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)



Dig Down

ln its original meaning, ‘landscape’ was not a net draped over the surface of things. lt was a thing shaped from, and the act of shaping, the earth. It was the digging of ditches and canals, the mounding up of berms and walls, the shaping and reshaping of these things over centuries. The substrate was the matrix of this shaping. Landscape went deep beneath the feet into the topsoil, into the gurgling bubbling under that, then deeper still into rock and heat. This early, earthy side of landscape was all but lost in the seventeenth century, and we live in the shadow of that loss. For without knowing the world under your feet, you will never fully know the world before your eyes.

So: get down on your knees. Lay your hands on the ground, then start digging and do not stop until your hands are bloody. Then turn your palms upward and smell the landscape there. Feel the roots of things. 

Thomas Oles, Go with Me. 50 Steps to Landscape Thinking. (2014)

THUPDI + Thinghua University, Shangai Quarry Garden (2010)


10 tips

1. Use a local problem to invent a generic solution. Though landscape architecture tends to be a custom job, it can still offer solutions for footloose phenomena. 2. Use a global challenge to solve a local problem. Global problems can have a major influence in landscape design. 3. Think big in small scale projects. Design solution often emerge in the bigger picture. 4. Think small and simple in big scale projects. On large scale and long term, it’s hardly possible to foresee the results of a design intervention. Still it’s vital to show how the future might look like. 5. Design total landscapes. If possible, ‘total design’ is very powerful and can overcome apparent contradictions. 6. Don’t design everything. The more you design, the less freedom there is left. 7. Aim for pure nature. Designed nature might never be ‘pure’ but can be overwhelmingly abundant, rich, exciting and fertile. 8. Make devices to experience nature. People need devices to experience nature; they bring binoculars, kites, bike, etc. Landscape architects should develop unique devices to enable that experience. 9. Trigger senses. Like most media, this book only shows the visual side of landscapes, while an intense landscape experience depends on all senses. 10. Make sense. Landscape architecture is about realizing ideas.

Lola Landscape Architecture, 10 tips for landscape architecture (2012)Park-Groot-Vijversburg08 Park-Groot-Vijversburg07

Park-Groot-Vijversburg06Park-Groot-Vijversburg05Park-Groot-Vijversburg09Park-Groot-Vijversburg01Park-Groot-Vijversburg10Park-Groot-Vijversburg02 Park-Groot-Vijversburg03

  Park-Groot-Vijversburg11 Park-Groot-Vijversburg12 Park-Groot-Vijversburg13Park-Groot-Vijversburg04Lola Landscape Architecture, Groot Vijversburg Park (2015)




1. Nostalgia for the past and utopian dreams for the future prevent us from looking at our present.
2. Nature is the flow of change within which humans exist.  Evolution is its history. Ecology is our understanding of its present phase.
3.  All things in nature are constantly changing.  Landscape artists need to  design to allow for change, while seeking a new course that enhances the coexistence of humans with the rest of nature.
4.  Landscape forms encapsulate unseen assumptions. To expose them is to enter the economic and aesthetic struggles of our times.
5.  Historical precedents do not support the common prejudice that human intervention is always harmful to the rest of nature.
6.  Shifts are taking place before our eyes. Landscape artists and architects need to give them a name and make them visible.  Aesthetic expertise is needed to enable the transforming relations between humans and the rest of nature to break through into public spaces.
7.  High visibility, multiple alliances, and public support are critical to new landscape genres that portray our present.
8.  Landscape—through new landscapes—enters the city and modifies our way of being in it.
9.  New landscapes can become niches for species forced out of their original environment.
10. The new view of plants as groups of interrelated species modifying each other, rather than as separate and fixed, exemplifies fluidity—a main motif of landscape form.
11. Nostalgic images of nature are readily accepted, but they are like stage scenery for the wrong play.
12. In his History of the Modern Taste in Gardening (1780), Horace Walpole says William Kent “was the first to leap the fence and show that the whole of nature was a garden.” Today landscape “has leapt the fence” in the opposite direction, to the city, making it part of nature.
13. Existing urban spaces can be rescued from their current damaging interaction with nature.
14. Landscape artists can reveal the forces of nature underlying cities, creating a new urban identity from them.
15. Landscape can create meeting places where people can delight in unexpected forms  and spaces, inventing why and how they are to be appreciated.
16. A landscape, like a moment, never happens twice. This lack of fixity is landscape’s asset.
17.  We can heighten the desire for new interactions between humans and nature where it is least expected: in derelict spaces.
18. Emerging landscapes are becoming brand new actors on the political stage.
19. Landscape renders the city as constantly evolving in response to climate, geography, and history.
20. Landscape can show artistic intention without imposing a predetermined meaning.
21. Landscape can bridge the line between ourselves and other parts of nature—between ourselves and a river.
22. Landscape is becoming the main actor of the urban stage, not just a destination.
23. The edge between architecture and landscape can be porous.
24. Landscape can be like poetry, highly suggestive and open to multiple interpretations.
25. We must put the twenty-first century city in nature rather than put nature in the city. To put a city in nature will mean using engineered systems that function as those in nature and deriving form from them.

