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)




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)


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)


Social Order

Olmsted employed the term pastoral instead of the beautiful or picturesque to evoke a familiar, tranquil, and cultivated nature as a counterpoint to the city. Olmsted’s pastoral wove together the precepts of eighteenth-century landscape theory and Jeffersonian agrarianism.

Even more than Downing, Olmsted regarded the landscape as an instrument of social order. Gently undulating grass, serpentine lakes, sinuous pathways, and leafy woodland groves provided urban dwellers a much-sought-after alternative to the dense industrial city, presumably with salutary moral as well as physical effects. Not intended as a zone of active use, the pastoral public park presented composed scenery for passive viewing. The purpose of this engagement Olmsted described with typical zeal: “No one who has closely observed the conduct of people who visit Central Park can doubt it exercises a distinctly harmonizing and refining influence upon the most unfortunate and lawless of the city —an influence favorable to courtesy, self-control, and temperance.”

Urban dwellers proved much more resistant to “harmonizing” than Olmsted expected, and in the face of American pluralism, public parks became more diverse in their activities and accommodations. Nevertheless, as reiterations of Central Park appeared in cities large and small across the United States by the beginning of the twentieth century, the enveloping pastoral aesthetic of the public park prevailed and carried with it the equation of pastoral scenery and ameliorative social influence.

Louise Mozingo, Pastoral Capitalism (2011)

Frank Leslie, The Central Park. A delightful resort for the toil-worn New Yorkers (1869)

Header: Frederick Law Olmsted + Calvert Vaux, Map of Central Park, New York City (1868)

Demand for Landscape

The evolution of material and symbolic spatial practices, on the one hand, and the weakening of political territorialities, on the other, constitute, in my view, the two main motifs of the contemporary demand for landscape. This demand is considerable, as has been already acknowledged long ago. The term has invaded public debate and the question has become the object of numerous public policies. Landscape design (paysagisme) and landscape architecture as a profession have become important components of town planning and of rural development, especially in Europe. As for landscape consumption, it is, and has been for a long time, one of the main reasons for tourism. This trivialization of the invocation of landscape and of landscape concerns in any form of intervention constitutes the visible face of what I propose here to call the empaysagement of our societies. This neologism should not be understood as a synonymous with landscape design, or with paysagement, where these terms refer to a growing social demand for landscape, and a growing technical ability to produce them, respectively. Empaysagement rather designates, on a more general level, a turning point in the way in which contemporary societies see themselves and see their material inscription through the intervention of landscape representation and landscape action.

Bernard Debarbieux, The Political Meaning of Landscape (2011)

Olafur Eliasson, Versailles Waterfall (2016)

FIND IT on the map

Destruction of Public Space

Watching Children of Men, we are inevitably reminded of the phrase attributed to Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Zizek, that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism. That slogan captures precisely what I mean by ‘capitalist realism’: the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it. Once, dystopian films and novels were exercises in such acts of imagination – the disasters they depicted acting as narrative pretext for the emergence of different ways of living. Not so in Children of Men. The world that it projects seems more like an extrapolation or exacerbation of ours than an alternative to it. In its world, as in ours, ultra-authoritarianism and Capital are by no means incompatible: internment camps and franchise coffee bars co-exist. In Children of Men, public space is abandoned, given over to uncollected garbage and stalking animals (one especially resonant scene takes place inside a derelict school, through which a deer runs). Neoliberals, the capitalist realists par excellence, have celebrated the destruction of public space but, contrary to their official hopes, there is no withering away of the state in Children of Men, only a stripping back of the state to its core military and police functions (I say ‘official’ hopes since neoliberalism surreptitiously relied on the state even while it has ideologically excoriated it. This was made spectacularly clear during the banking crisis of 2008, when, at the invitation of neoliberal ideologues, the state rushed in to shore up the banking system.)

Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism. Is there no Alternative? (2010)


Header: Alfonso Cuarón, Children of Men (2006)


Seeing landscape in static terms and treating it as an aesthetic unity is a practice corresponding less and less to our reality. Today, change, caesuras and discontinuities are the dominant elements of our urban landscapes. Thus the natural/artificial dichotomy as a central design theme is becoming increasingly obsolete. When disused railways are declared protected habitats and every second park lies over a subterranean garage, artificiality loses its relevance as a theme of design.

