While the current climate crisis tightens its stranglehold on contemporary society, many are those who put their faith in groundbreaking design and artistic innovation. As a side effect of the climate threat, this renewed celebration of creative agency may be welcome, not the least from a landscape architecture perspective since, in the context of sustainable development, every design action is also a landscaping gesture with environmental implications. Nevertheless, isolated from a broader societal context, these new eco-scapes risk ending up as nothing but attractive emerald patches disguising a sprawling global ‘junkspace’. As an expanded field of aesthetic and political agency, however, the emerging sustainability culture offers new perspectives on creative spatial practice. Approaching the environmental issue from the perspective of contemporary landscape related art practices, this article seeks to contribute to the articulation of a landscape aesthetics that would meet the requirements of our agitated time. Such articulation, however, requires a reconsideration of landscape aesthetics beyond the consoling and beautiful, as well as a fundamental shift in landscape thinking from representation to agency. The future eco-scape is not necessarily a sphere where you feel ‘at ease’, but a performative and unsettled space in constant transformation and change.
(Upper image: James Corner with Prince William and the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson (now Prime Minister) visiting the Queen Elizabeth Olimpic Park in London, (Field Operations Website)
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 Freshkills, 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)
James Corner + Field Operations, Freshkills (2000-)
Landscape Urbanism describes a disciplinary realignement currently underway in which landscape replaces architecture as the basic building block of contemporary urbanism. For many, across a range of disciplines, landscape has become both the lens through which the contemporary city is represented and the medium through which is constructed.
Charles Waldheim, Landscape as Urbanism (2006)
Consider that landscape urbanism does not exist; that it is nothing more than an advertising campaign intended to promote the writings of its authors, helping them sell books and get promoted. It is another manifesto for a discipline overrun with manifestos. It will soon be replaced with the next forward thinking, ‘big idea’ answer for the problems plaguing contemporary urbanism.
Rather, what does exist are different ways of thinking about landscape, which come from different people, with different histories, voices and contexts.
From the beginning, this process has been about landscape. It has been about ways of thinking about landscape architecture and ways of approaching a post-industrial urbanism and trying to sew it together with places for people, culture and nature.
Leanne Muir, Mapping Landscape Urbanism (2010)
James Corner + Field Operations, Qianhai Water City (2011)
Landscape reshapes the world not only because of its physical and experiential characteristics but also because of its eidetic content, its capacity to contain and express ideas and so engage the mind. Moreover, because of its bigness – in both scale and scope – landscape serves as a metaphor for inclusive multiplicity and pluralism, as in a kind of synthetic ‘overview’ that enables differences to play out. In these terms, landscape may still embrace naturalistic and phenomenological experience but its full efficacy is extended to that of a synthetic and strategic art form …
James Corner, Eidetic Operations and New Landscapes (1999)
James Corner + Field Operations, High Line (Russ Deveau photo)