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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Connection

The practical measures of sustainable design make the landscape function more efficiently and reduce the amount of wasted materials and energy; they are conceived to contribute to the overall health of the planet rather than detract. But without an artistic or cultural component to the landscape, we are creating natural places that function like machines. A truly sustainable place works on a more visceral level. We are transforming places so people will love them, will take better care of them, will want them to flourish for their grandchildren and their grandchildren’s grandchildren. If we just look at what are called “best practices,” meaning the technologies that are accepted as most environmentally healthful, we still would not necessarily know how to make a landscape that people will internalize, make their own. Sustainability is about people taking ownership, learning how to sustain, rather than abuse or just consume, the landscape. It is about making clear the connection between human practices and our environment.

The field of landscape architecture can make these connections between humans and our environment.

Margie Ruddick, Wild by Design (2016)

Joao Ferreira Nunes + Proap, Alcantara Wastewater Treatment Plant (2011)

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Political Activity

  1. Just as a landscape is a way in which people and place relate, making landscapes is unavoidably a political activity because implicit in the transformation people bring to a place is the way people are organized in order to do this. However, the set of  representations used to create landscapes tends to eclipse the political dimension.
  2. Landscapes created through representation propose and legitimize the ways people and places are associated, which are susceptible to be used as instruments for  convincing and propaganda for policies that were formulated prior to them.
  3. Metropolises come with the presumption (where the interest of institutions and landscape makers converge) that people are not capable of expressing themselves or  relating to each other in them, that they are only the sum of unrelated individuals who do not know how to behave in the new landscapes of the city.
  4. Point 3 leads to the conviction of understanding public space as a place in which to adapt people to the new landscapes of the city through education. However, it is actually in the pursuit of this objective that the need is seen to erase the cultural baggage these people have, so that they can be taught to fit into the previously represented landscapes of the city’s large green spaces.
  5. The education project shown in Point 4 often produces political conflicts between people and the institution of public space, in which the landscape maker plays a role, no longer of educator, but of integrator of the many discourses of the people in them which are compatible with the one that institutions advocate.
  6. Some creators have thought about using the landscape not to mute or to educate, but on the contrary, to encourage people to express themselves. In such processes, the change in discourse changes the way in which we perceive landscapes.
  7. Paradoxically, the conversion of the city into an exhibition space for the urban spectacle opens spaces where new languages can become visible when the spectacle ages or deteriorates. The city of exhibition becomes volatile and even fragile if its discourse is not constantly nourished.
  8. While landscape has been used as an instrument of conviction and controlling  discourse, a way of thinking is being formulated that tends towards the democratizing potential of landscape. This will lead to a new figure of landscape maker in a process which we will continue to study.

Victor Ténez Ybern, Notes on the Politics of Landscape (2016)

Coloco, Asfalto mon Amour (2013)

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Natural Capital

The city is a landscape; its soils and geology define its fundamental character. Our work and interests stem from understanding time and territory, the geology and wider landscape patterns, the river catchment with propositions for water sensitive urban design, the urban forest with how liveable the city is and how resilient the urban dweller feels. Our work ranges from strategic planning to forensic analysis of the below-ground condition, considering the soil’s biological complexity and its capacity for yield and absorption. Collaborations enable our practice to reach widely into the marginal territories that inform our work; the poetry and science of soils; the sound of geology; the value of shared grass roots knowledge; the biomimetics of spider sheet webs. Our profession concerns that which makes land a landscape, the people who inhabit it and the resilience of the environment and the individual that together create city communities in all their density and diversity. We seek an archaeological narrative and creative ways of how to stimulate the stewardship of the city’s natural capital.

Johanna Gibbons, Interview (2015)

Johanna Gibbons & J+L Gibbons + Muf Architecture – Art, Dalston Eastern Curve Gardens (2009)

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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)

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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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Ruins

On the West side of Manhattan there is the High Line, a defunct section of the elevated railway, once a ruin where an intrepid soul did occasionally Walk but now converted into a long, thin pedestrian zone so that walkers can stroll high above ground level and look down on the poor suckers beneath them. New Yorkers seem justifiably proud of the High Line and a lot of people, no doubt some of them out-of-towners, do walk there with great enthusiasm, but it’s a very specific kind of walking, actually I think more a form of promenading. People walking up and down, savouring the pleasure of walking, looking around, showing themselves off, checking each other out: very old school. Few, if any, of these people are using the High Line, as a way of getting from A to B. The place functions as a kind of pedestrian theme park, a piece of reclaimed territory, decked out with designer sidewalks and exuberant landscaping while keeping some of the old rails still visible.

