Health

A burgeoning literature over the last few decades suggests that access to green space and natural environments may offer health benefits that not only contribute to reductions in ill health as measured by publicly available health data but, perhaps just as importantly, offer opportunities for people to manage their own health and cope with illness. This view of the landscape as therapeutic or palliative is one that has resonated historically and has been discussed both in relation to particular landscapes chosen or designed for their therapeutic qualities and in relation to more everyday landscapes within and around the urban environment. (…)

In this context, it is interesting to note how consistently, in the westernised world at least, we associate the landscape with health benefit and positive feelings, perhaps reflecting our urban lifestyles and a romanticised attitude to a natural environment that is often hard to access in practice. But this was certainly not always true historically, and there are many parts of the world where the natural environment still offers many hazards, from floods and landslides to wild animals and disease vectors, some of which may return to challenge the developed world more forcefully under climate change. This is no doubt one of the foundations for the widespread evocation of an idealised landscape across many different cultures and geographical zones, from the Buddhist gardens of Amida to the Persian paradise tradition that has influenced so much of our Eurasian garden culture. Throughout history, it seems that people (perhaps only a privileged few) have evoked gardens that were not merely practical places for growing things but gardens of sensory delight and an idealised version of ‘nature’, that excluded the unpleasant, the dangerous and the unwelcome.

What does this mean for the kinds of landscapes we want and need in our urbanised world today, to enhance the health of all people, regardless of ability, income or ethnicity? Well-managed gardens have been attractive as a private retreat from time immemorial and still seem to offer something important, recognised by widely varying groups of people. The restrictions that can be placed on access to private gardens allow some aspects of the paradise garden to endure: the idea that it is a safe and secure place, where the natural world is carefully managed but nonetheless experientially rich. This is perhaps especially important as a resource for the very young and the very old, and for people with some kinds of impairment or illness and those who care for them.

By contrast, public parks (like urban squares) have been popular since the nineteenth century as a place to meet (or at least observe) diversity and difference, to encounter groups and individuals who may be like us or very different from us. They are therefore important both as a place for offering some public version of the paradise garden, a comparatively safe haven in a managed, natural world, but also a place that offers some of the positive qualities of the city. They allow us to enjoy the pleasures of meeting with family or friends in attractive surroundings, regardless of the constraints of the buildings in which we live. They allow us a place and a context where we can get away from people, too, if we want to be alone and with space around us. And, they also allow us to watch from a distance those whom we don’t know or have connections with, to get a sense of the ‘other’ in society, without having to engage at a personal level. On top of this, they offer a natural (if managed) environment for multi-sensorial experience. In human evolutionary terms, they are a very recent phenomenon, and perhaps we are still coming to terms with what they mean for the anthropogenic age, but they may be important as the only green or natural spaces with which many people have contact, and therefore play a prime role in our future development, both individually and as a species.

This brings me to ‘wild’ or semi-natural areas, sometimes still contained within urban areas but more often on the fringes or in the more remote countryside. These have performed different roles in recent history, from liminal areas of informal activity to places for nature study or where people can encounter physical (and psychological) challenge of a different sort from most that the city can offer. Such places can offer a sense of being immersed in the wider order of natural things, a very powerful experience for some. Such an experience can engender a spiritual response or a feeling of the transcendent—a feeling rarely experienced by many in an increasingly secular society—that seems to be appreciated all the more for its sense that we are just a small part of something much bigger and beyond our imagination or full comprehension.

Enric Miralles and Carme Pinós, Igualada’s Cementery and Crematorium (1988) 

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Luxury

At the beginning of the 1990s Dieter Kienast mentioned another aspect that underlines the significance of the garden and garden thinking in our lives today: The garden is the last luxury we have today, as it demands those things that have become the most rare and precious in our society (i.e. time, attention and space). “It is a true reflection of nature in which, once again, we require spirit, knowledge and craftsmanship in the careful handling of the world and its microcosm, the garden. Changing social values are causing a garden renaissance.” In light of current tendencies, referred to collectively as “urban gardening”, it actually is possible to speak of a garden renaissance. If vegetable gardens in large cities were considered to be an anachronism or a sign of dislike for cities a few years ago, today they are thought of as being expressions of a progressive environmental consciousness, even if this isn’t really true in all cases.
As varied as the reasons for gardening in cities may be, from a desire to be self-sufficient to a way of resisting planning paternalism, or as an expression of a wish for intercultural communication, one thing is the same for everyone: ”ln the garden we learn how to deal with nature without having to deny the creative power within us. And thus, it becomes a model and a test case with regard to how we deal with the entire natural and built environment”.

Udo Weilacher, Is Landscape Gardening? (2016)

Dieter Kienast, Courtyard at the Reassurance Company Swiss Re in Zurich, (1994-1995) (Georg Aerni Photo, 2012).

