Coffin

Ian McHarg, too, was concerned about unrestricted developement. The idea that some developments are more suitable to some landscapes than to others seems only common sense, but when homes built on floodplains are inundated, or hotels built on cliff tops fall into the sea, the extent of human folly becomes evident. We could avoid such calamities and live more harmoniusly whit nature, thought McHarg, if we took natural processes and values into account. He proposed a method for bringing everything into the picture. Known as ‘landscape suitability analysis’ or sometimes just as ‘sieve-mapping’, the technique he developed involved layering information on acetate sheets. So, for example, in considering the optimal route for a new highway, McHarg would combine layers showing the engineering properties of the substrates with layers showing productive soils, significant wildlife habitats, important cultural sites, and so on. When these were combined, it was the areas which were clearest of symbols that were the better areas in which to construct the road. The method also worked” well for planning development at a regional scale. Typically, after gathering physiographic, climatic, and geological data, McHarg could produce suitability maps, usually zoned for agriculture, forestry, recreation, and urban development. The method, which relied on extensive gathering and manipulation of data, became much easier with the growing availability of computers, and ‘McHarg’s Method’ became the basis of the technology known as GIS (Geographical Information System) which uses digital map layers instead of superimposed drawings.

Ian Thompson, Landscape Architecture. A Very Short Introduction. (2014)


Some years later, however, another nail in the coffin of the designed landscape was drilled: the publication of Ian McHarg’s Design with Nature, which cited the natural world as the only viable model for landscape architecture. This text provided landscape architects with both an analytical method and sufficient moral grounds to avoid almost completely decisions of form and design -that is, if design is taken as the concious shaping of landscape rather than its stewardship alone. McHarg emphasized the evolving study of natural ecology and remained within the bounds of natural processes and planning. A strong moral imperative underpinned the discourse; it mixed science with evangelism -a sort of ecofundamentalism. In his writtings and lectures, McHarg took no prisoners and allowed no quarter.

Marc Treib, Nature Recalled (1999)

Ian McHarg, Minimum Social Cost Alignment of a Road (late 1960s)

 

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Meaning Depends

Meaning depends on all the receptors, whether they are users, sponsors, critics or theorists. This angle is not examined very deeply in the literature because investigating the response of all these ‘beings’ is highly complicated. It demands a deep understanding of the development of the socio-economic setting, the identification of all those who give meaning to the place and for whom it has meaning, and the renunciation of beliefs such as the existence of a single truth to be attained and a universal mental structure. It also demands that we question, as Potteiger and Purinton do, the narrative’s capacity to respond to the programming and forces us to believe in the possibility of giving meaning and still giving comfort, as Herrington says. As these authors suggest, using narrative to lend meaning to a garden involves the users and critics as much as it involves the designers.

Meaning as an approach to landscape architecture is criticised and questioned by the very people who expound it. According to Barnett, the search for meaning does not change the reality of the spaces themselves, while Treib asks whether it is possible to discuss meaning without defining it, and whether the reality, after all, is that the designers simply suggest meaning and it is up to the users to find it.

Nicole Valois, Josiane Paradis, Place Émilie-Gamelin in Montréal – landscape narrative, meaning and the uses of public space (2010)

Imma Jansana + Robert de Paauw, Barcelona Turo de la Rovira Belvedere (2011)

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Not Neutral

It has been said that we can realize only what we can imagine; but to realize what we imagine, we must convey those ideas to others as well as present them to ourselves. We use images, models, and words—alone or in combination—to conceive, study, test, construct, and evaluate new landscapes or modify old ones. Given the transient nature of most landscapes—always growing, always changing— landscape representation presents a special challenge. It is by no means neutral in a political sense or even in terms of design evaluation.

Marc Treib, Introduction to Representing Landscape Architecture (2008)

MAP Office, Hong Kong is a Land (2014)

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Transient Nature

It has been said that we can realize only what we can imagine; but to realize what we imagine, we must convey those ideas to others as well as present them to ourselves. We use images, models, and words—alone or in combination—to conceive, study, test, construct, and evaluate new landscapes or modify old ones. Given the transient nature of most landscapes—always growing, always changing— landscape representation presents a special challenge. It is by no means neutral in a political sense or even in terms of design evaluation.

Marc Treib, Representing Landscape Architecture (2008)

 

Clement Valla, Postcards from Google Earth (2014)

Meaning

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.

Kathryn Gustafson + Gustafson Porter, Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain (2004)

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