Placeless design

One of the challenges of contemporary landscape architecture is the globalization of place. Nowhere is the threat of homogenization more apparent than in places vulnerable to change, where the potential loss of heritage fabric rings alarm bells. St. Petersburg is one such place, a UNESCO World Heritage site and a city which had existed outside of the excesses of late 20th-century Westernisation owing to its sequestration inside the Soviet Union. The city is changing in response to exposure to the West, and this could be a cause for concern, a worry that the city will become just another ‘placeless’ place. However, we argue that this is a superficial reading and that in looking more deeply into the history and culture of St. Petersburg, a legacy of borrowing from elsewhere is revealed. Moreover, the aspirations for global ideals are not necessarily ‘placeless’, as we illustrate through the ways in which St. Petersburg has made the landscapes its own through the invention of tradition and a persistent sense of ‘the local’ which is indelible to change.  (…)

The emblematic view of the effects of globalization on landscape architecture is often abbreviated to discussions of the homogenizing influence of ‘placeless’ design. This ‘McDonalds’ brand of landscape design is one of the profession’s key concerns, because with the homogenization and universalization of landscape comes the loss of one of our key sources of identity as individuals and as cultures: the uniqueness of place. However, while the standardizing influence of globalization on the landscape is of great concern, it is only one aspect of a very complex issue.

Jacky Bowring et alt., ‘As good as the West’: two paradoxes of globalization and landscape architecture in St. Petersburg. (2009)

Maybe one of the most common landscapes of consumerism is the beach. You can find in all over the world, and indeed, in the populous Toronto waterfront. This globalized panorama, is not related to the site’s culture, because all in it is an ironic image of global consumerism. Everything is fake: you can’t even jump into the water, because you are on a pier, so you’ll use an urban fountain if you want to refresh yourself. Besides this, of course, after the short Summer, the image of the beach will become a kind of “détournement”: a consumerism image out of its context

Just beside this sharp exercise on globalized, Comier shows the radical opposition of real landscapes, transporting in pieces a huge rock from the Canadian ranges in an exercise that somehow, equals the surrealist effect of the pink umbrellas because at last we still are in an urban pier. This time we would be speaking about an “objet trouvé”.

The ensemble appears as a provocative reflection on identity that is pointing to the risks of essentialisms around the site.

Claude Cormier, Canada’s Sugar Beach (2010)