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Landscape Branding

Some Korean environmental associations have criticized the operation for its high costs. They condemn it as a purely symbolic project, one that will have no real consequences in affecting the environmental health of the city. It is true that the orientation of the people promoting the plan was not towards ecological recovery. What has been created is not the re-naturalisation of an existing water course; nor is it appropriate to speak of a historical restoration, because the original character of the site was irremediably lost long ago: old Seoul was a city of little wooden houses, while the modern capital is a forest of skyscrapers.

To understand the entire operation, it is more useful to look elsewhere.

The colourful and fairly informative website devoted by the Seoul Metropolitan Government to the Cheonggyecheon Project, opens with the slogan: “With the restoration of the Cheonggyecheon, Seoul will change, and Korea will change”. What does it mean? In which sense is this project seen as an operation capable of bringing dramatic renewal not only to the capital city of the Republic of South Korea but also to the whole nation? That slogan emphasizes that the project is derived from a radical action – the destruction of an urban highway – which is considered as the first stage of the great change for the city of Seoul. One association might be the fall of the Berlin Wall; pieces of the dismantled highway are sold as souvenirs, just like fragments of the Wall in the capital of Germany. They are tangible signs of an epochal event, which justifies the level of self-celebration in the whole intervention.

A little further in the abovementioned website, the goals of the project are clearly laid out: according to a scheme dated 2002 – i.e., before it was implemented – the Cheonggyecheon project was to foster the “development of Seoul’s capital identity”, the “building-up of a new paradigm in city management” and the “enhancement of Seoul’s industrial competitiveness”. The objectives listed in the scheme sound like marketing goals: reconstruction of the Cheonggyecheon might be seen as an operation in ‘branding’. According to the Oxford Dictionary, branding is that technique organized for the ‘promotion of a particular product or company by means of advertising and distinctive design’. The product, in our case, is the metropolis of Seoul. (…)

One of the main aims connected with the Cheonggyecheon river and urban park was linked to the idea that it would foster massive potential for economic regeneration and city development. Another goal of the Seoul city administration with this project was to create a recognisable and powerful landmark, a distinct symbol to represent the city of Seoul – and, by implication, South Korea as a whole – with its own unique identity to the entire world. The reconstruction of Cheonggyecheon, through which the city is promoting a specific identity for a downtown area otherwise indistinguishable from that of so many modern Asian cities, is a feat of territorial branding. This is a new frontier for landscape architecture.

Bianca Maria Rinaldi, Landscapes of metropolitan hedonism The Cheonggyecheon Linear Park in Seoul (2007)

Mikyoung Kim, Cheong-Gyecheon Canal Restoration Project (2007)

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Eye-Candy

With modern Dutch urban planning’s almost religious dedication to function, every site, every millimeter, is given a specific, dedicated meaning. Planners, terrified of spatial non definition and other forms of perceived anarchy, organize the city with rigid efficiency. Easy-to-define, one-dimensional spaces and “experiences” are arrayed on the shelves of the urban super-supermarket waiting to be “bought,” consumed and shat out again by the modern city dweller. The result is a perpetual and numbing sameness. Xerox cities, urban cloning, planning laws, and regulations have jammed the city dweller’s global positioning system. His sense of address/identity has been eroded and with it the awareness of, and ability to decode, his environment. Within this contemporary landscape -a world of commerce,  functionality, efficiency, and eye-candy- the rules for urban this-and-thatness have already been written in stone and are not about to be erased to satisfy the whims of designer A, B, or C. The point, then, is for landscape planners and urban designers to lose their fear of the cloned metropolis and offset the weight of repetitive similarities embracing oddity and strangeness as part of the design toolkit. The introduction of off-beat and introverted spaces, unique objects, and indefinable elements, in addition to the freedom to play with indigenous natural elements and forgotten local flavors, offers the city dweller a refresher course in the identification and definition of specific places. The tree in the middle of a concrete desert; a rock balancing precariously above a stainless steel bridge; the simplicity of a water pool as  to a million marble slabs- perhaps the result of daring site manipulation become “addresses” of interest which the individual incorporates into his perpetual dream about a place of his own (different from the futile and nostalgic effort to recreate a place where he has been) a platform for exhibitionism, a world (or even just a zone) brimming with apocalyptic sensations, somewhere to relish the beauty of silence.

Adriaan Geuze, Colonizing the Void (2005)

Adriaan Geuze + West 8, Interpolis gardens (1998)

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Over-determinism

City landscapes are being increasingly commodified, monitored, and constructed in ways that discourage spontaneous appropriation and unplanned transformation. In resistance to this over-determinism, a few contemporary landscape architects and urbanists are seeking to promote qualities of indeterminacy, open-endedness, and temporality in their work. Their aim is to engender and support engagement rather than objectification. These efforts are particularly applicable to large-scale public, decommissioned, and marginalized lands within or at the edge of the cities. Such spaces resist popular prescriptions of use, identity, and meaning. Is this shift from form to events, permanence to change, identity to void, a recognition for the need to recover essential territories in the city that are “neither wilderness nor home”.

