Liberty, Equality, Fraternity

Control isn’t necessarily helping worthy contributions. We are living with knowledge that is always evolving. The knowledge held by different disciplines is continuous and exponential. Great achievements rarely happen within the span of a human life but grow on the achievements of others over many years and even generations. It is linked to the tools we use both in micro life (biology, chemistry) then in macro life (astronomy, chemistry, geology).

We all live with the state of knowledge and the tools we have in our own times. We understand that the global behaviour of all populations together won’t fit with the needs of other life on earth. So we need to introduce a more subtle dialogue between our ‘human’ system and other ‘systems’. But we can only use the tools from our timeline – with enough flexibility to embrace what we do not know – and survive by being as efficient as possible. That doesn’t mean no language, no exploration, risk or creativity. If we only had to efficiently apply what we know, we could just give the task to a device, programmed to achieve technical goals. If no human thought or effort or sensibility is necessary, it means no more civilization.

Today a dominant movement in capitals and countries is to ask all inhabitants to express their ideas to contribute to the program –- that is direct democratic decision-making. I totally disagree with this. It assumes that it is not necessary to have experience and knowledge to make decisions. It supposes everyone can equally read and work through all the parameters of a problem; that everyone can do it. That is a total fiction. It actually happens when nobody wants to take responsibility for a direction. It is a way to say that expertise is not valid and everyone has an equally legitimate opinion. The result of this is what we see on social media and in the fragility of democracy.

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity was a call to control human wildness and open a dialogue to bring together individuals and communities to make decisions affecting us all. Today we need to do that with other life as well as each other. That is the great challenge.

Catherine Mosbach, Foreground Interview (2019)

Vetschpartners Landscape Architects, Sulzerareal (2002-2015)

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Distanced Authorship

Landscape architecture has seen a paradigm shift in the last two decades, requiring designers to respond to the dynamic and temporal qualities of landscape. This response examines the long-held view that landscape embraces an ephemeral medium constructed and maintained through generations. Landscape—a dynamic and temporal medium—is expressed through careful manipulation of vegetated, hydrological, and stratigraphic systems. Combining this shift with the increased accessibility of responsive technologies presents a new approach for challenging static design solutions. The ability to sense and respond to environmental phenomena invites new ways to understand, interpret, experience, and interact with the landscape.

This shift can be traced to several parallel events inherent to the discipline of Landscape Architecture and seeded by new paradigms in scientific thought particularly within ecology. A generational trend has emerged within landscape architecture that promotes a form of “distanced authorship,” emphasizing natural processes such as succession, accretion, or passive remediation as agents for landscape design. In the essay, “Strategies of Indeterminacy in Recent Landscape Practice,” Charles Waldheim uses the term “distanced authorship” to describe how the “privileging of landscape strategy and ecological process distances authorial control over urban form, while allowing for specificity and responsiveness to market conditions as well as the moral high-ground and rhetorical clarity of environmental determinism.” Autonomy within these systems has the potential to create scaffolds for designed landscapes, urbanism, or territorialization. This approach privileges the actions of biology and geology over manufactured static conditions and instead seeds these dynamic processes through an overarching ecological regime to shape designed conditions over time.

 Bradley Cantrell and Justine Holzman, Responsive Landscapes (2016)

 

Devon Boutte, Josh Brooks, Kim Nguyen, Martin Moser, Hunter Lero, and Danielle Martin, Ecolibrium (2012)

Thinking about landscape

We need to ask if the fact of thinking about landscape is not ultimately opposed to landscape itself, or whether, which amounts to the same thing, making landscape an object of thought excludes landscape thinking. We must not forget, of course, to evaluate this question in the general framework of social life. The landscape is born in the thinking of a literate elite: will it self-destruct when it evolves into an object of common representation?

This question is not as convoluted as it seems. Those familiar with architecture will recall a still famous book, which was of decisive historical importance in the sixties; indeed, it led to the first widespread questioning of the foundations of architectural modernism. Until then, this questioning had been limited to quarrels between different architectural schools, or between the happy few capable of understanding Heidegger’s comments in Bauen Wohnen Denken. Beyond these elites, no one really dared to ask the question: “Actually, why this particular architecture?” The book I refer to loosened people’s tongues: I am thinking of Bernard Rudofsky’s Architecture without Architects. The magnificent illustrations said more than any specialized arguments. It spoke directly to the souls of most readers, the generation that had fully experienced the consequences of modernism in the concrete transformation of the built environment. Reacting against modernism and massively enthralled by all forms of premodern habitats, this generation was to invent, among other things, postmodern architecture.

