Industrial Sublime

At Gas Works Park, the industrial works and the waste burial mound were transfigured through site design into aesthetic objects. This was achieved, first, through masking their presence with a thick, green wall separating the parking lot from the park, and then through juxtaposing silhouetted towers in the foreground with the city in the distant background. These objects were made heroic by their isolation and lack of of functional context. They evoked the technological sublime awe of our ability both to control nuture, space, and time through technology and to create magnificent forms clearly expressive of that control.

Elizabeth K. Meyer, Seized by Sublime Sentiments (1998)

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seattle-gas-works-park-1gasworks1 img_6675img_0793_edited-1 Haag; GasWorks Park; Seattle; WA courtesy Richard Haag Associate 10006585213_ca15f16aab_z Richard Haag, Gas Works Park (1972)

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Industrial Sublime

Toxic Discourse

Large Parks on disturbed sites should be recognized as landscapes of consumption as well as production. It is tempting for designers of large parks built on abandoned industrial sites to heroicize the buildings and machines that remain. Such strategies, however, privilege the histories of production over the histories of consumption that are also embedded in such sites. This allows visitors to distance themselves from the histories of human, material, and chemical flows on and off the site, and to limit their own culpability in and responsability for such histories.(…)

Toxic discourse is an expression of a collectivity of consumer-citizens who perceive their environment through the lens of uncertainty and risk. Disturbed sites are byproducts of economic policies that viewed nature as a resource and that accepted environmental degradation as the inevitable consequence of technological progress. The experience of designed landscapes on and in disturbed sites can render visible the consequences of the economic, political, and social decisions that led to those risks.

Elizabeth K. Meyer, Uncertain Parks: Disturbed Sites, Citizens and Risk Society (2007)

10369986_619454298189906_8759324547411185758_nEdouard Manet, Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1863)

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Collectif 6, Déjeuner sur l’herbe version

Toxic Discourse

Open-Ended

Many design critics and theorists, including me, have commented on the shift from spatial to temporal preoccupations in landscape theory and practice since the late 1980’s. More recently, more premiated entries in large parks competitions, from Landshaftpark Duisburg-Nord, to Fresh Kills, to Downsview Park, have employed design strategies that exploited the temporal qualities of the landscape as a dynamic, performative, open-ended process medium.

Elizabeth K. Meyer, Uncertain Parks: Disturbed Sites, Citizens and Risk Society (2007)

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James Corner + Field Operations, Fresh Kills (2000)

Open-Ended

Site-Readings

How could one design for a site seen only in photographs taken by someone else? Impossible. Site analysis, at a large scale and recorded through detached rational mappings, has given way to site readings and interpretations drawn from first-hand experience and from a specific site’s social and ecological histories. These site-readings form a strong conceptual beginning for a design response, and are registered in memorable drawings and mappings conveying a site’s physical properties, operations, and sensual impressions.

Elizabeth K. Meyer, Site Citations: The Grounds of Modern Landscape Architecture (2005)

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Julie Bargmann + D.I.R.T., Vintondale Reclaimation Park (1995-2004)

Site-Readings

Coffin

disingwhitnature Some years later, however, another nail in the coffin of the designed landscape was drilled: the publication of Ian McHarg’s Design with Nature, which cited the natural world as the only viable model for landscape architecture. This text provided landscape architects with both an analytical method and sufficient moral grounds to avoid almost completely decisions of form and design -that is, if design is taken as the concious shaping of landscape rather than its stewardship alone. McHarg emphasized the evolving study of natural ecology and remained within the bounds of natural processes and planning. A strong moral imperative underpinned the discourse; it mixed science with evangelism -a sort of ecofundamentalism. In his writtings and lectures, McHarg took no prisoners and allowed no quarter.

Marc Treib, Nature Recalled (1999)

I believe that works of landscape architecture are more than designed ecosystems, more than strategies for open-ended processes. They are cultural products with distinct forms and experiences that evoke attitudes and feelings through space, sequence and form. Like literature and art, images and narratives, landscape architecture can play a role in building sustained public support for the environment. Geographer Denis Cosgrove underscores this in his book, Social Formation and Symbolic Landscape, when he argues that cultural products such as works of landscape architecture can change human consciousness as well as modes of production like the neo-liberal capitalism that characterizes late 20th- and early 21st- century American society and that is so at odds with human, regional and global health. So while I do not believe that design can change society, I do believe it can alter an individual’s consciousness and perhaps assist in restructuring her priorities and values.

Elizabeth K. Meyer,  Sustaining Beauty (2008)

Coffin