Parametric Design

The initial design for the park was developed through iterative analog diagramming, which was then replicated and expanded with the use of parametric software. Systematic urban analysis was performed on the site, evaluating land use, park usage, circulation patterns, tree conditions, and drainage systems. To resolve these interrelated variables, the design team utilized four material systems: an expandable, modular paving system; large sloping meadows; vegetated infiltration basins; and low retaining walls to mediate between paving and planted areas. Site research was also conducted, on multiple days and at different times, to determine both points of entry and desire lines. The design team then mapped these points and movement vectors and created the final design from their interpretation. The points were connected with a central pathway that thickened to support programs and amenities. The design process then proceeded through a hybrid of analog and digital techniques. Utilizing a combination of blend tools, manual adjustments, and hand drawings allowed for idiosyncratic moments while conforming to a robust formal rule set based on environmental, spatial, and material logic. Corrections and adjustments to the design were always performed by hand-drawn overlays. Physical models were created to develop the paving patterns and wall profiles. (…)

The primary determinants of the formal design decisions were driven by a hierarchy of circulation patterns, access points, social nodes, existing trees and structures to retain. By linking these points with a single path, the design forms a consistent linear promenade along the length of the park while allowing for lateral crossings across the park. Major and minor plazas are formed at key junctures through the thickening and thinning of the path to accommodate but also to allow for unanticipated appropriation. In the initial design phase, these decisions were made through intuitive understanding of the parameters of the site and embedded in an analog rule set that guided design decisions. In further research we have codified the relationship between the spatial logics of the design and the material logics of the tectonic, in a parametric algorithm.

Sin título

David Fletcher + Fletcher Studio, San Francisco South Park (2017)



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.

Dorothée Imbert, A Landscape Inventory. Michel Desvigne Paysagiste (2018) 

Michel Desvigne and Christine Dalnoky, Square des Boleaux (1989-1992)



Taxonomy is both the science of classification and the language of botany. As a science, it facilitates identification, evaluation and specification by comparing shared and common qualities. As a language, taxonomy provides a Latin name for the plant, or a binomial label that systematizes across cultural and physical divides. Thus, the science of classification increases our understanding of the plant while the language of botany expands scholarship, generating a coherent global currency. This familiarity is recognized through evidence contained in a herbaria specimen. At once a science, a language, and an artifact, taxonomy establishes confidence that the natural World is known and that knowledge can be fixed. Each authoritative procedure informs our capacity to exploit, as plants are bought, sold, traded and specified through the exacting terms of taxonomy.
Landscape architects rely on the orders of taxonomy to shape planted environments. Although plant taxonomists and landscape architects share a common interest in the natural world, techniques and outcomes vary tremendously. Landscape practices depend upon familiarity with living plants, rather than data obtained from desiccated specimens or sampling methods. Designers aim to make their make practices comprehensible to a broad public, and to transmit imagination and speculation through experience. Manipulating the location, aspect, and form of an individual plant is a known practice; just as the maneuvering of water, earth and rock underpin our profession. Yet designers seldom interrogate the mutable characteristics of science, or question established procedural orders. When confronted with plants, designers tend to digress into botanical laymen, accepting the influence of taxonomy as an expertise that lies outside their field of knowledge. This limitation also extends to other scientific discords such as native and non-native dichotomies. In other words, the Held of landscape architecture is more comfortable manipulating the tangible world (soil, water and plants) than in manipulating the theory of science. This tendency facilitates the expanding distance between design and botanical speculation, delaying the advancement of a critical agenda on plant life. Outside of formal characteristics or classificatory status, perhaps the enjoyment of plants as live organisms with particular behaviors and mutable contexts is the territory of the landscape architect.
At the core of this book is a perspective on the relationship between identification and experience, according a more effective role to the latter. While taxonomy offers a window into a rich and wide-ranging history of knowledge, the herbaria specimen has gradually expired as a useful fool for expressing the behavioral and mutable characteristics of plant life. Taxonomy continues to expand the ordering of plants, but indexes do little to advance an understanding of the relationship between plants.  Yet, the binomial and the specimen continue to feature prominently. As environmental risk escalates and ecological scales become the new norm for sites, novel and experimental directions in planting are required in response. How can plant life re-engage with human knowledge through this thick tangle of cultural and scientific history?

Rosetta S. Elkin, tiny taxonomies at the Jardins du Métis Festival (2016)




Since the 1990s, the landscape field has reinvented itself in different guises including, but not limited to: landscape-as-art, landscape urbanism and landscape infrastructure. Each of these frameworks combines new ways of thinking about the city as an environmental system with varying emphases on form, performance, and program. Further, technological advances in digital terrain modeling, Google Earth, diagramming, and the use of computer programs to generate photorealistic perspectives have all changed the content of landscape architectural design processes and content.

Beyond technology, the field has been expanded and enriched by an expanded understanding of process derived from evolving ecological theory, including the systems-based emphasis of landscape ecologists such as Eugene Odum, who developed the modern notion of ecology as an integrated discipline. Odum’s work has provided a ground for further evolution in the topic by Richard T.T. Forman, Steward Pickett, Steven Handel, and Nina-Marie Lister, among many others. This emphasis provides a crucial corrective to the traditional, interventionist mode of landscape architecture and the emphasis on ecological systems in this vein can to be further enriched with an equal attention to sociology and political science. Moving forward, we need to think analytically about the interconnectedness of social and physical systems, knit these strands together, and derive new territories for action.

Kate Orff, Toward an Urban Ecology: SCAPE / Landscape Architecture (2016)

Kate Orff + SCAPE and Richard Misrach, Petrochemical America (2009)


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)



Rather than traditional

Working in collaboration with muf architecture/art and Objectif, Making Space in Dalston is a project concerning an alternative approach to regeneration. It evolved a process of communication and action research to help develop a shared vision with residents, businesses and local organizations.