As far as we are concerned, this phenomenon illustrates the problem that I have just posed in a related field, for the built environment is par excellence that which transforms the landscape. What I have called the landscape thinking of the countless generations without landscape theory, guided “the architecture without architects” discussed by Rudofsky. The doubt he expressed about the dominant ideology in architecture is precisely the question I am formulating about those two forms of thought.

Let us clarify this first approximation. The abovementioned homology does not mean that I am confusing symptom and cause and intend to make landscape architects the scapegoats for the disaster of our landscapes. That would be absurd. The cause is much more general. It is the result of the sum of our behaviors. Landscape architects are now like doctors facing a pandemic of a new sort: they do what they can, and occasionally they do great things, but by themselves they can do nothing against existing conditions.

Augustin Berque, Thinking through Landscape (2008)

also see: Opportunists?

Alberto Burri, Crack of Gibellina (1984)

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Obscure the Human Act

Landscapes often contain and are subject to natural processes that change the designer’s original plan. There are also landscape designers who intentionally seek to obscure the human act of design. These concerns deepened with the development of modern landscape architecture in the twentieth century. Borrowing many of its tenets from modern architecture, which distrusted allusion and stressed honesty of expression and truth of materials, modern landscape architects considered how their work could be a true evocation of modern times. This thinking is evident in the writing by one of its earliest proponents, Christopher Tunnard. For Tunnard, gardens and landscapes that appeared to be the act of natural processes were not only old fashioned, but also deceiving. In his appraisal of the work of Swedish Garden Architects at the First International Congress of Garden Architects in Paris in 1937, he chided this Association for clinging to a romantic conception of nature when they suggested that planting should ‘give the impression that they have grown there spontaneously’. Tunnard cautioned, ‘the imitation of nature is a long perpetuated fraud’.

Susan Herrington, An ontology of landscape design (2013)

also see: Messy Ecosystems

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ASP Landscape Architects, VolketswilGriespark (2009)

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Insincerity

Why does the project result in isolation? In fact, the question has already been answered. Each project is above all the declaration of another, new future that is thought to come about once the project has been executed. But in order to build such a new future, one first has to take a leave of absence, a time in which the project shifts its agent into a parallel state of heterogeneous time. This other timeframe, in turn, disconnects from time as society experiences it –it is de-synchronized. Society’s life carries on regardless– the usual run of things remains unaffected. But somewhere beyond this general flow of time, someone has begun working on a project -writing a book, preparing an exhibition, or plotting a spectacular assassination- in the hopes that the completed project will alter the general run of things and all mankind will be bequeathed a different future: the very future, in fact, anticipated and aspired to in this project. (…)

The author of the project already knows the future, since the project is nothing other than the description of it. And this is why the approval process is so highly unpleasant to the project’s author: at the earliest stage of the submission, the author is already asked to give a meticulously detailed description of how this future will be brought about and what its outcome will be. While the project will be turned down and refused funding if the author proves incapable of doing so, successfully delivering such a precise description will also eliminate the very distance between an author and the others -a distance critical to the entire development of the project. if everyone knows from the very outset what course the project will take and what its outcome will be, then the future will no longer come as a surprise. (…)

Sartre once described the state of “being-in-the-project” as the ontological condition of human existence.  According to Sartre, each person lives from the perspective of an individual future that necessarily remains barred from the view of others. In Sartre’s terms, this condition results in the radical alienation of each individual, since everyone else can only see this individual as the result of his or hers individual, and never as heterogeneous projection from these circumstances. Consequently, the heterogeneous parallel timeframe of the project remains elusive to any form of representation in the present. Hence for Sartre, the project is tainted by the suspicion of escapism, the deliberate avoidance of social communication and individual responsibility. So it is no surprise that he also describes the subject’s ontological condition as a state of “mauvaise foi” or insincerity.

