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.
DI: You talked about a sort of reverse-engineered forest in the Novartis pilots and about the concrete applications of your design theories. My question would be: do you come back and revise your design database? In other words, after building your prototypes and pilots, do you check the results against your catalog of tree spacing, screen, buffer, edge?
MD: Of course, we work in both directions. Also, maintenance comes into play. Some of our projects have grown and need to be revisited, others require specific upkeep. For instance, I will likely consult on the pruning regime for the plantings of the Saint Louis Art Museum addition. Pruning sounds like a trivial matter but it is, in fact, essential to the design concept. We need to accompany the project as it evolves and matures. This also allows us to check the validity of design concepts. What works, what doesn’t work. In Bordeaux, for instance, the Parc aux Angéliques which is located on the right bank of the river Garonne, is planted with very young trees. It looks more like a nursery than it does a typical park or garden. So we have to be vigilant that our design intentions are maintained. Sometimes, of course, we realize that a certain tree spacing is not appropriate-too tight or too wide-and we revise the layout, but maintenance is a serious issue.
Several of our current public commissions are long-term and we have to be cunning. A garden is never finished and neither are our landscapes. The projects for the right bank of Bordeaux, for instance, are to be implemented over twenty years or longer. They evolve, conditions change, and we need to be present throughout this evolution, accompanying, modifying, and revising the structure. lt is ultimately a living organism that provides immense pleasure. This is a cliché, but it is very satisfying, very moving, to come back ten years later and witness growth. I don’t often speak about this aspect of my practice, but l love trees.
DI: Over the years you have acquired a landscape lexicon. You speak of agricultural traces, urban forests, tree spacing, maintenance. There is a matter-of-fact quality to these elements, precedents, and techniques. There is a near transposition from nursery to landscape in your practice. Could you speak about the relation between these working landscapes, whether pertaining to agriculture or nurseries, and your own design process?
MD: This is very important. I see the agricultural landscape as a construction site with furrows, fences, hedgerows, ditches. It is being built and it is beautiful. Similarly, nurseries are beautiful, even in the trees are very young. The appreciation of these landscapes is inherently tied to an understanding of why things are done a certain way. The other reason behind my interest in nurseries is that I hate young parks, and as a landscape architect I have to deal with young parks. Some of my fellow landscape architects’ young parks look terrible. You could use the image of ugly babies. You see lawn and young trees, and with some imagination, you can foresee how this and that tree will look in a century and how this park could develop over time, but in my lifetime, it will not look like much. Light fixtures and fancy furniture prematurely announce this future park, but now, it’s like a big baby wearing accessories or jewelry. I love that image! So, to go back to your question, I imported the vocabulary of nurseries to deal with this question of young parks. Maybe they become old nurseries instead of big babies, but they have an immediate presence. I can work with this material: the plantings can be cut, if necessary, burned, or shaped. These plantings have a presence.
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?
This is where landscape as an idea, an operative agenda, and a set of material dynamics offers potent ways forward. Landscape has the capacity to mark time, initiate transformation, adapt to ongoing inputs (whether physical, environmental, political, or bureaucratic), and engage multiplicity and indeterminacy in productive ways. In so doing, landscape as a mode of thinking and operating shares characteristics with systems ecology, which describes the environment as always in a state of change, constantly adapting to evolving circumstances and inputs. Ecological health is now defined more in terms of an organism’s or ecosystem’s ability to change and adapt rather than to embody a particular idealized state or form. By extension, we might apply landscape and ecological thinking to Lerup’s metropolis-in-motion and discover new starting points for instigation and intervention that help to reimagine and reframe the 21st-century metropolis moving forward.
Retooling, then, is as much conceptual as it’s physical and operative. It invokes an imaginative rethinking of what constitutes the meitropolis 20-some years after Lerup. It entails speculation about design intervention that can physically reshape territory at both the site and urban scale. And it embraces time and indeterminacy in creative and productive ways, allowing for catalytic actions that play off and redirect, the dynamics of an extended metropolitan landscape and its formational systems-in-action.
Chris Reed, Rethinking a Reformulated Metropolis (2017)
A burgeoning literature over the last few decades suggests that access to green space and natural environments may offer health benefits that not only contribute to reductions in ill health as measured by publicly available health data but, perhaps just as importantly, offer opportunities for people to manage their own health and cope with illness. This view of the landscape as therapeutic or palliative is one that has resonated historically and has been discussed both in relation to particular landscapes chosen or designed for their therapeutic qualities and in relation to more everyday landscapes within and around the urban environment. (…)
In this context, it is interesting to note how consistently, in the westernised world at least, we associate the landscape with health benefit and positive feelings, perhaps reflecting our urban lifestyles and a romanticised attitude to a natural environment that is often hard to access in practice. But this was certainly not always true historically, and there are many parts of the world where the natural environment still offers many hazards, from floods and landslides to wild animals and disease vectors, some of which may return to challenge the developed world more forcefully under climate change. This is no doubt one of the foundations for the widespread evocation of an idealised landscape across many different cultures and geographical zones, from the Buddhist gardens of Amida to the Persian paradise tradition that has influenced so much of our Eurasian garden culture. Throughout history, it seems that people (perhaps only a privileged few) have evoked gardens that were not merely practical places for growing things but gardens of sensory delight and an idealised version of ‘nature’, that excluded the unpleasant, the dangerous and the unwelcome.
