Mapping Fever

The geographic and mapping fever of the last decades, rather than indicating (as has been suggested) a “geographic turn” or even a “geological turn” may instead be a symptom of deep anxiety about the waning agency of architects, urban designers, planners, and landscape architects. The search for a merging or hybridization of these disciplines, the attempts to integrate environmental and social sciences into design practice, and the loudly vocalized ambition of architects and landscape architects to reclaim the right to design infrastructure at a territorial scale–all raise at least two orders of problems. The first relates to the obvious need to address the ongoing process of redefinition of the interrelated notions of space, territory, border, and network, a process in which a few architectural theorists are already engaged. The second demands equally urgent investigations of the frontiers and agency of each design discipline. Questions may be formulated as follows: Is there a territory of architecture (or landscape architecture, or urban design)? And if so, what are its borders? Are the disciplines undergoing a process of deterritorialization? Is it advisable to suppress the frontiers between art, architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, engineering, physical sciences, environmental sciences, and social sciences? Is it plausible to think that all these sciences and disciplines are engaged in design practices, and that this is the bond that unites them? If this is the case, how would this coming together of the arts and the sciences under the banner of design differ, for example, from the 1960s’ frustrated efforts to build a discipline a of “environmental design”? Should the scope and meaning of the notion of design be expanded?

Alessandra Ponte, Mapping in the Age of Electronic Shadows (2017)


Adriaan Geuze & West 8 + Ginés Garrido Colomero et alt. Madrid Rio (2011)



If the disciplines of urban planning and civil engineering respectively form the impervious architecture and fixed framework of cities of Western industrial society today, then planners and engineers are thefoot soldiers in the maintenance and management of the myth of instrumental reason. Perpetuated by State-driven policy, the over-emphasis on “legibility” in strategies of abstraction (land use keys) and data aggregation (demographics) have simplified complex information, and where “predictions have often been wildly wrong.” The risk of reason is personified in the positivist role of technocratic engineer “the best exemplar of the power of expertise… reinforcing directly and indirectly the rule of instrumentalism and unending economic growth. Over time, the implementation of legal limits, and categories of accountability-institutionalized through standardization and systematization, have gradually contributed to the rigid and segregated space of cities today. “The modern engineering enterprise is primarily a colonizing project, ” both self-aggrandizing and totalizing. Removed more and more from regional resources and dynamic biophysical processes, the neutralization and normalization of process is heightened by the security found in quantitative logic and numerical precision. Anthropocentric economies of expediency and exactitude simply externalized ecologies of race, class, and gender. The assumed neutrality of infrastructure is perhaps its most dangerous weapon.

Pierre Bélanger, Is Landscape Infrastructure? (2016)

DnD Landschaftsplanung, Earth Cubes on the Vienna Outer-Ring Motorway (2005)


Header: Pierre Bélanger + OPSYS, Waste Flows, Backflows, and Reflows, Maas-Rhine River Delta, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, (2009)


In contrast to architects, urban planners and other designers, landscape architects bear the responsibility of creating interesting spatial configurations that are shaped by factors that bring about change: the seasons, weather conditions, skies, plant cycles, soil conditions and time. Together these constitute the quintessential aspects of landscape architecture: it’s about making use of dynamic, living processes instead of static, immutable situations. A good understanding of nature and how it works forms the foundation for diverging from the usual…

Steven Delva, Why we shape space (2012)

Studio Roberto Rovira, Ecological Atlas Project (2014)



In the opening years of the twenty-first century, that seemingly old-fashioned term landscape has curiously come back into vogue. The reappearance of landscape in the larger cultural imagination is due, in part, to the remarkable rise of environmentalism and a global ecological awareness, to the growth of tourism and the associated needs of regions to retain a sense of unique identity, and to the impacts upon rural areas by massive urban growth. But landscape also affords a range of imaginative and metaphorical associations, especially for many contemporary architects and urbanists.

James Corner, Terra Fluxus (2006)


Herzog & De Meuron + Patrick Blanc, Caixa Forum vertical garden (2008)




According to Treib, the expression of meaning became so important to landscape designers in the 1980s and 1990s because they were reacting to the anti-historical bias of the Modernist movement. Although this reason alone seems insufficient, it does point to a certain time frame that includes a number of other developments.