Boris Groys, Going Public (2010)

Landscape Architects of Bangkok, The Metro Forest (2014)

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Narrative Essence

What clouds the vision and makes it frustrating, indeed, useless to be an architect, is the way that the reality of occupied spaces, branded and scarred with use, compares with the perception of them. If I have understood correctly, the question is that architecture knows nothing of that precisely narrative essence from which spaces are made. Pamuk became a writer, because that makes more sense; it is more honest in facing the way his city is made up. He wants to bear witness to this city, he wants to be present in it, gathering with a sharp eye and witty shrewdness the past of places, of events, of its stones. Better to write, to narrate, because places don’t stand still, they change with the swelter of the lives that leave their imprints there, with the elusive approximation of intrinsicality.

 

Franco la Cecla,  Against Architecture (2008)

Lawrence Halprin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (1997)

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Opportunists?

Landscape designers may see themselves as agents of mitigation and mediation, but are we really just opportunists? (…) Should landscape architects have more scruples than others? Landscape architects are no more holy than any other people and should neither place themselves nor be placed in a holier-than-thou position.

Saying that, I believe that we should be operating in a way that helps the earth – and all who inhabit it – in any way we can, and to give something back so we leave this world a better place than when we entered it. But I believe this to be true for everyone. However, the topic of the environment is very wide and broad, and there are many, many ways to contribute to this topic, from the heroic site-specific art pieces done by the ‘earthworks artists’ of the 1960s (such as Robert Smithson, Nancy Holt, Michael Heizer and Walter De Maria), to ecological research, to devoting oneself to saving the snail-darter. These are all within the purview of ‘landscape’ and all make contributions. In a field as broad as landscape architecture, it is important that we must recognize that there are equally broad ways of making contributions, and that one way is not necessarily superior to another. I am definitely an opportunist: I am always looking for opportunities to do something interesting. Given that the landscape is a much more complex, larger and more expensive canvas than most studio art, I must depend on others to supply my ‘canvas’.

Martha Schwartz, Designer, client and user (2005)

 

Nancy Holt, Sun Tunnels (1973-1976)

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Unlike

At the same time as Le Corbusier’s grandiose visions were becoming built reality, Nek Chand, a humble street inspector in the Chandigarh Public Works Department started to realize his dream of a fairy-tale kingdom among the wild scrubland on the outskirts. In the planned city, where every building measure required planning permission, in contrast with other Indian cities, it was impossible even to clear undergrowth or build a little hut without official sanction. So Nek Chand worked secretly, often at night. From 1958 onwards he collected stones, rubble and material created by the demolition of old estates and the construction of the new town, and carted everything to his building site on a bicycle. (…)

Unlike the building plans for the modern ideal city, the complex plan for the Rock Garden existed only in Nek Chand’s head. Anyone entering his empire for the first time through the little entrance portal in the high garden wall topped with geese cannot have the slightest idea of what is waiting for him or her at the next bend in the narrow sunken path, over there behind the garden gate or in the next courtyard. A whole troop of monkeys might be looking curiously down, figures of girls carry their water-jugs to the well in an endless procession, or hundreds of decorative figures perform their ritual dance for one of the countless Indian deities who are undergoing one of their numerous incarnations in the figures. The imaginative world of the Rock Garden is as boundless as the ancient Indian sagas of gods and heroes like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.

The garden, which can reasonably be called a park after the third development phase from 1983 on, now occupies about ten hectares. A large clearing in this park is reached via a deep, artificial gorge, past a rushing waterfall, in the shade of the trees and numerous palace-like buildings on the hill. With its colourful ceramics and rustically cemented arches the setting will almost remind Europeans a little of the Parc Güell in Barcelona. A swing hangs in each of the 50 high arches, a feature much loved by children, while temples, amphitheaters and grottoes entice visitors to explore new terrain. (…)

Antoni Gaudi, Park Güell (1900-1920)

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Like all paradises, this one too is under threat, despite its international fame. It is only courageous resistance by residents that has prevented this imaginative alternative world to the ideal modern city from having to give way to a road development project.