What does this mean for the kinds of landscapes we want and need in our urbanised world today, to enhance the health of all people, regardless of ability, income or ethnicity? Well-managed gardens have been attractive as a private retreat from time immemorial and still seem to offer something important, recognised by widely varying groups of people. The restrictions that can be placed on access to private gardens allow some aspects of the paradise garden to endure: the idea that it is a safe and secure place, where the natural world is carefully managed but nonetheless experientially rich. This is perhaps especially important as a resource for the very young and the very old, and for people with some kinds of impairment or illness and those who care for them.
By contrast, public parks (like urban squares) have been popular since the nineteenth century as a place to meet (or at least observe) diversity and difference, to encounter groups and individuals who may be like us or very different from us. They are therefore important both as a place for offering some public version of the paradise garden, a comparatively safe haven in a managed, natural world, but also a place that offers some of the positive qualities of the city. They allow us to enjoy the pleasures of meeting with family or friends in attractive surroundings, regardless of the constraints of the buildings in which we live. They allow us a place and a context where we can get away from people, too, if we want to be alone and with space around us. And, they also allow us to watch from a distance those whom we don’t know or have connections with, to get a sense of the ‘other’ in society, without having to engage at a personal level. On top of this, they offer a natural (if managed) environment for multi-sensorial experience. In human evolutionary terms, they are a very recent phenomenon, and perhaps we are still coming to terms with what they mean for the anthropogenic age, but they may be important as the only green or natural spaces with which many people have contact, and therefore play a prime role in our future development, both individually and as a species.
This brings me to ‘wild’ or semi-natural areas, sometimes still contained within urban areas but more often on the fringes or in the more remote countryside. These have performed different roles in recent history, from liminal areas of informal activity to places for nature study or where people can encounter physical (and psychological) challenge of a different sort from most that the city can offer. Such places can offer a sense of being immersed in the wider order of natural things, a very powerful experience for some. Such an experience can engender a spiritual response or a feeling of the transcendent—a feeling rarely experienced by many in an increasingly secular society—that seems to be appreciated all the more for its sense that we are just a small part of something much bigger and beyond our imagination or full comprehension.
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.
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)
Floods. Droughts. Cyclones (hurricanes and typhoons). Tornados. Tsunamis. Wildfires. Volcanic eruptions. Landslides. Earthquakes. World news brings the calamities of natural disasters from all corners of the planet close to home via newspapers, television, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Meanwhile, the travesties of outright man-made disasters through armed conflict continue to flare across continents and threaten global security. Both are devastating, bring death and wreak havoc on the built and natural environment. The Norwegian Refugee Council Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC-IDMC) reported that in 2013, 22 million people were driven from their homes through a combination of mega and small natural disasters_three times more than through war and conflict in the same period. The risk of such disasters is also rising, outpacing population growth and even rapid urbanization. Global population has doubled since the 1970s and urban concentrations have tripled since that time, particularly in vulnerable countries. IDMC director, Alfredo Zamudio, claimed that ‘most disasters are as much man-made as they are natural. Better urban planning, flood defenses, and building standards could mitigate much of their impact’. (…)
Clearly, the profession has an increasingly important role to play. Preparedness for impending disasters and the reduction of environmental risk is well within the purview of design. Landscape architects can work across scales to build resilience into landscapes and territories before disasters can happen, and develop various projects that mitigate risks and adapt to vulnerability and exposure.
‘The cartography of Europe arose from the possibilities, the observed horizons of human feet’, wrote George Steiner in his beautiful essay The Idea of Europe (2004). The three young landscape architects that started a new office together after their studies at Wageningen University have followed the tradition of manipulating landscapes for human life, but do so in a very different way. For their generation nature and landscape have become complex, especially in the densely populated Netherlands. ln this field the challenges range from the realization of Main Ecological Structures to the integration of ever expanding business parks. It is about the cultural landscape, the loss of biodiversity and the meaning of exotic species. The designand regeneration of (metropolitan) parks is high on any municipal agenda, just like the design of wind farms, or the excessive growth of a tourist infrastructure that replaces agricultural production through consumption of the landscape.
All these claims, which also imply change, hardly fit with the Arcadian and Eden-like nature and landscape ideals that still control our thoughts: above all, landscape should be beautiful. But thus desired harmony conflicts with the news items newspapers present us: Q fever in goats that results in their destruction alongside the ‘hugability’ of the national pet show. We read about Chimpanzee meat at local African markets and participate in discussions about the bio-industry and pig flats. Some plea for a more responsible approach to food consumption and for the role landscape and energy play in this, especially in the city, close to home. Public debates reveal a deep schism between the differing views and practices with regard to concepts such as wilderness and natural process. The same applies to the concepts of city as landscape, as nature. Scientists’ research on the world of nature also betrays cultural preferences: large mammals are by far favoured in science, while insects and micro-organisms (the largest in number on our planet) are the least popular. Jeff Corwin and Dave Salmoni’s nature programs on Animal Planet project illusions and expectations about nature and its accessibility. In the epoch of the Anthropocene we are able to make anything, do everything or not do anything.
Have all of us in this highly urbanized world become ‘outsiders’ who have an estranged relationship with nature and landscape, or show an ambiguous attitude? Have landscapes and nature become products for consumption and projection, or is it still possible to get to know their inner being’? Our gaze is rooted in the discovery of the linear perspective and relies on idealization in literature, films or postcards. By means of our gaze, the landscape has turned into a measurable spatial unit that can be experienced but also contaminated or destroyed. All of these phenomena in our world are signs that, to us, the landscape is ambiguous. Although as urbanites we do not want to bean integral part of the landscape, we still wish to maintain an uninterrupted relationship with this very same landscape that determines our individual and common identity. We prefer denying any human interference and we commit ourselves to true nature and wilderness, which we do, however, have to make and manage. Developments continue to take place in the linear progress of time, but the need for inner time, of space and silence, is growing.