Parallel to the disappearance of the dialectic of nature and culture which had a formative effect on the landscape architecture of the 1970s and 80s, the difference between city and landscape has also dissolved. The landscape is being urbanisedand the city scenically organised. In a landscape of places the landscape architect is faced with the task of re—siting the landscape.

Yet one frequently still sees instances in which the design of out-door public space is informed by an image of society that no longer exists. Parks seem to still be built for the upper middle class of times past, even though today a far more complex mix of groups and social strata use these parks.

Gunther Vogt, Distance and Engagement (2010)

Günther Vogt + Vogt Landschape Architects, Allianz Arena Landscape (2005)




Edward Burtynsky, Los Angeles (2003)


When landscapes are designed to look as if they are naturally created it entitles them to be inevitable, beyond our control. This is when landscpes function like an ideology-they naturalize cultural acts. For some geographers and historians landscapes do not simply signify or symbolize power relations, they are powerful agents in the practice of power.

Susan Herrington, On Landscapes (2009)

Clarence Stein and Henry Wright + Marjorie Sewell Cautley, Radburn (1929)


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)


Constructed Visibility

Many landscape architects understand their task in parallel fashion. They manipulate landscape forms to induce ordered spatial and visual experiences of significance. For them, this process is an assumed aspect of their profession, and manipulation of the eye is taken for granted. Yet landscapes are often regarded by both scholars and the general public as transparent or even “invisible.” The designed landscape seems common enough to go virtually unnoticed in everyday life. For example, on a typical architect’s plan drawing, the buildings are figural while the landscape is “ground”; the architecture emerges as solid, material, and substantive, while landscape, if it appears as anything other than a white void, seems soft, formless.
Our tendency to regard landscape as neutral ground may be enhanced through architectural means to make the viewer adopt a preferred view. The result is what might be called “spaces of constructed visibility,” in which forms are masked or revealed so as to render “things seeable in a specific way.” If design can enhance vision, it can also hinder it, making spaces of constructed invisibility. In the Islamic world, such invisibility historically maintained the divide between the sexes and between public and private space. In antebellum America, rows of trees separated the plantation manor from the slave quarters, hiding from view slaves whose sweat and toil produced the wealth that supported the owners.
If landscape is less frequently noticed and harder to discern than architecture, it is by that very fact more persuasive. Landscape is “always already there” and thus seems not to have been created but simply to be, not a constructed form but rather a preexisting or even primordial one. It appears above all “natural” because it is composed of plants, soil, geological formations, sunlight, and water and because it seems to exist in the absence of human management or design. Even human interventions such as topographical leveling, deforestation, and drainage appear natural when landscape and nature are thus conflated. From an analytical perspective, this associationis deeply problematic. Hiding human agency naturalizes cultural processes that areby no means spontaneous or innate. Even more importantly, ideologies and social constructs are rendered invisible, or at the very least, made to appear equally inherent. Scholars of the English landscape and its textual and visual representations have demonstrated that the rural and garden scenery of the eighteenth century masked the political, economic, and social hegemony of an elite landed class. With verdant rolling hills, shade trees, serpentine waterways, and distant vistas, the so-called picturesque landscape gave the appearance par excellence of a benign Arcadia, justly given in disproportionate amounts to a powerful landed minority. The distribution thus seemed morally right, an inherent characteristic of the land itself, ordained by heavenly powers. The frequent presumption that landscapes are God-given and natural has led with equal frequency to the notion that what we believe we see in the landscape must be so. When one combines this premise with scientific assumptions the physiology of vision (“seeing is believing”), it becomes easy to imagine nature, landscape, and vision as a powerful trio for conveying ideology.
Herein lies one of the perplexing ironies of landscape: it is regarded as natural and eternally present, and yet it is also ignored as if it did not matter. How then can the study of landscape and vision illuminate cultural discourses that are essentially spatial, yet normalized to the point of invisibility? How does one study such an elusive, unstable object? One strategy entails focusing on mechanisms that are not easily seen, such as the frame, the controlling perspective, illusionism, the lens or screen through which we are induced to look, and the wall or landform that intentionally conceals. Spatially determined, vision can support the construction of “difference” through what is revealed and what remains concealed- marking class, race, and gender. What we see, and the manner in which the built world directs our gaze, contributes to our daily instruction about insiders and outsiders, privilege and denial, domination, submission, and, in some cases, resistance.

Mcregor + Coxall, GASP! – Glenorchy Art & Sculpture Park (2011-)