Parks are not

Parks are not the answer. Not for impoverished cities plagued with socio-economic crises that are painfully embodied in immense tracts of land abandoned by defunct industries and antiquated infrastructure. The question is: what if reframing formerly urban fallow sites as fertile ground for regeneration constitutes a means for a city to reinvent itself? When traditional redevelopment under-delivers or fails to materialize, as it often does in times of fiscal distress, can landscape architects offer resourceful design strategies that require a new way of seeing and a fresh vocabulary?

The term ‘wildland’ posited here attempts to brand cultivated urban wilds along with other unconventional landscape- based tactics to fill the gaps and dispel the stigma of disinvestment. Can wildland assume a role as healthy urban fabric, no lesser an asset than parkland? For well over a decade, notable examples in Germany invented ‘urban nature parks’ promoted by progressive planning policies to convert fallow land into productive resources for the current and future city. Yet American municipalities default to mowed lawns to keep blight at bay, albeit at a great cost. The unfortunate urge to tame urban wilds denies the reality of urban entropy and sacrifices the socio-ecological benefits that citizens could harvest from a landscape with a savage tenacity.

Julie Bargmann, Why not Wild? (2012)

GTL Gnüchtel Triebswetter Landschaftsarchitekten, Old Niddawiesen Airfield (2004)



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.

Material Imagination

The imagining powers of our mind develop around two very different axes.

Some get their impetus from novelty; they take pleasure in the picturesque, the varied and the unexpected. The imagination that they spark always describes springtime. In nature these powers, far from us but already alive, bring forth flowers.

Others plumb the depths of being. They seek to find there both the primitive and the eternal. They prevail over season and history. ln nature, within us and without, they produce seeds – seeds whose form is embedded in a substance, whose form is internal.

By speaking philosophically from the outset, we can distinguish two sorts of imagination: one that gives life to the formal cause and one that gives life to the material cause – or, more succinctly, a formal imagination and a material imaginationThus abbreviated, these concepts seem to me indispensable for a complete philosophical study of poetic creation. Causes arising from the feelings and the heart must become formal causes if a work is to possess verbal variety, the ever-changing life of light. Yet besides the images of form, so often evoked by psychologists of the imagination, there are – as l will show – images of matter, images that stem directly from matter. The eye assigns them names, but only the hand truly knows them. A dynamic joy touches, moulds and rehnes them. When forms, mere perishable forms and vain images – perpetual change of surfaces – are put aside, these images of matter are dreamt substantially and intimately. They have weight; they constitute a heart. 
Of course, there are works in which the two imagining powers cooperate. It is not even possible to separate them completely. Even the most fleeting, changing and purely formal reverie still has elements that are stable, dense, slow and fertile. Yet even so, every poetic work that penetrates deeply enough into the heart of being to find the constancy and lovely monotony of matter, that derives its strength from a substantial cause, must bloom and bedeck itself. It must embrace all the exuberance of formal beauty in order to attract the reader in the first place.

Gaston Bachelard, Imagination and Matter (1942)


Julie Bargmann + D.I.R.T., Urban Outfitters Headquarters (2011)