Thus, long before the Earth was viewed from the moon, our perspective has changed. In a movement that seems at first contrary to ecology, we are looking according to Vidal de la Blache, at the relationship between Earth and man from a greater distance and in ever more comprehensive ways. He had already seen how phenomena in the atmosphere affect not only their immediate surroundings but also places thousands of miles away. No part of the planet exists in isolation. All of Earth’s parts are coordinated. Every local study is subject to the general laws that apply to all local studies. This fundamental unity of the planet has been recognized since antiquity, but it was only in the 19thcentury during the early stages of globalization that it found expression in human experience. Think, for instance, of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days. We scarcely realize how thin earth’s hospitable surface is –a mere veneer, at most- and how intimate our bond with it is.
Blinded by the market, which has been only too pleased to comply with the demand for more artifice and difference, architects have preferred to ignore this terrestrial unity. Buildings, we know, are responsible for some 40% of all CO2 emissions. This fact alone should prompt architects to look beyond a mere compliance with regulations and encourage them to explore the general conditions of the earth and the reciprocity between these conditions and their work.
According to Treib, the expression of meaning became so important to landscape designers in the 1980s and 1990s because they were reacting to the anti-historical bias of the Modernist movement. Although this reason alone seems insufficient, it does point to a certain time frame that includes a number of other developments.
1) We are living in a period in which design crafts of all sorts have been ratcheted up to the level of art by the assumption of a useful formula: craft +meaning = Art. This period has also been distinguished by a vehement anti-capitalist, anti-consumer rhetoric— which, ironically, keeps step with the insistent beat of consumerism. This rhetoric tends to elevate changes in style by attributing them to something more noble than mere usefulness in marketing. The implied suggestion is, frequently, that they are due to a change in meaning.
2) The main reason for increased concern with meaning probably lies in the popularity of modern and postmodern ideas—first in philosophy, then in art and literary criticism, much later in architectural criticism, and finally in landscape architectural criticism. Landscape architects vehemently dislike architectural priority, but it seems fair to wonder if landscape architecture academics would have become so determined to find meaning in landscape design, had not architecture academics led the way by finding so much meaning in architecture.
3) Our concern with meaning may also have intensified because, for the last 200 years or so, criticism of all sorts has moved from a concern with the intention of the artist to the creation of meaning by the audience. In so doing criticism has, not surprisingly, privileged the theorist and the critic—who always use words to articulate meaning—over such creators as novelists, poets, painters, and so forth, who generally have other arrows in their quivers besides logical, discursive, articulated meaning.
A landscape is a cultural image, a pictorial way of representing, structuring or symbolising surroundings. This is not to say that landscapes are immaterial. They are represented in a variety of materials and on many surfaces – in paint on canvas, in writing on paper, in earth, stone, water and vegetation on the ground. A landscape park is more palpable but no more real, nor less imaginary, than a landscape painting or poem.