Anita de la Rosa de Berrizbeitia (1957- ) Venezuelan American landscape theorist, teacher, and author. She is currently Professor of Landscape Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture.
All landscape is reuse, whether through the intervention of human action or through the earth’s continual formation in a process that, in the words of geologist James Hutton, ‘has no vestiges of a beginning, nor prospects of and end’. Acting in parallel, human and non-human agents work to remake the surface of the earth and its ecosystems, though on different material and temporal scales and with different impacts, often working against each other. Thus, it is not possible to ‘discard’ landscape, only to reuse it. Continual formation and reformation is central to Georg Simmel’s definition of landscape. In his 1913 essay ‘Philosophy of Landscape’, he defines it as a subset of that which is not divisible: nature. In the tension between landscape’s claim for autonomy against ‘the infinite interconnectedness of objects, the uninterrupted creation and destruction of forms’, a boundary, says Simmel, is essential. In this essay I posit that to construct this tension between the discrete and the continuous, and to make its representation visible, is both the work of design and the work of criticism in the age of global disruption.
In the intervening century since the publication of Simmel’s essay, capitalism has advanced to form a globally interconnected and undifferentiated world. Many boundaries have disappeared while others have been formed as economies and priorities shift, as the strength of the institutions that sanction landscape wanes, as nature’s entropic forces soften its structures. Still, it must be emphasized, landscapes continue to be an act of will, a social product that registers the conflicts, the diverse interests, the tensions and the pressures that act on it. As such, landscapes do not just appear on their own, they must be simultaneously created, kept, maintained, and protected through institutions and governance. In this way they are demarcated, strongly or more subtly.
A surface is a living system with its own structure and cycles of production. It is a performative medium that conveys water and supports organisms like bacteria, fungi, plants, and animal life. It is the result of processes that take place under it such as the decomposition of rocks and their migration upwards from the depth of the ground. It is also the result of processes that take place over it like erosion caused by wind, water, and human activity. It responds to external systems like climactic patterns that evolve in their own composition. In its biological sense, the surface in landscape architecture is less a boundary and more a zone of connectivity. It is a place where vegetational, hydrological, and soil systems interact.
Large urban parks are complex and diverse systems that respond to processes of economic growth and decay, to their own evolving ecology, to shifts in demographics and social practices, and to changes in aesthetic sensibilities. Because of their size (defined here as having at least 500 acres in area) their location (often close to dense urban environments!, and their site histories (such as former industrial zones that need remediation to make them suitable for recreation), these parks require a process-driven design approach that does not intend to provide a definitive plan for the site as much as it seeks to guide its transformation into a public recreational space. Because the design and construction of large parks take years, if not decades—often with changes in public administration and funding in the interim, and lengthy public processes that require ongoing revisions—designs are open-ended, incorporating diverse approaches and uneven levels of intervention and management. They focus on frameworks that adapt to changing conditions rather than forms composed to conform to an aesthetic whole.
Yet for all their susceptibility to the ebb and flow of urban circumstances, large parks remain fundamental to cities, not only because they take on infrastructural and ecological functions displaced from densely built centers but because they are distinct, memorable places. They absorb the identity of the city as much as they project one, becoming socially and culturally recognizable places that are unique and irreproducible. Those large public parks that we are continuously drawn to as designers, ones that have captured the imagination of writers, artists, social historians, and philosophers, and that continue to be used intensely centuries after their making, have in common seemingly contradictory characteristics: they are flexible, adaptive, socially dynamic, emerging sites, and they are also visually powerful, unforgettable places. They are the product of deliberate decisions that leave them open-ended in terms of management, program, and use, and they result from equally conscious decisions that isolate, distill, and capture for the long term that which makes them unique. This chapter examines the relationship between process and place. More specifically, it explores how process-based practices, those that leave the site open to contingency and change—a contemporary requisite of large and complex sites—also incorporate strategics that accentuate a place’s enduring qualities.
Perhaps the most meaningful break that the Bos Park makes with the pictorial tradition is, then, the proposition that design itself is the establishment of a working method, a system operations informed by scientiﬁc analysis (hydrology, forestry, social sciences) and aimed toward concrete applications (reclamation, shelter, recreation). What is significant here is that the working method and the technical means themselves are unveiled and incorporated into the final appearance of the park, giving it its artistic logic and meaning. Composition as a passive practice is rejected in favor of construction as an active process. The park is the result of the conditions of its own making. (…)
Loss of Form. The distribution of forest, open lawn, and water in an all-over pattern that fills the space of the site results in a “loss of form”——that is, in a loss of figuration of the voids (open lawns) against the mass (forest). Instead, there is a superimposition of four systems -woodland, lawns, water, and elements- that equally contribute to and reiterate the spatial experience. No layer is subordinate to the others; each is coopted to have equal presence in the landscape.