1) We are living in a period in which design crafts of all sorts have been ratcheted up to the level of art by the assumption of a useful formula: craft +meaning = Art. This period has also been distinguished by a vehement anti-capitalist, anti-consumer rhetoric— which, ironically, keeps step with the insistent beat of consumerism. This rhetoric tends to elevate changes in style by attributing them to something more noble than mere usefulness in marketing. The implied suggestion is, frequently, that they are due to a change in meaning.

2) The main reason for increased concern with meaning probably lies in the popularity of modern and postmodern ideas—first in philosophy, then in art and literary criticism, much later in architectural criticism, and finally in landscape architectural criticism. Landscape architects vehemently dislike architectural priority, but it seems fair to wonder if landscape architecture academics would have become so determined to find meaning in landscape design, had not architecture academics led the way by finding so much meaning in architecture.

3) Our concern with meaning may also have intensified because, for the last 200 years or so, criticism of all sorts has moved from a concern with the intention of the artist to the creation of meaning by the audience. In so doing criticism has, not surprisingly, privileged the theorist and the critic—who always use words to articulate meaning—over such creators as novelists, poets, painters, and so forth, who generally have other arrows in their quivers besides logical, discursive, articulated meaning.

Kathryn Gustafson + Gustafson Porter, Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain (2004)


Ethic for the Landscape

When environment is something more than a group of factors and parameters, when we sometimes enjoy the landscape or the nature just as a merchandise, when we talk about tourism or about natural parks as theme parks, when we talk about the forgotten landscapes of the outskirts…has not the ideas changed enough in its use, the values and management of the ground so that have to give a new name to the elements of the landscape, the tools to contemplate it, or to make it? (…)

It is an ethic for the landscape necessary?

What “makes up” the landscape, what defines this presence that insists on appearing? In the Great Wall of China separates territories so far away from each other that what it does is to define them. In the definition of the hermeneutics as “understanding” of the text to make possible the human participation in the construction of the world. In the construction of the human landscape.

Talking about transgressions, I was reading the quote of Adorno in a short story of Kafka. The story of the man that waits in front of a door: the law has a door and the door a doorman. A man arrives and asks him to let him go in. The doorman answers that at the moment he cannot let him go in. The man waits and when he was very old and almost blind, he asks again why is the door open or why it is open when nobody has crossed in all that time. The answer is that the door is just for him and, indeed, the doorman thinks he will have to close it soon.

I think about the definition of this other world that was born separated from the architecture – the vacuum full of meanings and the other things that make up the environment: trees, plants, animals, wind, the sun… that contrasts it because of the construction of the city or of the strip surrounding the buildings, gardens, roofs… I think about streets, roads and motorways. We should study how its “nature” as a constructing way and after that, explore the nature of the transgressions that take place between both worlds to create complicities, to accept each other. Is not that sustainability?

Rosa Barba i Casanovas, Designing…In which Landscape? (2000)

Jacques Simon + JNC INTERNATIONAL et alt., River Deule Park, (1996-)


Counter to the Totality

There is no point in designing a detail that acts counter to the totality, but neither did I want to design something that would underpin Tschumi’s plan. That is why I’ve made a hole in the ground, a new independent space.

Alexandre Chemetoff, (1989)

Away from the action and adventure of the park, the garden is a haven of tranquillity. The cylinder acts as an intermediary, where visitors get a foretaste of the peace of the garden while being distracted by curious froglike gurgIings. The informal space at the end of the gallery, kept clear of the lines of movement, offers a moment of repose. In the garden are some forty species of bamboo, a situation made possible by the experimental climate control. Emphasis on the details, the ‘unimportant things’ such as the difference between, say, Phyllostachys flexuosa and Pleiobastus linearis, makes us forget the world outside and provides the feeling of repose only an enclosed garden can bring. ‘A manner of dreaming, a form of cultivation hidden in the folds of the countryside and of history; an “agricultural theatre” (Alexandre Chemetoff, 1989). In the garden the designer counters the flighty world of film characterizing the Parc de la Villette with the more intense experiential world of the theatre. Watching and experiencing are played off against one another, particularly along the two routes. Through the change in climate we can even physically feel the crossover to this more intimate response to nature.