Anuradha Mathur, Neither Wilderness nor Home. The Indian Maidan (1999)

mumbai sections

Anuradha Mathur, Dilip da Cunha, SOAK (2009)

Mumbai’s Cross Maidan, India

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Mechanistic

Functionalism was entirely consistent with the rationalistic and mechanistic world-view which rose to become the dominant European ideology in the seventeenth century. Believing, as they did, that the cosmos was a complicated clockwork, Descartes, Newton, Bacon, and their ilk maintained that it could be analyzed, reduced, investigated and ultimately controlled. If the universe is a machine, it is easy to assert, as did Le Corbusier, that a house ought to be one. It was this connection with science which ultimately distanced the functional approach from ordinary people and delivered it into the hands of technocrats. This did not begin to happen until the emergence of the social sciences in the nineteenth century when functionalism became linked with ideals of social progress and revolutionary political developments.

Ian Thompson, Ecology, Community and Delight (1999)

DROM + Strelka KB, Azatlyk Square (2019)

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Prototype

The best place to visit Holland is Japan. Holland Village, in the outskirts of Nagasaki is a condensed scaled down version of the real thing. Or may be it is the other way round and Holland Village in Japan is actually the original that makes its European counterpart nothing more than an oversized, inflated and (quite literally) watered down version lacking the purity and essence of its prototype. (…)

The notion of the actual creation of land is the essence of Dutch Landscape architecture. Whilst in the Anglo Saxon world Landscape is first an foremost a visual representation and a mental construct wrapped into a wet blanket of subjectivity, for the Dutch landscape is about the phisical and rational manipulation of an objectified reality. The Dutch Landscape is an efficient livework unit while the British landscape architects can design gardens and cannot design landscapes while exactly the opposite holds true for their Dutch colleagues.

Dirk Sijmons, Architectura + Natura. = Landscape (1998)


jp-ngs-hollandvillage-b img_2393 amsterdam_2Nagasaki-Holland-Village

Holland Village, Nagasaki (1983)

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Industrial Sublime

At Gas Works Park, the industrial works and the waste burial mound were transfigured through site design into aesthetic objects. This was achieved, first, through masking their presence with a thick, green wall separating the parking lot from the park, and then through juxtaposing silhouetted towers in the foreground with the city in the distant background. These objects were made heroic by their isolation and lack of functional context. They evoked the technological sublime awe of our ability both to control nature, space, and time through technology and to create magnificent forms clearly expressive of that control.

Elizabeth K. Meyer, Seized by Sublime Sentiments (1998)

Richard Haag, Gas Works Park (1972)

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Taylor-Made

These semiotic features on landscape, and the historical narratives they generate, are tailor-made for the discourse of imperialism, which conceives itself precisely (and simultaneusly) as an expression of landscape understood as an inevitable, progressive development in history, an expansion of “culture” and “civilization” into a “natural” space in a progress that is itself narrated as “natural”. Empires move outward in space as a way of moving forward in time; the “prospect” that opens up is not just a spatial scene but a projected future of “development” and explotation. And this movement is not confined to the external, foriegn fields towards the empire directs itself; it is typically accompained by a renewed interest in the re-presentation of the home landscape, the “nature” of imperial center. 


William J. Thomas Mitchell, Landscape and Power (1994)

Dan Kiley + Eero Saarinen + Ian Tyndall, Jefferson National  Expansion Memorial (1965)

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Unrealized Potential

Most of the people who use plazas, we found, are young office workers from nearby buildings. There may be relatively few patrons from the plazas own building: as some secretaries confide, they‘d just as soon put a little distance between themselves and the boss. But commuter distances are usually short; for most plazas. the effective market radius is about three blocks. Small parks, like Paley and Greenacre in New York, tend to have more assorted patrons throughout the day—upper—income older people, people coming from a distance. But office workers still predominate, the bulk from nearby.

This uncomplicated demography underscores an elemental point about good urban spaces: supply creates demand. A good new space builds a new constituency. It stimulates people into new habits—al fresco lunches—and provides new paths to and from work, new places to pause. It does all this very quickly. In Chicago’s Loop, there were no such amenities not so long ago. Now, the plaza of the First National Bank has thoroughly changed the midday way of life for thousands of people. A success like this in no way surfeits demand for spaces; it indicates how great the unrealized potential is.

William H. Whyte, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1980)

Streetlife, William “Holly” Whyte in his own words.