Reuse

All landscape is reuse, whether through the intervention of human action or through the earth’s continual formation in a process that, in the words of geologist James Hutton, ‘has no vestiges of a beginning, nor prospects of and end’. Acting in parallel, human and non-human agents work to remake the surface of the earth and its ecosystems, though on different material and temporal scales and with different impacts, often working against each other. Thus, it is not possible to ‘discard’ landscape, only to reuse it. Continual formation and reformation is central to Georg Simmel’s definition of landscape. In his 1913 essay ‘Philosophy of Landscape’, he defines it as a subset of that which is not divisible: nature. In the tension between landscape’s claim for autonomy against ‘the infinite interconnectedness of objects, the uninterrupted creation and destruction of forms’, a boundary, says Simmel, is essential. In this essay I posit that to construct this tension between the discrete and the continuous, and to make its representation visible, is both the work of design and the work of criticism in the age of global disruption.

In the intervening century since the publication of Simmel’s essay, capitalism has advanced to form a globally interconnected and undifferentiated world. Many boundaries have disappeared while others have been formed as economies and priorities shift, as the strength of the institutions that sanction landscape wanes, as nature’s entropic forces soften its structures. Still, it must be emphasized, landscapes continue to be an act of will, a social product that registers the conflicts, the diverse interests, the tensions and the pressures that act on it. As such, landscapes do not just appear on their own, they must be simultaneously created, kept, maintained, and protected through institutions and governance. In this way they are demarcated, strongly or more subtly.

Anita Berrizbeitia, Criticism in the age of global disruption (2018)

Martí Franch + EMF,  Jordi Badia + BAAS, Can Framis Museum Gardens (2009)

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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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Heritage

While Cosgrove notes that ‘landscapes have a special significance within heritage debates’, he also argues that it is heritage which forces an engagement with the ‘realities of a postcolonial, polyvocal and globalized world’. While a ‘landscape approach’ has aided heritage scholars to move beyond what was a site-based engagement with their subject matter, therefore, an increased recognition of heritage – both tangible and intangible – has encouraged landscape scholars to heed the importance of the affective qualities of how, as Holtorf and Williams note, memories and mythologies, community and personal histories were ‘inherited, inhabited, invented and imagined through the landscape’. With its focus on the present and future, I would argue that a heritage sensibility would appear to provide a sense of hope and engagement.

David Harvey, Emerging landscapes of heritage (2013)

The place can be described as an astonishing and complex geological structure. The tectonic gesture of the place is made visible by the sea eroded cliffs and its several lava and ashes layers of orange, black, brown and grey. An old conical lime kiln characterizes the image of the place. An artisanal industry of drying fish and salt extraction completed the principal local economic activity of fishing, more recently developed on touristic service. This social condition of very humble and poor economic situation was accentuated by a strong feeling of isolation and segregation shared by this community. The recent regional connection and several investments on public services, inverted a process of social erosion and conflict, stressed by a previous wrong policy on social housing. By adding the new and complex program of public space and connections, an extraordinary change took place on social and collective representation and valuation of space.

João Gomes da Silva, Project Description (2006)

João Gomes da Silva + GLOBAL arquitectura paisagista, Salinas Swimming Pools (2006)

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Hapticity

Visual culture is the primary conduit for globalization, with ideas travelling with ease across the Internet, on television, films and in print media. Inevitably, this leads to a reduction in the range of sensory experience to almost a single sense, where sight and sometimes sound become the sole means of relating to landscape. The focus on the visual – or ocularcentrism – is one of the threads of research that informs the tension between the global and landscape. Ocularcentrism is not a recent practice, but has influenced the landscape for centuries, with the overemphasis on the visual gaining ground through theories like perspective and the picturesque, and the rise of viewing-based practices such as museums, zoos and tourism. Reclaiming the landscape from an ocularcentrist perspective is one of the imperatives for those seeking to resist the homogenising influence of globalization. 