Diana Balmori, A Landscape Manifesto (2010)

Diana Balmori + Balmori Associates, GrowOnUs (2015)



The main objectives of our activity can be described as:

– the contribution for the construction of a better World, in which the different survival logics, often antagonised, could be harmonised;

– the contribution for the collective construction of a common patrimony made of actions and its marks and signs, susceptible of provoking pleasure and astonishment;

– the contribution for keeping primary productivity and site diversity where these actions are taking place, where these signs are being printed;

– the contribution for the eradication of social injustice and the arrogance of power;

– conclusively, the contribuition for the conservation of the colective heritage, made of antropic and natural values and of a mutual understanding between people and sites.

The general methodology can be described in the following sequence:

1 – reading and de-coding signs in the landscape. Identifying relevant processes and actors. Vertical /time reading as far as documents and people’s memory allows. Analysis and de-codification are a two phase process — the immediate, intuitive, emotive and the documental, confirmative;

2 – critical reading of the proposed or envisaged, required transformation program, through the necessary evaluation of the compatibility with the site, namely its charge capacity;

3 – critical evaluation of the compatibility / susceptibility between different actors and system components;

4 – proposing a set of alternative substitution systems and forms of integrating the existing and previewed actors;

5 – evaluation of results (and eventually going back to 3.)



Joao Ferreira Nunes + PROAP, Valdebebas Urban Park Competition Winner Entry (2009)

find it on the map

Role of Beauty

Sustainable landscape design is generally understood in relation to three principles -ecological health, social justice and economic prosperity. Rarely do aesthetics factor into sustainability discourse, except in negative asides conflating the visible with the aesthetic and rendering both superfluous.

This article examines the role of beauty and aesthetics in a sustainability agenda. It argues that it will take more than ecologically regenerative designs for culture to be sustainable, that what is needed are designed landscapes that provoke those who experience them to become more aware of how their actions affect the environment, and to care enough to make changes. This involves considering the role of aesthetic environmental experiences, such as beauty, in re-centering human consciousness from an egocentric to a more bio-centric perspective. This argument in the form of a manifesto is inspired by American landscape architects whose work is not usually understood as contributing to sustainable design.

Elizabeth K. Meyer, Sustaining Beauty (2008)

Piet Oudolf, Hummelo (2017 video)



One. Dross is understood as a natural component of every dynamically evolving city. As such it is an indicator of healthy urban growth.

Two. Drosscapes accumulate in the wake of socio- and spatio-economic process of deindustrialization, post-Fordism, and technological innovation.

Three. Drosscapes require the designer to shift thinking from tacit and explicit knowledge (designer as sole expert and authority) to complex interactive and responsive processing (designer as collaborator and negotiator).

Four. The designer does not rely on the client-consultant relationship or the contractual agreement to begin work. In many cases a client many not even exist but will need to be searched out and custom-fit in order to match the designer’s research discoveries. In this way the designer is the consummate spokesperson for the productive integration of waste landscape in the urban world.

Five. Drosscapes are interstitial. The designer integrates waste landscapes left over from any form or type of development.

Six. The adaptability and occupation of drosscapes depend upon qualities associated with decontamination, health, safety, and reprogramming. The designer must act, at times, as the conductor and at times the agent of these effects in order to slow down or speed them up.

Seven. Drosscapes may be unsightly. There is little concern for contextual precedence, and resources are scarce for the complete scenic amelioration of drosscapes that are located in the declining, neglected, and deindustrializing areas of cities.

Eigth. Drosscapes may be visually pleasing. Wasteful landscapes are purposefully built within all types of new development located on the leading, peripheral edges of urbanization. The designer must discern which types of “waste” may be productively reintegrated for higher social, cultural, and environmental benefits.

Alan Berger, Drosscape. Wasting Land in Urban America (2006)

According to Berger, both “dross” – technically defined as the scum formed on the surface of molten metal and reinterpreted by Lars Lerup as the leftover of creative destruction, the ignored, undervalued, unfortunate economic residues of the metropolitan machine – and “scape” are created and destroyed by processes and values derived from, or because of cultural tastes and actions. “Drosscape” is the creation of a new condition in which vast, wasted, or wasteful land surfaces are modeled in accordance with new programs or new sets of values that remove or replace real or perceived wasteful aspects of geographical space. Drosscapes are neither intrinsically bad nor good but a natural result of consumption activities, industrial and economic growth. Indeed, waste landscape is an indicator of healthy urban growth at least from the corporate perspective – where the lure of liability reductions and tax incentives is significantly compounded by inadequate public awareness – which has stimulated the rapid development of land for short-term gains and occupancy.

