People and Place

Landscape associates people and place. Danish landskab, German landshaft, Dutch landschap, and Old English landscipe combine two roots. “Land” means both a place and the people living there. Skabe and schaffen mean “to shape”; suffixes -skab and -schaft as in the English “-ship,” also mean association, partnership. Though no longer used in ordinary speech, the Dutch schappen conveys a magisterial sense of shaping, as in the biblical Creation.

Anne Whiston Spirn, The Language of Landscape (1998)

Carlo Scarpa Price for Gardens, The Tea Gardens of Dazhangshan  (2019)



Traditionally, for example in French formal gardens of the Baroque era, landscape architects intended to control and tame nature or to enhance its beauty by manipulating temporal qualities and slowing change. ln contrast, in the nineteenth century, as Frederick Law Olmsted and H. W. S. Cleveland were defining the emerging practice of landscape architecture, they often took a different stance, acknowledging and working with characteristics of time and change. This work was furthered by designers into the early twentieth century. However, by the mid-century, such approaches were viewed with less enthusiasm as modernism and issues of professionalism sought to read landscape design as a form of architectural design. This approach discounted the ephemeral and dynamic nature of the landscape medium, instead describing projects as formally determined, rigid spatial scenarios.
Inflexible, expensive, and maintenance-intensive solutions designed to withstand time resulted. (…) [T]he Parterre Garden at the Kempinski Airport Hotel in Munich, Germany, designed by Peter Walker and Partners in collaboration with the local Rainer Schmidt Landscape Architecture firm, and built in the mid-1990s. This public garden, characterized by two overlapping orthogonal grid systems and the use of highly manicured elements, represents a contemporary, yet traditionally designed, formally-determined and static high-maintenance project. Such a landscape type, conceived to remain static over time, fails to balance placemaking and the visual-spatial with processuality.
Emphasizing a common problem with such stable and artistic approaches to landscape design, the landscape architect Anne Whiston Spirn stresses that “[a]rchitects and landscape architects tend to focus not on process, but on form and material; when designs fail to be substantiated in the real world, it is ohen because designers ignore the processes that shape them during and after construction”. (…)
A strong focus on indeterminacy and adaptability can work against the creation of well-crafted, usable landscapes. Thus, the key question at hand is: how much process is too much process? How do we as designers strike a project-appropriate balance between the potentially conflicting design goals of process and placemaking?
First, let us briefly examine the dimension of time. Many elements in natural and designed landscapes mark time in space. Sundials are the most literal example of such a materialization of time. Time itself however, is invisible to humans-we cannot sense it. Since antiquity, philosophers, artists, and scientists have worked to explain the interrelated concepts of space and time. Barbara Adam, a British expert in the area of socio-environmental time, notes that “[n]ature, the environment and sustainability… are not merely matters of space but fundamentally temporal realms, processes and concepts. Their temporality… is far from simple and singular”.
Similarly, in “The Temporality of` the Landscape,” social anthropologist Tim Ingold reminds us of a key characteristic of the medium we work with. He insists that “the landscape is never complete: neither ‘built’ nor ‘unbuilt,’ it is perpetually under construction”.

Judith Stilgenbauer, Processcapes: Dynamic Placemaking (2015)

Peter Walker + PWP Landscape Architecture, Hilton Hotel (former Kempinski) Gardens (1994)




Sorensen’s works are profoundly humane. They are comfortable. The needs of people are not neglected for the ends of art. Often what first appears as a rigid geometric structure is actually quite flexible in its use (Kampmann, Kalundborg, Naerum). Even his most monumental projects, such as Kongenshus Mindepark, do not dwarf the human, but keep the human at the center.

The places Sorensen created are enlivened by the people who use them. He frequently crafted an artful framework that he intended the users to employ and transform, this is part of the strength of the allotment gardens in Naerum (1948), for example. In this sense, Sorensen anticipated performance art and the public projects of Lawrence Halprin, such as the Portland Fountains of the 1960s.

When Sorensen retired from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 1963, a new wave of concerns was sweeping over the School and society. The new generation rejected formal art and the traditions of garden design and focussed upon social function and politics. This Sorensen could not comprehend. Although a formalist, he had never abandoned a concern for people and for larger social issues. This is especially important to remember now, in a period when gardens are once again being regarded as an art form. Today, many landscape artists forget that gardens are a social, as well as a spatial, art.

Anne Whiston Spirn, Introduction to C. Th. Sørensen landscape modernist (2001)

Carl Theodor Sørensen, Aarus University Campus (1965)



The language of landscape is our native landscape. Landscape was the original dwelling; humans evolved among plants and animals, under the sky, upon the earth, near water. Everyone carries that legacy in body and mind. Humans touched, saw, heard, smelled, tasted lived in, and shaped landscapes before the species had words to describe what it did, Landscapes were the firsts human texts, read before the invention of other signs and symbols. Clouds, wind, and sun were clues to weather, ripples and eddies signs of rocks and life under water, caves and ledges promise of shelter, jeaves guides to food; birdcalls warnings of predators. Early writing resembled landscape; other languagess -verbal, mathematical, graphic -derive from the language of landscape.

The language of landscape can be spoken, written, read, and imagined. Speaking and reading landscape are by products of living -of moving, mating, eating- and strategies of survival -creating refuge, providing prospect, growing food.

Anne Whiston Spirn, The Language of Landscape (1998)

To restore the Mill Creek neighbourhood requires an understanding of how it came to be, how the built landscape evolved, through what processes and actions, when, and which of its features have had a sustained impact on their surroundings over time. I use the word landscape in its original sense in English and Nordic languages—the mutual shaping of people and place—to encompass both the population of a place and its physical features: its topography, water flow and plant life; its infrastructure of streets and sewers; its land uses, buildings and open spaces. The urban landscape is shaped by rain, plants and animals, human hands and minds. Rain falls, carving valleys and soaking soil. People mould landscape with hands, tools and machines, through law, public policy, the investing and withholding of capital, and other actions undertaken hundreds or thousands of miles away. The processes that shape landscape operate at different scales of space and time: from the local to the national, from the ephemeral to the enduring.

Beyond Ourselves

When we neglect natural processes in city design, we not only risk the intensification of natural hazard and the degradation of natural resources, we also forfeit a sense of connection to a larger whole beyond ourselves.

Anne Whiston Spirn, The Granite Garden (1988)



Ridley Scott, Blade Runner (1982)

Express Meaning

The artful shaping of the landscape to serve human purposes at whatever scale, from the garden to the region, entails an understanding of the human and the natural worlds, in both an empirical and a metaphysical sense. Landscape architects must confront nature as discrete elements of rocks and trees and nature as Idea (naturel Nature). In designing the landscape we extract natural features from their context and reorder them to serve human purposes. At times we attempt to imitate or reproduce natural processes and forms, at times we abstract or echo those processes and forms, and at times we superimpose a sharply contrasting order. This do to express meaning.

The concern for nature that is at the core of landscape architecture yields a sense for temporal and spatial scales that distinguishes it from related fields. The landscape comprises a spectrum of scales; it is rarely as enclosed and self-contained as a but is continuous, linked to other distant landscapes by the movement of air, earth, water, and living organisms, including humans. The landscape is also dynamic, evolving continually in time. Unless a landscape design is comprised of inert materials, it is thus never complete, but continues to change perceptibly month by month, year by year.

Anne Whiston Spirn, Nature, Form, and Meaning: Guest Editor’s Introduction (1988)

William Wenk + Wenk Associates, Shop Creek Restoration (1989)