Distance and Engagement

Particular conception of design processes; derived from Claude Levi-Strauss’s analysis of Edgard Allan Poe’s short story of two brothers who suffered a shipwreck caused by a whirpool. During the ‘Descent into the Maelström’, one brother, in awe of his immediate circumstances, is overcome with fear and drowns (engagement); the other brother detaches himself from reality, ensuring his survival by clinging to a floating drum (distance).

Gunther Vogt cit. Alice Foxley (ed.), Distance and Engagement (2010)


1695 Novartis Campus Park_pic13




Günther Vogt, Basel Novartis Campus (2011) (Christian Vogt photos)



Seeing landscape in static terms and treating it as an aesthetic unity is a practice corresponding less and less to our reality. Today, change, caesuras and discontinuities are the dominant elements of our urban landscapes. Thus the natural/artificial dichotomy as a central design theme is becoming increasingly obsolete. When disused railways are declared protected habitats and every second park lies over a subterranean garage, artificiality loses its relevance as a theme of design.

Parallel to the disappearance of the dialectic of nature and culture which had a formative effect on the landscape architecture of the 1970s and 80s, the difference between city and landscape has also dissolved. The landscape is being urbanisedand the city scenically organised. In a landscape of places the landscape architect is faced with the task of re—siting the landscape.

Yet one frequently still sees instances in which the design of out-door public space is informed by an image of society that no longer exists. Parks seem to still be built for the upper middle class of times past, even though today a far more complex mix of groups and social strata use these parks.

Gunther Vogt, Distance and Engagement (2010)

Günther Vogt + Vogt Landschape Architects, Allianz Arena Landscape (2005)



In The Earth, the Temple, and the Gods, Vincent Scully explains the symbolic relations between sacred classic Greek architecture and the natural setting:

Not only were certain landscapes indeed regarded by the Greeks as holy and as expressive of specific gods, or rather as embodiments of their presence, but also that the temples and the subsidiary buildings of their sanctuaries were so formed in themselves and so placed in relation to the landscape and to each other as to enhance, develop, complement, and sometimes even to contradict, the basic meaning that was felt in the land.

The symbolic significance of each religious sanctuary differed from place to place, according to the specific relations between the attributes of each god and the symbolic aspects of the topography. Thus the relations between landscape and architecture were fully reciprocal in both meaning and form: the gods existed as determinate, localized entities, and the site-specihc articulation of nature and artifice were central to the theological experience. But these relations obtained in the classic Greek era, before the retreat of the gods, before the final, ironic, ontotheological, neoclassic dissimulation of God. In the classic epoch, the gods were everywhere manifested in a profoundly symbolic landscape. In the neoclassic epoch, as Pascal recounts, God surpasses the very limits of the imagination, as well as the topography of the surrounding world, resulting in the total disproportion of man. For Pascal, the visible world is but a speck within a nature that is “an infinite sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. The ubiquity of infinity, the omnipresence of God in geometric symbolization, renders all theological personification and all symbolic landscapes obsolete.
Allen S. Weiss, Unnatural Horizons. Paradox and Contradiction in Landscape Architecture (1998)

Dieter Kienast + Gunther Vogt, Fürstenwald Cementery (1996)




The bricoleur is someone who works with his hands, using devious means. His universe of instruments is closed and the rules of his game are always to make do with ‘whatever is at hand’, that is to say with a set of tools and materials which is always finite and is also heterogeneous because what it contains bears no relation to the current project, or indeed to any particular project, but is the contingent result of all the occasions there have been to renew or enrich the stock or to maintain it with the remains of previous constructions or destructions. The set of the bricoleur’smeans cannot therefore be defined in terms of a project. It is to be defined only by its potential use, because the elements are collected or retained on the principle that ‘they may always come in handy’. The bricoleur derives his poetry from the fact that he does not confine himself to accomplishment and execution: he speaks not only with things, but also through the medium of things: giving an account of his personality and life by the choices he makes between the limited possibilities. The bricoleur may not ever complete his purpose but he always puts something of himself into it.

Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Savage Mind (1962)


The author collected the responses of various architects – and, in my case, a landscape architect – to the question: how do you use your collection for designing? My way is very simple. Girls and boys have a Sunday walk, and families always collect leaves or stones and take them home like treasure. In my case it was the same. I started when I was nine years old but with a very high level of botany as I had joined a society.

Claude Levi-Strauss, the French philosopher, explains that there are two ways to design. One is bricolage – people collecting things or just using what is on the table, at hand, and then arrange that into something. And this is bottom-up designing. And the engineer is top-down. In the office we decide depending on the project: are we bricolage or are we engineer? Those kind of people that collect and arrange things – when you ask them why they collect, they say “Ah, well you never know!” So collecting can be either bottom-up or top-down. When I start a project I sometimes ask my colleagues: can you choose one of the objects of the Wunderkammer and put it on the table? So people all bring one piece. And then we discuss why they bring this piece, and this is to start a discussion about what is our first approach or priority or attitude to a new project. It can really be helpful. Then there’s more top-down work, but it starts with bottom-up.

Günther Vogt, Foreground Interview (2019)


Orizzontale, Gondwana (2012)