Kelly Shannon, DROSSCAPE. The Darkside of Man’s Cultural Landscapes (2006)

Header: Car salvage and junkyard near Ayer, Massachusetts. (2003)


Various ways

In his remarkable essay The Beholding Eye, D. W. Meinig explores an extended definition of landscape through an analysis of the various ways in which we view landscape and the complexities of the human relation to it. He crystallizes how the landscape is freighted with competing views:

… there are those who look out upon that variegated scene and see landscape as …

Nature: amidst all this man is minuscule, superficial, ephemeral, subordinate

Habitat: what we see before us is man continuously working at a viable relationship with nature

Artifact: the earth is a platform, but all thereon is furnished with man’s effects so extensively that you cannot find a scrap of pristine nature

System: such a mind sees a river not as a river, but as a link in the hydrologic circuit

Problem: the evidence looms in almost any view: eroded hills, flooding rivers, shattered woods

Wealth: the eyes of an appraiser, assigning a monetary value to everything in view

Ideology: the whole scene as a symbol of values, the governing ideas, the underlying philosophies of a culture

History: a complex cumulative record of nature and man

Place: every landscape is a locality, an individual piece in the infinitely varied mosaic of the earth

Aesthetic: that there is something close to the essence, of beauty and truth, in the landscape.

Landscape, then, has powerful physical, environmental, economic, cultural, psychological and aesthetic components.

John Hopkins, Music-makers and the dreamers of dreams (2005)


Gillis van den Vliete, Villa d’Este Garden’s Diana of Ephesus (1568)


Sobering Thought

A sobering thought for all designers: in fact whatever designers dream up and realize affects the formal perception of landscape architecture objects only to a limited extent: (a number of other parameters, situative variables that the designer can scarcely influence, have their own very definite parts to play. These include the weather (rain, sun, dark clouds, broken cloud, heat, cold, storm, light breezes etc.), the seasons, the time of day (the incredible interplay of colours at sunrise, hard shadows at midday, the softness of twilight etc.), the number of other users (the happy school class on the main pathway, the couple on the edge of the wood etc.) but also the robin singing in the bushes or the rumbustious drunk on the adjacent bench. This list could be continued ad infinitum. All these parameters are “simply there”, are permanent and more or less simultaneously effective, but just in different forms, relating to each other at different force levels. Objects in landscape architecture simply have to let these parameters “go over their heads”, “put up with them”, sometimes “suffer them”. But often it is precisely these unpredictable elements that can create moments of intense harmony in their interplay with a designed landscape.

Perceiving form (in landscape architecture) – a right-hemisphere experience – is thus always more, and always more complex, than the things the designer really can affect. So what does the landscape architect actually do as a designer? The –admittedly materialistic– answer has to be: landscape architects distribute solid items within an area that is being worked on topographically and structurally; they design starting-points, signs, with the aim of (gently) leading and accompanying users to create form (or space).

Given the complex way in which form is perceived, we have restricted ourselves in this book to the “feasible”, to what the left hemisphere can manage to say. Above all, we have reduced the phenomenon of “landscape architecture” to make it “tangible”, “comprehensible”, in other words morphological.

We hope that it will be possible to discern this.

Stefan Bernard, In the form of open space (2003)

Atelier Loidl, West Gleisdreieck Park (2014)


Not relevant Utopia

First, there is the alienation of urban society from environmental values that embrace  both the cities and their larger regions. The technologies that sustain the modern city have touched every corner of human life, every landscape and wilderness, no matter how remote, and reinforce this isolation.

Second, little attention has been paid to understanding the natural processes that have shaped the city’s physical form and which in turn have been altered by it. In the presence of plentiful energy, the urban environment has been largely influenced by imperatives that are economic rather than environmental or social. Yet, it has become more and more apparent that the achievement of sustainable goals depends on the interdependence of environmental, social and economic determinants. The explosive growth of urban areas since the Second World War has brought about fundamental changes, not only to the physical landscape but also to people’s perceptions of land and environment. An affluent and mobile urban society takes refuge in the countryside in search of fresh air and natural surroundings that are denied at home.

Third, there are issues that concern urban processes and how we think about them. They include vast areas of inefficiently used land from urban sprawl, enormous water, energy and nutrient resources that are the by-products of urban drainage, sewage disposal and other functions of city processes. Having no perceived value, these contribute instead to the pollution loads of an overstressed environment. 

Fourth, there are questions of aesthetic values from which the city’s formal landscape has evolved. These values have little connection with the dynamics of natural process and lead to misplaced priorities. Horticultural science, not ecological processes, determines the development, form and management of the city’s open spaces. At the same time, another landscape, the fortuitous product of natural and cultural forces, flourishes without care and attention. These two landscapes symbolize a fundamental conflict of values in the perceptions of nature: the desire to nurture the one and suppress the other in a perpetual and costly struggle to maintain order and control.

Fifth, there are questions of environmental values and perceptions, and of how we respond to the environments around us. If it can be shown that there are less costly and more socially valuable ways of shaping urban landscapes than has traditionally been the norm, then we have a realistic and practical basis for action. The biologist and city planner Patrick Geddes once remarked that ‘civics as an art has to do not with imagining an impossible no-place where all is well, but making the most and the best of each and every place, especially in the city in which we live’. So utopian ideals of the perfect city set in bucolic landscapes that were once the fashion in planning and architectural philosophy are not relevant to our concerns.

Michael Hough, Cities and Natural Process (1995)

Stig L. Andersson + SLA & EFFEKT, Gellerup Urban Park (2014-2019)