public urban landscape and, therefore, provided an ideal material for this transgression. Street trees were an aid for female designers and activists to embrace their own otherness and they were a means of empowerment to ‘conquer’, reimagine, and construct relationships with the city.


Sonja Dümpelmann, Designing the ‘shapely city’: women, trees, and the city (2015)

Gabrielle Kiefer + Büro Kiefer, Johannisthal-Adlershof Landscape Park (2005)




The drawing presented here for a park in Greenwich interests me highly as a unique landscape drawing. It, in a convincing way, depicts time and evolution. The development of an urban forest is the main theme in the project. The drawing does not simply explain the development of the forest. It mainly states that there are several stages of maturity which have an individual quality in terms of design. This drawing is important as it denies the idea that a landscape project can be represented by one drawing which shows the project in an unknown year in the future, in its supposed final state. Desvigne here, combining plan and section shows different moments in time as being independent optimal design conditions. In doing so, the designer is forced to be more precise about what happens over time: how big are the trees in certain stages; which configurations might come true by thinning the trees?  Apart from that, the drawing has a convincing beauty which has always been present in the French drawing tradition. Desvigne himself became known early for drawing with his work on theoretical gardens, “Les jardins elementaires”. Starting from here Desvigne became one of the international stars — in itself an interesting new phenomenon in recent landscape architecture.

Noël van Dooren, Speaking about Drawing (2012)

5 2 3Michel Desvigne + Christine Dalnoky, Greenwich Peninsula (1999)


Social Sculpture

One of Beuys’ most popular and final pieces of art was a commissioned piece titled “7000 Eichen” (7000 Oaks). The piece was something Beuys considered to be a “social sculpture.” He was commissioned in 1982 to do a piece for Germany’s Documenta 7. He then delivered a large, mysterious pile of basalt stones. Somebody then noticed that if viewed from above, the pile made the shape of an arrow which then pointed to a single oak tree that Beuys had planted along with the stones. Beuys then went on to announce the full scale of the project: He asked that no stone be moved, unless it were to have an oak tree planted right beside its new location. For the next five years, numerous people pitched in to help this project reach full fruition. Although it was first viewed as controversial, 7000 Eichen went on to perfectly represent the idea of a social sculpture, in that it was defined as both “participatory and interdisciplinary.” Beuys had an insistence on making every human an artist all contributing to one piece, and what better example than this could he have produced? He united a community through participation, and changed the land around him and his community as a result. Now the city of Kassel, Germany is riddled with 7000 trees, and Beuys art has lived on, giving back to a community long after he has passed.

Douglas, Joseph Beuys (2010)

Being coherent with our own premises on knowledge, we borrow here a post from a Portland State University student’s blog about “INTRODUCTION TO THREE-DIMENSIONAL DESIGN” that describes with precision a famous Joseph Beuys action. In it, we can see clearly a typical case of participation becoming relationalism (see Exchange with the Audience). Beuys creates a device for people’s landscape transformation that needs to be developed complicity and collaboration among participants. This procedure open, in fact, a powerful strategy of design that changes the communicative structure of the typical work of art because even if the artist (or designer) is still there giving an opportunity and some rules to the public, the work of art becomes more than the landscape generated, the relational process open into the public, the birth of alliances, the people’s expression, and the transformation of the human landscape of the city.

7000 Oak Trees 1982 by Joseph Beuys 1921-1986

Joseph Beuys, 7000 Oaks (1982)


Tree City

Toronto suffers from neglect. Of all major North American cities Toronto spends the lowest amount on public space. No major city spends less on park operations. Can Toronto survive as urban beauty becomes increasingly important to a city’s prominence in the world marketplace? Will Toronto’s own negligence turn Canada’s central hub into a peripheral global city? Despite its derelict spending, Toronto has the opportunity to convert the city’s one inherent asset into its greatest civic amenity.

We propose to use Toronto’s most distinguishing feature as the park’s primary urban component. Trees rather than buildings will serve as the catalyst of urbanization. Vegetal clusters rather than new building complexes will provide the site’s identity. An urban domain constituted by landscape elements, Tree City attempts to do more by building less, producing density with natural permeability, property development with perennial enrichment. 

Tree City is a feasible urban alternative within the stated available budget. Landscape elements will be planted incrementally over time as funding permits, gradually building up the park’s mass into a flexible patchwork of planted clusters separated by open undesignated areas. 

This will be staged as three long term phases: (1) site and soil preparation, (2) pathway construction, and (3) cluster landscaping. The outcome is a matrix of circular tree clusters covering 25% of the site which is supplemented by meadows, playing fields and gardens. Tree City treats the park as if it is an adult soon capable of sustaining itself rather than a child in need of eternal care. While most infrastructures decrease in value over time, Tree City’s natural network will appreciate as the park matures. We propose that capital generated from the park’s appreciated land value be spent to manage the park’s infrastructure and to support future development in an evolving cycle of implantation and speculation. Tree City is therefore a plan for attainable growth rather than a proposal to create extensive bulk. By forgoing costly buildings in order to dedicate funds for landscaping, Tree City sacrifices the static in order to save what can grow. 

Rem Koolhaas, Tree City (2000)



Rem Koolhaas + OMA, Petra Blaise, Bruce Mau, Downsview Park Competition Winning Entry (2000)



In a landscape, the unity of the parts, its shape, is less than its overflowing; there are no real edges, all surfaces tremble and they organize themselves opening to the outside. 

The things into the landscape have a presence that goes further their surfaces, and this special emanation opposes to every true judgement. I see this tree and due that its shape appears, I concede to it one autonomy; but as I can’t finish with the in-definition of its branches, I can’t truly distinguish it from the environment into it co-exist. Its individuality it’s erased for the benefit of the ensemble… The things and places never exist as irreductible entireties and, in this case, it’s difficult to fragment a landscape because everything expands, everything flows and fuse. The space is full of this overflowings.

Michel Corajoud, Le paysage, c’est l’endroit ou le ciel et la terre se touchent (1981) 

Michel Corajoud, Henri Ciriani, Borja Huidobro, Parc de la Villeneuve de Grenoble (1974)