Hugability

‘The cartography of Europe arose from the possibilities, the observed horizons of human feet’, wrote George Steiner in his beautiful essay The Idea of Europe (2004). The three young landscape architects that started a new office together after their studies at Wageningen University have followed the tradition of manipulating landscapes for human life, but do so in a very different way. For their generation nature and landscape have become complex, especially in the densely populated Netherlands. ln this field the challenges range from the realization of Main Ecological Structures to the integration of ever expanding business parks. It is about the cultural landscape, the loss of biodiversity and the meaning of exotic species. The designand regeneration of (metropolitan) parks is high on any municipal agenda, just like the design of wind farms, or the excessive growth of a tourist infrastructure that replaces agricultural production through consumption of the landscape.

All these claims, which also imply change, hardly fit with the Arcadian and Eden-like nature and landscape ideals that still control our thoughts: above all, landscape should be beautiful. But thus desired harmony conflicts with the news items newspapers present us: Q fever in goats that results in their destruction alongside the ‘hugability’ of the national pet show. We read about Chimpanzee meat at local African markets and participate in discussions about the bio-industry and pig flats. Some plea for a more responsible approach to food consumption and for the role landscape and energy play in this, especially in the city, close to home. Public debates reveal a deep schism between the differing views and practices with regard to concepts such as wilderness and natural process. The same applies to the concepts of city as landscape, as nature. Scientists’ research on the world of nature also betrays cultural preferences: large mammals are by far favoured in science, while insects and micro-organisms (the largest in number on our planet) are the least popular. Jeff Corwin and Dave Salmoni’s nature programs on Animal Planet project illusions and expectations about nature and its accessibility. In the epoch of the Anthropocene we are able to make anything, do everything or not do anything. 

Have all of us in this highly urbanized world become ‘outsiders’ who have an estranged relationship with nature and landscape, or show an ambiguous attitude? Have landscapes and nature become products for consumption and projection, or is it still possible to get to know their inner being’? Our gaze is rooted in the discovery of the linear perspective and relies on idealization in literature, films or postcards. By means of our gaze, the landscape has turned into a measurable spatial unit that can be experienced but also contaminated or destroyed. All of these phenomena in our world are signs that, to us, the landscape is ambiguous. Although as urbanites we do not want to bean integral part of the landscape, we still wish to maintain an uninterrupted relationship with this very same landscape that determines our individual and common identity. We prefer denying any human interference and we commit ourselves to true nature and wilderness, which we do, however, have to make and manage. Developments continue to take place in the linear progress of time, but the need for inner time, of space and silence, is growing.  

Erik de Jong, Sites of Contested Meaning (2013)

 

LOLA Landscape Architecture, Lost landscape Solana Ulcinj (2013)

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Handwriting

Van Gessel’s handwriting can be found in his design process. In van Gessel’s case, this doesn’t take place in the bustling and creative hubbub of a large office, but in silence, solitude and contemplation. An environment that, in terms of design, has no distractions and is dominated by large wall expanses, light from outside, off-white, grey tints and black office furniture.

Two photographs by Bas Princen (1975) and Elgar Esser (1967) of monumental open landscapes bring space into the studio like literal signs on the wall, while at the same time functioning as symbolic images representing their importance as a constructive and aesthetic design principle. The silence of van Gessel’s studio is not disturbed by computers or screens. Van Gessel works like an artisan, by hand. Rolls of transparent drawing paper, black markers, rulers, topographical maps and a collection of ornaments are his tools. In a process of abstract selection, the elements traced from the topographical maps will later form the backbone of the design: landscape elements, infrastructure, and boundaries, all according to the landscape analysis he learned at university. These, together with observations made on site, will result in inventories, spatial analysis, or master plans.

The design process itself is selective and interpretive because annoying elements in the topographic map that van Gessel chooses to “clear away” are not incorporated in the outlines of the design’s intended image. The prints of ornaments will be placed under the transparent paper at a later stage. They form the counterpart to the straightforward outlines and represent elements of abundance within the simplified, clearly defined spatial whole. These ornaments often relate to flowerbeds in garden and park designs, and to detailed specifications for bridge parapets, garden pavilions, entrance gates and fences; they are a means to bestow spatial allure to details in the space. (…)

This handwriting metaphorically represents the effect of his intuitive imagination as well as his analytical design approach. They embody preferences, ideas and strategies that consciously or unconsciously, calculatedly or intuitively influence his work. Van Gessel says that he is not a theoretician. We cannot pluck his design views from handy pamphlets or published works he himself has written; we have to extrapolate them from his drawn designs, the accompanying commentaries, and finished projects and from articles and interviews. They consist of a number of recurrent basic principles and are elucidated by looking at the variety of typologies in his work.

Christian Bertram, Erik de Jong, Analysis and Intuition Designing Landscapes (2008)

Michael Van Gessel, Twickel Estate (2011)

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