‘The cartography of Europe arose from the possibilities, the observed horizons of human feet’, wrote George Steiner in his beautiful essay The Idea of Europe (2004). The three young landscape architects that started a new office together after their studies at Wageningen University have followed the tradition of manipulating landscapes for human life, but do so in a very different way. For their generation nature and landscape have become complex, especially in the densely populated Netherlands. ln this field the challenges range from the realization of Main Ecological Structures to the integration of ever expanding business parks. It is about the cultural landscape, the loss of biodiversity and the meaning of exotic species. The designand regeneration of (metropolitan) parks is high on any municipal agenda, just like the design of wind farms, or the excessive growth of a tourist infrastructure that replaces agricultural production through consumption of the landscape.
All these claims, which also imply change, hardly fit with the Arcadian and Eden-like nature and landscape ideals that still control our thoughts: above all, landscape should be beautiful. But thus desired harmony conflicts with the news items newspapers present us: Q fever in goats that results in their destruction alongside the ‘hugability’ of the national pet show. We read about Chimpanzee meat at local African markets and participate in discussions about the bio-industry and pig flats. Some plea for a more responsible approach to food consumption and for the role landscape and energy play in this, especially in the city, close to home. Public debates reveal a deep schism between the differing views and practices with regard to concepts such as wilderness and natural process. The same applies to the concepts of city as landscape, as nature. Scientists’ research on the world of nature also betrays cultural preferences: large mammals are by far favoured in science, while insects and micro-organisms (the largest in number on our planet) are the least popular. Jeff Corwin and Dave Salmoni’s nature programs on Animal Planet project illusions and expectations about nature and its accessibility. In the epoch of the Anthropocene we are able to make anything, do everything or not do anything.
Have all of us in this highly urbanized world become ‘outsiders’ who have an estranged relationship with nature and landscape, or show an ambiguous attitude? Have landscapes and nature become products for consumption and projection, or is it still possible to get to know their inner being’? Our gaze is rooted in the discovery of the linear perspective and relies on idealization in literature, films or postcards. By means of our gaze, the landscape has turned into a measurable spatial unit that can be experienced but also contaminated or destroyed. All of these phenomena in our world are signs that, to us, the landscape is ambiguous. Although as urbanites we do not want to bean integral part of the landscape, we still wish to maintain an uninterrupted relationship with this very same landscape that determines our individual and common identity. We prefer denying any human interference and we commit ourselves to true nature and wilderness, which we do, however, have to make and manage. Developments continue to take place in the linear progress of time, but the need for inner time, of space and silence, is growing.