Jacky Bowring, Navigating the global, the regional and the local: researching globalization and landscape (2013)

Germán del Sol, Termas Geométricas (2009)

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Most Wanted

Komar and Melamid are two Russian artist emigrés who undertook a fascinating project. Their book, Painting by Numbers, explains that “with the help of The Nation Institute and a professional polling team, they discovered that what Americans want in art, regardless of class, race, or gender, is exactly what the art world disdains–a tranquil, realistic, blue landscape.”
Once they received the general consensus, they painted the result. The painting above is what Americans prefer to see, complete with a historic figure (George Washington), deer, and children. It’s an ugly amalgamation for sure, but it is quite revealing of the aesthetic preferences of the general populace. One thing that immediately strikes me is that it looks absolutely nothing like what the Art World tells us is ‘good art.’ Although, I do suspect (like Arthur Danto) that most people would rather not actually hang this on their wall. I know I wouldn’t like to.
Not content to stop there, the duo polled countries from all over the World. The results are in (and not a surprise): People the world over tend to prefer a strikingly similar landscape. The elements we have laid out earlier are all there. What does this tell us about aesthetics and human evolution? The argument has been made that the results are an aberration due to the ubiquity of Hallmark calendars in all the countries polled – that the results have been skewed. I like to think that the ubiquity of Hallmark calendars is exactly the proof we’re looking for: Hallmark is everywhere precisely because that’s what we prefer to look at.
Komar and Melamid have just laid out Hallmark’s market research for them, and Evolutionary Psychology has backed it up: The experience of beauty belongs to our evolved human psychology.

Alan Carroll, An Instinct for Beauty (2011)

USAKomar and Melamid, USA’s Most Wanted Painting (1993)RusiaKomar and Melamid, Russia’s Most Wanted Painting (1995)ChinaKomar and Melamid, China’s Most Wanted Painting (1995)FranciaKomar and Melamid, France’s Most Wanted Painting (1995)AlemaniaKomar and Melamid, Germany’s Most Wanted Painting (1995)KenyaKomar and Melamid, Kenya’s Most Wanted Painting (1995)ItaliaKomar and Melamid, Italy’s Most Wanted Painting (1995)HolandaKomar and Melamid, Holland’s Most Wanted Painting (1995)

Blinded

Thus, long before the Earth was viewed from the moon, our perspective has changed. In a movement that seems at first contrary to ecology, we are looking according to Vidal de la Blache, at the relationship between Earth and man from a greater distance and in ever more comprehensive ways. He had already seen how phenomena in the atmosphere affect not only their immediate surroundings but also places thousands of miles away. No part of the planet exists in isolation. All of Earth’s parts are coordinated. Every local study is subject to the general laws that apply to all local studies. This fundamental unity of the planet has been recognized since antiquity, but it was only in the 19thcentury during the early stages of globalization that it found expression in human experience. Think, for instance, of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days. We scarcely realize how thin earth’s hospitable surface is –a mere veneer, at most- and how intimate our bond with it is.

Blinded by the market, which has been only too pleased to comply with the demand for more artifice and difference, architects have preferred to ignore this terrestrial unity. Buildings, we know, are responsible for some 40% of all CO2 emissions. This fact alone should prompt architects to look beyond a mere compliance with regulations and encourage them to explore the general conditions of the earth and the reciprocity between these conditions and their work. 

