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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Empowerment

In more recent decades, social and ecological issues have again stimulated a range of more radical ‘landscape’ initiatives, in which the science of landscape ecology combines with a focus upon the experiential, everyday land- scape of local communities to resist the worse excesses of globalisation. An early expression of this reformulation of landscape as a radical challenge to conventional practice was the ecological design approach pioneered in Holland and introduced into the British New Towns in the 1970s. Initially, emphasis was placed upon restoration and recreation of largely indigenous woodlands, grasslands and wetlands within the new urban areas, frequently on former industrial or mining sites, with the aim that they would make natural environments more accessible to children and communities.

Over time, emphasis has shifted to community participation in the re-making of urban landscapes, through organisations such as Groundwork and Common Ground. These initiatives are tangible expressions of a phenomenological commitment to ‘dwelling’ through landscape, combined with the instrumental knowledge of ecology. Drawing upon both public and private funding, these new vehicles for landscape knowledge contrast dramatically with the ‘elitist’ history portrayed above, as a fundamental part of their operation is the empowerment of local communities, frequently in lower socioeconomic areas, to become engaged in their local landscape setting.

Simon Swaffield, Landscape as a way of knowing the world (2005)

Basurama+Makea, Barna on wheels (2009)

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Language

The language of landscape is our native landscape. Landscape was the original dwelling; humans evolved among plants and animals, under the sky, upon the earth, near water. Everyone carries that legacy in body and mind. Humans touched, saw, heard, smelled, tasted lived in, and shaped landscapes before the species had words to describe what it did, Landscapes were the firsts human texts, read before the invention of other signs and symbols. Clouds, wind, and sun were clues to weather, ripples and eddies signs of rocks and life under water, caves and ledges promise of shelter, jeaves guides to food; birdcalls warnings of predators. Early writing resembled landscape; other languagess -verbal, mathematical, graphic -derive from the language of landscape.

The language of landscape can be spoken, written, read, and imagined. Speaking and reading landscape are by products of living -of moving, mating, eating- and strategies of survival -creating refuge, providing prospect, growing food.

Anne Whiston Spirn, The Language of Landscape (1998)

To restore the Mill Creek neighbourhood requires an understanding of how it came to be, how the built landscape evolved, through what processes and actions, when, and which of its features have had a sustained impact on their surroundings over time. I use the word landscape in its original sense in English and Nordic languages—the mutual shaping of people and place—to encompass both the population of a place and its physical features: its topography, water flow and plant life; its infrastructure of streets and sewers; its land uses, buildings and open spaces. The urban landscape is shaped by rain, plants and animals, human hands and minds. Rain falls, carving valleys and soaking soil. People mould landscape with hands, tools and machines, through law, public policy, the investing and withholding of capital, and other actions undertaken hundreds or thousands of miles away. The processes that shape landscape operate at different scales of space and time: from the local to the national, from the ephemeral to the enduring.