Have we reached a post-landscape condition? Have new designs, representations and physical forms been realized which provide for collective actions and alternative relations with where we live, work and visit? In Recovering Landscape, Corner describes his inspiration for advocating a ‘recovery’ of landscape as ‘less the pastoralism of previous landscape formations’ but instead the ‘yet-to-be disclosed potentials of landscape ideas and practices’. But as economic and political contexts shifted, during the global economic collapse and the subsequent recession, can we identify an emergence of alternative practices and landscape forms? Concerns for ecological restoration and programmatic approaches to landscapes are emphasized by Corner whose Field Operations designed the master-plan for New York’s Fresh Kills Park and realized the rehabilitation of the High Line as a public park. However, Corner describes that ‘massive process[es] of deindustrialization’ have placed new complex demands on land-use planning requiring the ‘accommodation of multiple, often irreconcilable conflicts’. Landscape projects that remediate and repurpose polluted post-industrial sites have gained currency in urban redevelopments, building on the work of land artists Such as Mel Chin, and landscape architects like Peter Latz. But while we can identify inventive approaches that decontaminate formerly abandoned landscapes, few contemporary landscapes or urban design projects have confronted their contribution to increasing land-values, displacement of remaining industries and aggressive gentrification. Environmental recovery of landscapes facilitates urban redevelopment, provides a foundation for spatially and aesthetically reproducing cities and furthers opportunities for economic returns for individuals and organizations that own brownfield sites. Projects improve ecological conditions but fail to address, and in many cases exacerbate, businesses displaced, jobs lost and individuals excluded from renewed urban areas. While in some cases, as Cosgrove claims of recent critical thinking, ‘landscape is approached as a spatial, environmental, and social concept rather than as a primarily aesthetic term’, prevailing landscape practices remain tied to economic priorities. And although Corner reminds us that landscape is inextricably ‘bound into the marketplace’ neither his writing nor his landscape practice provide clues for how these relations can be uncoupled or rethought.
When it first came into being, the word landscape had two meanings. It denoted an area, an extent of the earth’s surface with boundaries, a meaning that has persisted until the present day. But landscape referred also to the group that shaped that area through practices, rituals, and institutions. Like the modern ‘township,’ landscape in this original sense was both a physical space and a political community. And like political communities everywhere, landscapes were almost always marked by unequal degrees of power. Landscapes were, and remain, places of contest and conflict, of hard work and brute force, even when studiously concealed. To ignore this political dimension of any landscape is to miss a fundamental part of its essence.
So: recover the political dimension of landscape. Wherever you work, know who has influence, who lacks it and why. Take the measure of old rivalries. Understand power.
Perhaps politics has really taken notice of the landscape? Is the opposite also true? The crises accompanying periods of great change are often occasions for new moments of creativity. The time has come to adapt and initiate a dialogue that manages to involve the general public. The landscape involves the science and technique of relations; it is not only an object of contemplation and reaction, but also a discipline in its own right. In recently times, the relationship between the landscape and politics has grown schematic, ambiguous and evanescent. Successively, it is as if it foresaw the imminent coming of a moment of truth, a moment that would raise a question that is not only cultural, but with notable effects on social and economic, and thus eminently political values. The greatest difficulty was to admit the need for a new approach, that it was no longer possible to wait and that the time had come to act and take risks. Despite the anti-political nature of a vision of the landscape as a controlled and guaranteed consumer good, a new way of speaking about the landscape and politics gives precise meaning to these two terms. The problematic dimension of the landscape viewed as a «project» highlights the urgency for transformation, a dimension that demonstrates not only an elevated level of ductility, but also a usefulness, in many cases strategic, to the governance of phenomena in an explosive phase of becoming. The thesis, to date in no way to be taken for granted, is that the question of designing the landscape is a challenge, a political emergency to be confronted as a priority.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Climate change is creating existential moments of decision. This is unintended, unseen, unwanted, and is neither goal oriented nor ideologically driven. The literature on climate change has become a supermarket for apocalyptic scenarios. Instead, the focus should be on what is now emerging—future structures, norms, and new beginnings.