Irénée Scalbert, New Apples (2010)

(Thank you Despoina Zavraka)

 

Kathryn Gustafson, Shell Petroleum Headquarters Garden (1991)

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Political Struggle

In modern times, when Israel was being pioneered by European immigrants, they brought with them an image of the land of their dreams. This image, like the Renaissance paintings of the Holy Land, seemed to be a verdant copy of central Europe. They laboured in the dry heat of the desert, but this image never wavered. They cleared the stones, ploughed the land, planted and watered their newly marked fields, and in many places pushed through a revolution which did begin to approach their dreams.
However, there is a natural limitation to dreams: with time, the physical reality of the earth, climate and water in the area in which they laboured led to a new understanding of what is possible, and even of what is desirable in such an area. That deeper understanding is leading to a change, of course, a redefinition of the vision of an “ideal” landscape for lsrael.
Many countries in arid and semi-arid climates are now facing the harsh reality of burgeoning populations that place enormous stress on the environment. The ability of technology to meet every need still has its limits, however. There may be plenty of light and stone, and one day a technological solution that will provide unlimited power and water to people in arid lands may well appear. But perhaps there is not enough time to develop these remedies before scarcity and habitat destruction result in even more serious problems. It is currently debatable which is growing faster, our needs or our capabilities. An imbalance between these two things might bring about severe social and political struggle.

Shlomo Aronson, Aridscapes. Designing in harsh and fragile lands. (2008)

Shlomo Aronson, Israel National Outline Plan for Afforestation (1970-1995)

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Ecumene

Fragmenting the experience of place in the abstractions of the special disciplines reinforces the split between our methods of feeling and our methods of thinking. It also spoils the human environment, vitiating our ability to build and inhabit good houses, communities, and cities, because the conventional ways of thinking about housing and urban spaces do not grasp the reality of places as wholes.

The integrity of a place suffers when what we learn by ear gets disconnected from what we perceive with the eye – still more when what we imagine seems irrelevant. The imagination makes sense. It is, moreover, an organ of perception – like our eyes, ears, and legs. We get to know a place when we participate in the local imagination. The whole synthesis of located experience – including what we imagine as well as the sights, stories, feelings, and concepts – gives us the sens of a place.

We are threatened today by two kinds of environmental degradation: one is pollution – a menace that we all acknowledge; the other is loss of meaning. For the first time in human history, people are systematically building meaningless places. However, we are a living through the end of an era, experiencing the demise of modern architecture, a revulsion from “futurism,” scepticism about planning, and a reaction against urban renewal programs. As we contemplate the ruins and dislocations of our cities, another way of understanding the built environment and the natural landscape is struggling to emerge. Today, everyone yearns for renewal, but from a holistic perspective, what does the renewal of a city mean? It is not merely physical reconstruction, as many people think – demolishing slums and replacing them with new buildings. Historically, the renewal of a city was experienced as a mental and emotional transformation, an improvement of the spirit, a rebirth of psychic energies.

Eugene Victor Walter, Placeways: A Theory of the Human Environment, (1988)

 

Recognizing and fostering regional and cultural differences in landscapes will probably be the strongest challenge of this global age. As with the disappearance of species, countless cultural traditions related to landscape will disappear in coming decades due to the increased political, economic, and environmental pressures of globalization. French geographer Augustin Berque reminds us of the very particular relationship that humans have with their natural environment, a relationship that differs strongly and symbolically from one society to another, from one language to the next. Berque defines this bond with nature as the ecumene and reminds us of the unfathomable differences between cultures of the Orient and the Occident, and the North and the South. The ecumene expresses, therefore, a society’s attachment to a particular landscape reality, an ontological predisposition toward nature, where the relationship to landscape is understood as a set of strong beliefs and signifiers. Our relationship to the world is the complex product of language, work, culture, and myth, and the idealized expression of this faith in nature often merges at the cusp of strong cultural divides, where things can barely be explained, let alone be sensed. Commonalities and environmental concerns will thus continue to face prevailing linguistic and cultural divides, nurturing strong distinctions and discrepancies between human societies. As cultures disappear, other hybrids will arise, underlining the prevalence of local lore over globalization, and each landscape will thus become an invitation to express a culture of difference in an act of superb creative defiance.  

Christophe Girot, Topology and Landscape Experimentation (2017)

Christophe Girot, Invaliden Park (1997)

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