The Third Landscape – an undetermined fragment of the Planetary Garden -designates the sum of the space left over by man to landscape evolution – to nature alone. Included in this category are left behind urban or rural sites, transitional spaces, neglected land, swamps, moors, peat bogs, but also roadsides, shores, railroad embankments, etc. To these unattended areas can be added space set aside, reserves in themselves: inaccessible places, mountain summits, non-cultivatable areas, deserts; institutional reserves: national parks, regional parks, nature reserves.

Compared to the territories submitted to the control and exploitation by man, the Third Landscape forms a privileged area of receptivity to biological diversity. Cities, farms and forestry holdings, sites devoted to industry, tourism, human activity, areas of control and decision permit diversity and, at times, totally exclude it. The variety of species in a field, cultivated land, or managed forest is low in comparison to that of a neighboring «unattended» space.

From this point of view, the Third Landscape can be considered as the genetic reservoir of the planet, the space of the future…

Gilles Clément, The Third Landscape Manifesto (2003)

Gilles Clément + Coloco, Third Landscape Garden at St. Nazaire (2009)

FIND it on the map

Messy Ecosystems

Ecological quality tends to look messy, and this poses problems for those who imagine and construct new landscapes to enhance ecological quality. What is good may not look good, and what looks good may not be good. The distinction between function and appearance may distress idealists who regard presentation as dissembling, but it is intrinsic to the concept of design, in which each landscape is recognized as one of any number of possible designs for a particular place. Landscape architects may consult the genius of the place, but they do not expect the genius of the place to design it.

However, even designers may become strangely submissive in the face of nature’s genius, sharing in a common popular delusion that nature will speak for itself——-if only human beings will quit interrupting. A belief that nature needs no presentation and that presentation is essentially sinister in its intent leaves ecosystems highly susceptible to misunderstanding. Decades ago, Lowenthal and Prince (1965) instructed that people “see their terrain through preferred and accustomed spectacles.” As much as our affection for the cultural concept of nature would lead us to believe otherwise, people do not know how to see ecological quality directly. We know how to see ecological quality only through our cultural lenses, and through those lenses, it may or may not look like nature. Nature has come to be identified with pictorial conventions of the picturesque, a cultural, not ecological concept. More significantly, picturesque conventions have become so integral to landscape perception that we no longer are able to accept their origin in culture. Picturesque conventions seem so intrinsic to nature that they are mistaken for ecological quality.

The difference between the scientific concept of ecology and the cultural concept of nature, the difference between function and appearance, demonstrates that applied landscape ecology is essentially a design problem. It is not a straightforward problem of attending to scientific knowledge of ecosystem relationships or an artistic problem of expressing ecological function, but a public landscape problem of addressing cultural expectations that only tangentially relate to ecological function or high art. It requires the translation of ecological patterns into cultural language. It requires placing unfamiliar and frequently undesirable forms inside familiar, attractive packages. It requires designing orderly frames for messy ecosystems.

Joan Iverson Nassauer, Messy ecosystems, orderly frames (1995)

also see: Obscure the Human Act

Gilles Clément, Matisse Park (1990-1997)


Derborence Island, an inaccessible concrete structure set in the middle of Lille’s Parc Henri Matisse, is an intriguing example of recent landscape design. The park, which was completed in 1995 as part of the vast Euralille development, was designed by the French landscape architect Gilles Clément. The idea for the park is derived from several sources, including the aesthetic characteristics of uncultivated ground, the symbolic reconstruction of a fragment of primary forest and the enhancement of urban biodiversity. It is suggested that Clément’s novel synthesis of nature and culture is significantly different from prevailing discourses of landscape design and is best interpreted as a form of site-specific art. Clément’s project reveals tensions between the aesthetic and scientific significance of so-called ‘waste spaces’ in contemporary cities and the widening scope of utilitarian approaches to landscape design.

Matthew Gandy, Entropy by design: Gilles Clément, Parc Henri Matisse and the Limits to Avant-garde Urbanism (2012)

Mathematical Ideas


Gilles Clément, Garden in movement

For there is in mankind an unfortunate propensity to make themselves, their views, and their works, the measure of excellence in everything whatsoever. Therefore, having observed that their dwellings were most commodious and firm when they were thrown into regular figures, with parts answerable to each other; they transferred these ideas to their gardens; they turned their trees into pillars, pyramids, and obelisks; they formed their hedges into so many green walls, and fashioned their walks into squares, triangles, and other mathematical figures, with exactness and symmetry; and they thought, if they were not imitating, they were at least improving nature, and teaching her to know her business. But nature has at last escaped from their discipline and their fetters; and our gardens, if nothing else, declare we begin to feel that mathematical ideas are not the true measures of beauty.

Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757)

The building of a definition of the intrinsic beauty of nature and landscape beyond the shaping tendencies of its architecture is not just a very contemporary issue as we can see in Joan Iverson Nassauer’s text, but it also a long-term philosophical construct.