The project looked at how more public space could be created without losing the existing qualities of the neighbourhood. A key concern was how to embrace change while nurturing the self-organising distinctiveness of Dalston that is inherent in both its social capital and physical character.

Rather than a traditional top-down master plan, the project set out to identify projects through dialogue from grassroots up. The stakeholders themselves became the driving force and promoters of change.

A total of 76 projects were identified in 10 themes, through discussion with almost 200 individuals or groups. Projects were either permanent or temporary. Some were termed ‘meantime’ projects in space awaiting development.

Johanna Gibbons, Making Space in Dalston (2012)

Here we have a little description of how to make a project getting rid of the concept of the unity of design: instead of having a one-concept transformation Gibbons purposes to scatter the action into many that will respond to little desires and wills so, instead of having a part of the users in favor and other against a big bet, we’ll have many elements that are more able to approach people’s desires and complex opinions. We’ll get a more adaptable result too, and an extra learning of the design process. All those benefits will come just living without the big discourse of unity in creation. This way to understand the creative process without the strength of the author’s assertion could have to do with what we are talking about when we speak about the necessary “feminist turn” in the discipline.

Johanna Gibbons + Muf Art/Architecture, Making Space in Dalston (2012)



Take One Creative, Stone River: The Passion of Jon Piasecki (2011)

 I built this project by myself. There were no other laborers.  I hammered each stone joint and moved each stone down the path on a small wooden cart. I transferred tens of tons of gravel and sand as a setting bed with a wheelbarrow and I moved nearly 400 tons of stone in the wall and as paving over the 800-foot length of the path. I opened the existing stonewall, chose the course of the path within it and rejoined the residual wall stone in such a way that the path appears to have grown organically within this stonewall where it resides. I was able to personally lay stones so as to avoid individual clumps of ferns, standing trees, fallen logs and existing stones with mossy growths in the wall. This was done in an attempt to preserve as much as of the preexisting life of the enormous wall as possible. (…)

This project is an illustration of the labor of one person inspired to change the world. In this instance by joining stone and by making a path into the woods with great sensitivity, I am working to heal, in a small way, the rift between culture and nature that is intrinsic to our modern relationship to the land.

Today, design and fabrication are generally distinct entities. Labor is devalued.  Unknown people toil to make our things. Machines spew out the stuff of our needs and desires and the making of them dehumanizes the production class and despoils the land.  Of course the machines are essential, and some disconnect between design and fabrication is inevitable, but this project openly asks if perhaps our fascination with the virtual over the actual, or with design over build, has gone too far? I would suggest that it has and that this disconnect certainly harms nature but it endangers our humanity even more so.

The goal of this project is to integrate the visitor with nature as he or she walks along this path through the woods. I hope to help these visitors feel the life and wonder of the natural world of which we all are a part.

Jon Piasecki, Stone River (2010)



Jon Piasecki, Stone River (2010)


Why does the project result in isolation? In fact, the question has already been answered. Each project is above all the declaration of another, new future that is thought to come about once the project has been executed. But in order to build such a new future, one first has to take a leave of absence, a time in which the project shifts its agent into a parallel state of heterogeneous time. This other timeframe, in turn, disconnects from time as society experiences it –it is de-synchronized. Society’s life carries on regardless– the usual run of things remains unaffected. But somewhere beyond this general flow of time, someone has begun working on a project -writing a book, preparing an exhibition, or plotting a spectacular assassination- in the hopes that the completed project will alter the general run of things and all mankind will be bequeathed a different future: the very future, in fact, anticipated and aspired to in this project. (…)

The author of the project already knows the future, since the project is nothing other than the description of it. And this is why the approval process is so highly unpleasant to the project’s author: at the earliest stage of the submission, the author is already asked to give a meticulously detailed description of how this future will be brought about and what its outcome will be. While the project will be turned down and refused funding if the author proves incapable of doing so, successfully delivering such a precise description will also eliminate the very distance between an author and the others -a distance critical to the entire development of the project. if everyone knows from the very outset what course the project will take and what its outcome will be, then the future will no longer come as a surprise. (…)

Sartre once described the state of “being-in-the-project” as the ontological condition of human existence.  According to Sartre, each person lives from the perspective of an individual future that necessarily remains barred from the view of others. In Sartre’s terms, this condition results in the radical alienation of each individual, since everyone else can only see this individual as the result of his or hers individual, and never as heterogeneous projection from these circumstances. Consequently, the heterogeneous parallel timeframe of the project remains elusive to any form of representation in the present. Hence for Sartre, the project is tainted by the suspicion of escapism, the deliberate avoidance of social communication and individual responsibility. So it is no surprise that he also describes the subject’s ontological condition as a state of “mauvaise foi” or insincerity.

Boris Groys, Going Public (2010)

Landscape Architects of Bangkok, The Metro Forest (2014)


Distance and Engagement

Particular conception of design processes; derived from Claude Levi-Strauss’s analysis of Edgard Allan Poe’s short story of two brothers who suffered a shipwreck caused by a whirpool. During the ‘Descent into the Maelström’, one brother, in awe of his immediate circumstances, is overcome with fear and drowns (engagement); the other brother detaches himself from reality, ensuring his survival by clinging to a floating drum (distance).

Gunther Vogt cit. Alice Foxley (ed.), Distance and Engagement (2010)


1695 Novartis Campus Park_pic13




Günther Vogt, Basel Novartis Campus (2011) (Christian Vogt photos)



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?

SWA Group, Ningbo East New Town Eco-Corridor (2013-)