Udo Weilacher, In Gardens (2005)

Nek Chand, Rock Garden (1965- )

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Institutional Domination

Bernard Lassus’ approach to landscape design confronts issues of cultural diversity and institutional domination in a public space. It stems from an awareness of cultural differences that are brought into play by the creation of a motorway in contemporary France. Its presentation calls upon a few preliminary remarks about cultural differences and about public space. We need not map cultural differences onto demographic descriptions of a society: one person may belong to several cultures, and may shuttle between them, renegotiating self-identity within each. Thus cultural differences need not necessarily pit one group of people against another. Moreover, we can see that some places imply a culture of their own: institutional settings such as schools, churches and hospitals are well known in this respect. They foster the acquisition of a special culture among their members; and, very often a significantly different one for people who occupy different positions in the institutional setting: teachers and pupils, priests and parishioners, doctors and nurses, for instance. So we can see places as much as social groups as the breeding grounds of cultural differences. (…)

In short, there are at least two very different cultures fostered by the motorway. First, there is a culture of time efficiency, with the corollary danger of car accidents, shared by all motorway users. Second, there is a culture of place, of nostalgia for lost identities and of alienation from the world that the motorway symbolises. They merge to produce a sense of economic globalisation on the move with its corollaries of mutual ignorance between motorway users and motorway neighbours, and of growing opposition by rural landowners and political representatives to the construction of motorways. Thus motorways come to be seen as sources of growing conflicts and soaring construction costs that negatively affect the allocation of resources for the general welfare.

Bernard Lassus, the landscape architect advising the motorway company, had already proposed a response to these problems. First, he wanted to create rest areas that would encourage drivers to stop and relax – that is, to forget about the Ideology of time efficiency fostered by the use of the motorway itself. In other words, he wanted to create rest areas that would ignore and spurn the motorway culture, and yet would appear attractive to people trapped within this cultural view of travel. Second, he wanted these rest areas to be a tribute to the local environment, a place of symbolic value for people having and working in the vicinity, and an intriguing invitation to motorway users to go and visit the rural world, and a place local people could acknowledge and be proud of.

Michel Conan, The quarries of Crazannes: Bernard Lassus’s landscape approach to cultural diversity (2003)

Bernard Lassus, Crazannes Quarries (1995)

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Catalysts

By and large the virtues of the planning I was taught were orderliness and convenience, efficiency and economy. The first set contains minor virtues, and the second set contains less than noble ones. These virtues have little to do with survival or success of plants, animals, and men in evolutionary time.
A fallacy is that planners plan for people. Actually this is not an assumption at all; it is a presumption. The planner who comes from out of town and is prepared to solve problems is a menace.
I prefer to think of planners as catalysts. The planner suppresses his own ego and becomes an agent for outlining available options. He offers predictability that science gives him about the consequences of different courses of action. He helps the community make its values explicit. He identifies alternative solutions with attendant costs and benefits. These vary with different constituencies, as do their needs and values.
This sort of planning might be called ecological. It is based on an understanding of both biophysical and social systems. Ecological planners operate within the framework of a biophysical culture.

Ian McHarg, Ecological Planning: The Planner as Catalyst (1978)

Ian McHarg et alt., Master Plan of The Woodlands (1973)

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Since the late 1960s, suburban development in the United States has been criticized for causing ecological damage and environmental degradation. Various community development alternatives were put forth, including a noteworthy one that is an ecology-based land use planning approach, proposed in Ian McHarg’s Design with Nature. For more than four decades, ecological planners have been using ecology as the basis for planning and design in projects of various scales and focuses. Among these projects, The Woodlands, Texas (a 29,000-acre town development) is an excellent example of ecological planning that followed McHarg’s nature-led design approach. McHarg, himself, considered The Woodlands as “the best example of ecologically based new town planning in the United States during the 1970s”.

This 29,000-acre new town was created at the peak of the 1970s environmental movement as an alternative development model in lieu of suburban sprawl. Located 50 km north of Houston, The Woodlands currently has eight subdivision residential villages. Its population in 2009 exceeded 90,000 and the project is expected to be completed by 2015.

The Woodlands received numerous awards, with a particularly significant award from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that championed the new town’s great success in environmental planning. A number of studies have documented The Woodlands development history and evaluated McHarg’s planning approach. McHarg and Sutton (1975) first featured The Woodlands ecological planning concept, with a focus on stormwater management.

Bo Yang, et alt., Ian McHarg’s Ecological Planning in The Woodlands, Texas: Lessons Learned after Four Decades (2015)