Metamorphosis is about a new way of generating and implementing norms in the age of climate change. A brief look at the history of world risk society illustrates this concept. Before Hiroshima happened, no one understood the power of nuclear weapons; but afterward, the sense of violation created a strong normative and political momentum: “Never again Hiroshima!” Violations of human existence like Hiroshima induce anthropological shocks and social catharsis, challenging and changing the order of things from within.
“Never again Holocaust!” This metamorphosis decouples our normative horizons from existing norms and laws. I am referring here to something profound. A former basic principle of national law was that an act could not be judged in hindsight against a law that did not exist at the time the act was committed. So while it was legal under Nazi law to kill Jews, it became, in hindsight, a crime against humanity. It was not simply a law that changed, but our social horizons—our very being in the world. This is exactly what I mean by metamorphosis. In the case of climate change as a moment of metamorphosis, nature, society, and politics coalesce.
Header: Maurits Cornelis Escher, Metamorphosis II (1940)
The English landscape garden, with its extensive pastoral parklands dotted with mansions and follies in the Palladian style became emblematic of the ideals of civic humanism. The landscape was an idealized version of a shepherd’s commons, but it was a commons symbolic, as the poet Alexander Pope noted, of the pastoral environment of a golden age, as described for example by Virgil, when the ‘best’ of men were shepherds. This idea of landscape grew out of both pictorial art and theatre, and it was related to philosophical thinking which saw politics and law as a kind of theatre in which the citizen was to perform. The idealized landscape of the landscape garden thus provided the necessary scenic setting for the achievement, at least in ideal, of a modern enlightened society based upon representative government and the rights of the individual, not the least the right to break with the feudal system and own and dispose of private property. It was thus hardly an accident that Thomas Jefferson, who framed the American democratic constitution, lived in a Palladian villa (of his own design) surrounded by a pastoral landscape garden park which he saw as being contiguous with the larger landscape of Virginia and America. This, then, was a landscape symbolic of law, but of an ideal of law in a larger and more abstract sense than the kind of laws and regulations compartmentalized within Landschaftsforschung. This is the sort of law which is concerned with individual human and property rights as enshrined, for example, in the Bill of Rights attached to the US Constitution. It is, of course, easy to point out the glaring contradictions between the situation of a British Whig estate owner/parliamentarian, living off lands enclosed from the commons, or a rich slave owner with a large Virginian estate, like Jefferson, and the enlightened ideals which they expressed, but these ideals were nevertheless foundational for the laws guaranteeing the democratic liberties many people of lesser wealth now value today.
Nicolas Poussin, The Arcadian Shepherds (Et in Arcadia Ego) (1638)
Henry Hoare II, Stourhead Gardens (c.1754)
(Header: Jane Braddick Peticolas, View of the West Front of Monticello and Garden, depicting Thomas Jefferson’s grandchildren at_Monticello, (1825))
Following this logic, Iris Marion Young, in her influential book Justice and the Politics of Difference, offers a cultural politics concerned to explain (in)justice also beyond ‘equitable distribution of life’s necessities, comforts, luxuries and burdens, to include the potential for people to participate fully in the conditions, situations and decision processes that give rise to particular distribution in the first place’. Young’s theory is important because she demonstrates how injustice or oppression is always social, contingent and systemic. This allows her to identify more than one source (i.e. the economic, distributive system) of oppression. In outlining five facets, or ‘five faces of oppression’ – exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism and violence – Young draws attention to the multifarious ways (in)justice is (re)produced.
