Essential Ingredient

Criticism operates in different environments. As, for example, Treib remarks, critique is an essential ingredient of the design studio, hence the word ‘crit’ for interim discussions of student work. To some extent, if we look at criticism as evaluation in a system of peer review, competitions are also a specific milieu for criticism – in this case, obviously, with regard to projects that exist only on paper or on screen. In these instances, criticism is part of a larger operation. The main locus of critique being presented as critique is its written form, in design magazines, journals or websites, and blogs, which is what this essay concentrates on. We should also mention newspapers here. Although there is no strict demarcation, one could say that moving from design magazine to newspaper, the critique shifts its target from professionals to the larger public. These days, social media also presents itself as a channel to broadcast opinions on the world, on subjects that even include landscape design, and perhaps this will establish itself as a new, accessible, and public platform for critique. A recent example of this is a Facebook initiative, inviting people to participate in design critique, in this case related to app design. However, this essay aims to speak about critique as something much more than a few harsh one-liners. It cannot be denied that social media are part of today`s political discourse, and more so, are shaping the discourse. Perhaps in the future we will witness a lively and well-grounded critical culture adapted to 140 characters. What this would mean for a professional culture of critique in design magazines remains to be seen. Pessimists might argue that this would be the end of any well-educated criticism. In an optimistic view, interest in landscape design, and a debate on landscape design, broadens.
Critique has a long tradition in the arts, and in architecture. For landscape architecture, with the exception of a vibrant period in the seventies, critique has been largely absent from magazines and journals.

Ian Hamilton Finlay, Little Sparta (1966-1983)




The drawing presented here for a park in Greenwich interests me highly as a unique landscape drawing. It, in a convincing way, depicts time and evolution. The development of an urban forest is the main theme in the project. The drawing does not simply explain the development of the forest. It mainly states that there are several stages of maturity which have an individual quality in terms of design. This drawing is important as it denies the idea that a landscape project can be represented by one drawing which shows the project in an unknown year in the future, in its supposed final state. Desvigne here, combining plan and section shows different moments in time as being independent optimal design conditions. In doing so, the designer is forced to be more precise about what happens over time: how big are the trees in certain stages; which configurations might come true by thinning the trees?  Apart from that, the drawing has a convincing beauty which has always been present in the French drawing tradition. Desvigne himself became known early for drawing with his work on theoretical gardens, “Les jardins elementaires”. Starting from here Desvigne became one of the international stars — in itself an interesting new phenomenon in recent landscape architecture.

Noël van Dooren, Speaking about Drawing (2012)

5 2 3Michel Desvigne + Christine Dalnoky, Greenwich Peninsula (1999)


Drawing time

In all design disciplines, we speak airily about ‘representation techniques’. ‘Representation’ is often used where we might have said ‘presentation’, being the set of drawings you show to present a project. In reality, representation is quite a complex notion. Generally, representation is understood as ‘standing for something else’. In our design world, this ‘something else’ is the designed building or landscape. Linguistically, Corner argues that one could, in fact, say the built building represents the drawing – as the drawing was earlier. (…)

This does not solve two other problems. The title of my research is ‘Drawing time’. Once again I admit to favoring the short and less abstract words, instead of ‘Representing time’. Is drawing the same as representing? No – but the question could also be put the other way around: what architects do, is that drawing or representing? Until now, I have found no definitions which sufice to make clear the distinctions between ‘drawing’ and ‘representing’. For my research, I favor the physical aspect of drawing versus the quite abstract word representing.

The second problem is related to the first. If landscape architects represent landscapes, I would argue that only a complete plan (the set of drawings, text and oral explanation) is the representation.

James Corner + Alex McLean,

Taking Measures Across the American Landscape (1996)


Fewkes Canyon at Mesa Verde National Park