SYNTHESIS. The Jardin des Bambous is a garden bristling with contradictions. Illusion against making the real visible, enclosure against boundlessness, simplicity against multiformity, a clearly organized strip next to a labyrinth, a scooped-out hollow that shows us the sky. The wall underlining the sense of enclosure is at the same time the binding element bringing the context into view. The bamboo, evoking the illusion and autonomy of an oasis, suggests instead an expansiveness. Even the relationship between form and function is reversed. The hermetic circle introduced at the entrance to the garden is in fact only a component of the route, whereas the residual area at the end of the gallery is the social space of the ensemble. ln the Parc de la Villette, infinite natural space is represented by the grid of follies and the serpentine lines. The Jardin des Bambous complements this expansiveness by proffering an enclosed, even sunken, garden. The vertical lines of the bamboo underscore the relationship with the sky. What is more, the garden visualizes the condition of horizontal expansiveness with row upon row of bamboo, which give concrete form to this abstract notion.

Rob Aben, Saskia de Wit, The Enclosed Garden (1999)

Alexandre Chemetoff, Bambous Garden at La Villette Park (1987)


Crucial Dimension

Water resilient terrain and plantings are designed to adapt to the monsoon floods; A resilient bridge and paths system are designed to adapt to the dynamic water currents and people flows. The bridge and paths connect the city with nature and connect the past to the future; Resilient spaces are created to fulfill the need for temporary, intensive use by the audience from the opera house, yet are adaptable for daily use by people seeking intimate and shaded spaces. The river currents, the flow of people, and the gravity of objects are all woven together to form a dynamic concord. This is achieved through the meandering vegetated terraces, curvilinear paths, a serpentine bridge, circular bio-swales and planting beds, and curved benches. The project has given the city a new identity and is now acclaimed as its most poetic landscape.

Kongjian Yu & TURENSCAPE, Yanweizhou Park in Jinhua City (2014)

Indeed, time is the crucial dimension of landscape and may ultimately be the single most important reason that architects are drawn outside their buildings. Landscape architecture is a pursuit quite distinct from that of building, requiring time for plants to become established, time for shrubs to flower, time for fruits to yield. Landscapes are usually better after ten or twenty years; after thirty years they are transformed in quite different entities.

Marc Treib, Nature Recalled (1999)

Kongjian Yu & TURENSCAPE, Yanweizhou Park in Jinhua City (2014)


‘Purity’, ‘Harmony’ and ‘Nobility’

Landscape is in the air! Landscape is everywhere! The word ‘Landscape’ has so much zipped into the recent architectural discourse, that is even more often used than Americans use the word ‘fuck’. Landscape emerges as the solution in times when architecture and urbanism are losing out on significance. This process coincides with the diagnosis that discipline of Landscape Architecture is entering an era of doubt. After conquering the doom and pessimism of the seventies with an ecological answer and meeting the economic hype of the eighties and nineties with ‘design’, the profession is now confronted with the question of how to address the overwhelming number of paradoxical demands surrounding it. How to embody the multi-cultural and multiform in a profession that is historically swallowed by the paradigms of ‘purity’, ‘harmony’ and ‘nobility’. The landscape architect is seen as the personification of the pastoral, the harmonious, the environmentally friendly: truly ‘good’ and noble aims. And in that respect, one could argue that he is often misused for political objectives. yet that very innocence is false and saturated with an oversimplified moralism. For if landscape calls upon ‘endlessness’, ‘awe’ and ‘gigantism’ and express itself in panoramas and distant prospects, then it is indeed the synonym for ‘overview’ encompassing good and bad, is about multiplicity and pluralism. It has the potential to manipulate this field of ideas, opinions, and expressions. Instead of a mere argument of goodness, this domain has the capacity of putting into perspective. This position obliges it to study the substance of the ‘moral’.

Winy Maas, Far Max. Excursions on Density (1998)

Karres en Brands, Boseilanden recreational area (2000-)



Despite their common interest in landscape, artists, writers, planners, landscape architects, and geographers can never share the same definition of the term, nor will they always reach a full agreement within their own domain. Landscape serves a different purpose for each group, and each profession or discipline is unique in terms of its focus, objectives, scales of analysis, epistemologies, and methodologies. Nevertheless, each would benefit immensely from understanding the others’ conception of landscape.

Eugene J. Palka, Coming to grips with the concept of landscape (1995)


David Hockney, Pearblossom Highway (1986)

David Hockney, A Lawn Being Sprinkled (1967)


Percy Adlon, Bagdad Cafe (1987)