Aesthetics are rarely explicitly addressed in conjunction with ethics in the body of literature examining recent landscape architectural research. This seems strange given that, if ‘ecology’ is added to ‘aesthetics’ and ‘ethics’, the classic tripartite definition of the discipline is formulated, and most would agree that this constitutes the unique significance and substance of what we do. (…)
The apparent neglect of research that explicitly addresses aesthetics and ethics together may have several reasons. One aspect is that research paradigms, as well as conventions for working in professional practice, will typically narrow the focus and therefore the methodologies of study or practice. Though often challenged, such crude divisions appear to persist and obstruct the critical development of landscape architectural praxis at all levels. The integrative breadth of landscape architecture is hard to formulate within narrow research and disciplinary specialisms, so when these limitations are overcome landscape theory takes a leap forward. Another aspect contributing to the neglect of detailed aesthetic studies may be the lack of a tradition of philosophical discourse in landscape architecture, coupled with the fact that aesthetics as method, construct, practice, experience and the means toward critical judgment is notoriously hard to define with any rigor. The difficulty in both defining and conveying accurately the nature and significance of aesthetic experience, and in addition, the elusiveness of aesthetic judgment and its tendency to go with the flow of contemporary politics, social taste, and cultural transitions, often means that aesthetics are conveyed tangentially and metaphorically, and sometimes not at all. Many academics are deterred from such intangible topics and tacit approaches, especially the younger in the pursuit of PhDs to whom natural and social science appear to offer greater rigor because they are more amenable to explicit forms of knowledge.
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.
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)
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.
The urban park was a 19th-century concept, its invention necessary to provide relief to the urban victims of the new, untamed metropolis. (…) Planning, real estate development, and the poetic presence of nature were combined. Properly regarded, these were the purest forms of landscape urbanism—or landscape-as-infrastructure.
This Olmstedian principle seems still to be the ideal of landscape urbanism, although in practice hardly any critical attention is paid to some of its weaker aspects. Why is it so easily taken for granted that the green of parks will bring a better world?
First, the steadily increasing area of suburban green structures is of a dubiously hybrid character: they are often loud statements of overdesigned park architecture expressing a desire for liveliness, and for the cultural significance of beloved 19th-century city parks; but on the other hand, they attempt to create an idealistic wilderness. Realization of these plans often results in a strange nonworld of cultivated innocence. The essential characteristics a park needs to survive, so exhaustively described by Jane Jacobs, are almost always lacking. According to her analysis, for parks and greenery to succeed, a good context is fundamental. Many city dwellers see peripheral green zones as valuable green background, but also as potentially dangerous, and as places to be avoided. There is simply too little activity and no mixing of user groups. Park designers have not succeeded in giving these parks the allure of nature and wilderness.
Second, landscape architecture is fundamentally linked to nature, to mother earth. But the perception of “nature” is a cultural phenomenon, quite different from one country to another. The elemental forces of nature have also, through prosperity or privation, shaped behavioral second natures— yielding national identities, religions, livelihoods, and even wars. From these basic conditions cultures are formed, each with its particular perceptions of nature. When you talk with di erent nationalities about nature, you are confronted by deeply rooted feelings and cultural convictions, all of which are assumed to be a matter of “common sense.”
Finally, the pretension often is that parks are the result of ideology and craftsmanship, and are therefore inherently unique and valuable. However, landscape architecture, in contrast to architecture, is concerned almost exclusively with the public realm—parks, boulevards, riverfronts, streetscapes, and so on. To reach decisions and establish nances, we must work with politicians, local citizens, and bureaucracies with diverse legal systems. Landscape architecture will always focus on outreach, public opinion, interaction, public policy, implementation, and compromise. The discipline cannot avoid responding to sociopolitical contexts.
Economists have an acronym to identify the forces driving development: PESTEL (politics, economics, sociology, technology, environment, and law). It is critically important that contemporary planning initiatives explicitly take these factors into account. Clearly such diverse issues as governance and legislation, high- and low-tech implementation strategies, grassroots advocacy, and megaprojects all are attendant on public policy. So in practice landscape architects and park designers work in a realm between illusion and public policy, and our work is inevitably the most banal and compromised among the design disciplines. At the end of the day, are the built realities anywhere close to the dreamt-of parks and artist’s impressions?