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?
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?
With modern Dutch urban planning’s almost religious dedication to function, every site, every millimeter, is given a specific, dedicated meaning. Planners, terrified of spatial non definition and other forms of perceived anarchy, organize the city with rigid efficiency. Easy-to-define, one-dimensional spaces and “experiences” are arrayed on the shelves of the urban super-supermarket waiting to be “bought,” consumed and shat out again by the modern city dweller. The result is a perpetual and numbing sameness. Xerox cities, urban cloning, planning laws, and regulations have jammed the city dweller’s global positioning system. His sense of address/identity has been eroded and with it the awareness of, and ability to decode, his environment. Within this contemporary landscape -a world of commerce, functionality, efficiency, and eye-candy- the rules for urban this-and-thatness have already been written in stone and are not about to be erased to satisfy the whims of designer A, B, or C. The point, then, is for landscape planners and urban designers to lose their fear of the cloned metropolis and offset the weight of repetitive similarities embracing oddity and strangeness as part of the design toolkit. The introduction of off-beat and introverted spaces, unique objects, and indefinable elements, in addition to the freedom to play with indigenous natural elements and forgotten local flavors, offers the city dweller a refresher course in the identification and definition of specific places. The tree in the middle of a concrete desert; a rock balancing precariously above a stainless steel bridge; the simplicity of a water pool as to a million marble slabs- perhaps the result of daring site manipulation become “addresses” of interest which the individual incorporates into his perpetual dream about a place of his own (different from the futile and nostalgic effort to recreate a place where he has been) a platform for exhibitionism, a world (or even just a zone) brimming with apocalyptic sensations, somewhere to relish the beauty of silence.
Adriaan Geuze’s rearrangement of the central Schouwburgplein (theatre Square) in Rotterdam created the basis for a new stage-set for various groups of young people who have claimed spots on and around the edges of the square, where they exhibit themselves with their particular lifestyles: breakdancers on the square, the parade of Antillian youngsters driving round the edge of the square in front of De Dolen concert hall and congress centre in their cars on Friday and Saturday evening, groups of young women who cluster toghether on the long benches opposite the multiplex cinema. This is how, dynamic cultural geography evolves, one in which meanings are not fixed but in an ongoing state of flux development.
This shift towards a cultural geographic approach involves a departure from the notion of absolutism in ascertaining the value of meaning of spaces. The essence of a cultural geography is precisely that analysis of the ambiguity or, in more political terms, the struggle between various meanings. Designing public domain can then become a question of stimulation of informal manifestations of diversity and the avoidance of interventions that are intended to make such manifestations impossible.
To map is in one way or another to take the measure of a world, and more than merely take it, to figure the measure so taken in such a way that it may be communicated between people, places or times. The measure of mapping is not restricted to the mathematical; it may equally be spiritual, political or moral. By the same token the mapping’s record is not confined to the archival; it includes the remembered, the imagined, the contemplated. The world figured through mapping may thus be material or immaterial, actual or desired, whole or part, in various ways experienced, remembered or projected.
Architects and industrial designers often see their designs as a final product of genius, whose aesthtic entriety originated in their minds. A design like that is thrown off by the slightest damage. Landscape architects have learnt to put that into perspective, because they know that their designs are continually adapted and transformed. We have learned to see landscape not as a “fait accompli”, but as the result of countless forces and initiatives.
Adriaan Geuze, Interview with Olof Koekebakker (1994)