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)

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MAP Office, Hong Kong is a Land (2014)

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Not Neutral

Representation

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)

Representation

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, Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain (2004)

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Meaning

Coffin

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)

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Coffin