The first couple of times I went to the High Line, a small industrial building was being demolished very close to the southern end of the walkway. ]ust one man was doing the job, operating a surprisingly small machine, one with a single long arm with an hydraulic hammer on the end, something that looked like a giant hole punch. Smashing walls and roofs wa easy enough but once in a while the operator encountered metal girders, that were much harder to break down, resulting in an explosion of grinding and juddering, though he always got the job done sooner or later. The whole process delivered quite an ear-bashing to the walkers on the High Line, and clouds o demolition dust rose up and billowed in our direction. The noise and the dirt were the kind of thing that you might think would spoil a good walk, But it didn’t. I, naturally, absolutely loved it, but so did most of the other walkers. We paused in our walking, moved to the side of the High Line, pressed up against the railing and stared down in fascination to see how one man could destroy aiwhole building. A certain amount of  ruin, the chance to see a ruin being made, didn’t spoil the walk at all: it made it. If I’m ever called upon to design la pedestrian theme park I’ll make sure there’s some industrial-scale destruction going on there.

  Geoff Nicholson, Walking in Ruins (2013)

Cities are loosing the places where one can create an affective relationship with a landscape. Instead, the traces of history are now becoming luna parks as Geoff Nicholson say. With the over-design of heritage, cities identity is becoming just propaganda, and business that threatens the citizen’s lives in many ways.There is a pleasure in the ruins… when a new design let them survive, avoiding their commodification and creating a place that visitors can make theirs. In these projects, the infra-design allows the feeling of discovering and the relief in front of the over-determinated spaces. Indeed, this kind of spaces invites us to transform them, as a way of enrichment of the information and freedom of expression and they have the shinning aura of the real too.  

 

 

Siiri Vallner, The Pier (2012)

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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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Complex

Our image of the landscape is the result of complex cultural interpretations. The relationship of our personal experience, based in our cultural milieu to the landscapes around us is often underestimated. This includes how we interpret something even as simple as a public park. Parks have undoubtedly communicated cultural, behavioral and political cues throughout history.  Sometimes didactic and sometimes unintentionally instructive about societal norms and preferences, parks are not always as neutral as they might appear. Curiously, parks are instruments of power that seem almost benign in the public realm – few question the creation of a new park.

The design and appearance of a park generally reflects its cultural and geographical position. At the municipal level, parks are furnished with standard “from the catalog” items, such as benches, bollards and trash cans, which vary from country to country, and from city to city. Even in parks that are initially completely custom designed, these standard elements creep in as time and use progress. It is easy to identify the location of some parks from their bits and pieces, such as those in New York City from their dark green wood-slat benches. In contrast to this common quality, Superkilen in Copenhagen looks nothing like any other park in Copenhagen, and for good reason.

Jessica Bridger, Culture Riot (2012)

1024px-Superkilen

 Topotek 1, Bjarke Ingels Group, Superflex, Superkilen (2012)

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R. David Marks, Socorro, New Mexico, USA (2018)

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Rather than traditional

Working in collaboration with muf architecture/art and Objectif, Making Space in Dalston is a project concerning an alternative approach to regeneration. It evolved a process of communication and action research to help develop a shared vision with residents, businesses and local organizations.

The project looked at how more public space could be created without losing the existing qualities of the neighbourhood. A key concern was how to embrace change while nurturing the self-organising distinctiveness of Dalston that is inherent in both its social capital and physical character.

Rather than a traditional top-down master plan, the project set out to identify projects through dialogue from grassroots up. The stakeholders themselves became the driving force and promoters of change.

A total of 76 projects were identified in 10 themes, through discussion with almost 200 individuals or groups. Projects were either permanent or temporary. Some were termed ‘meantime’ projects in space awaiting development.

Johanna Gibbons, Making Space in Dalston (2012)

Here we have a little description of how to make a project getting rid of the concept of the unity of design: instead of having a one-concept transformation Gibbons purposes to scatter the action into many that will respond to little desires and wills so, instead of having a part of the users in favor and other against a big bet, we’ll have many elements that are more able to approach people’s desires and complex opinions. We’ll get a more adaptable result too, and an extra learning of the design process. All those benefits will come just living without the big discourse of unity in creation. This way to understand the creative process without the strength of the author’s assertion could have to do with what we are talking about when we speak about the necessary “feminist turn” in the discipline.

Johanna Gibbons + Muf Art/Architecture, Making Space in Dalston (2012)

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