Relationship

The problem of landscape arises precisely because landscape, whether it appears in literary or painterly form, whether thought of in terms of the presented or that which presents, is indeed a function, and a representing, of our relationship with place. Is the term “landscape” inadequate to describe the complexity of that relationship? If we treat landscape purely in terms of the narrowly spectatorial and the detached (or as associated with a single historical formation or artistic genre), then perhaps it is. Yet the argument I have advanced here is that this conception of landscape is itself inadequate to describe the complexity of landscape as such. The problem of landscape is thus that landscape represents to us, not only our relationship with place, but also the problematic nature of that relationship—a relationship that contains within it involvement and separation, agency and spectacle, self and other. It is in and through landscape, in its many forms, that our relationship with place is articulated and represented, and the problematic character of that relationship made evident.

Edward S. Casey, The Edge(s) of Landscape: A Study in Liminology (2011)

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Caspar David Friedrich, The wanderer above the sea of fog (1818)

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Relationship

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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Meaning Depends

Remarkable

So what do we mean by the art of design? I first saw this remarkable design at an exhibition of landscape drawings from 1600-2000 currently on display at Het Loo in Appledoorn. l remarked to my colleagues that it would be wonderful ifa student handed in a drawing like that. Wondering who had designed it we peered at the text and found it was by le Notre; it was his design for the gardens of the Grand Trianon at Versailles, accompanied by eight pages of manuscript connecting image and concept, ideas and form.

It is remarkable for many reasons. It exhibits astonishing skill and confidence in the expression of ideas in form, through technology, with elegance and panache. Far from being a slave to the geometry of the plan, the asymmetrical design is an imaginative manipulation of the spatial structure of the landscape, intensifying perspectives, foreshortening views, skewing natural cross falls and creating vistas, connecting seamlessly with the landscape beyond. It is responsive to the topography and context, culture and time. Extraordinarily knowledgeable, skilfully exploiting the full range of the medium, this design is there to manipulate the emotions, express power, and control movement. This is what the art of design is about. There is no mistaking its brilliance – if you know what to look for.

A powerful cultural force is currently undermining any serious attempt to develop the kind of expertise le Notre exhibits. It is, of course, possible to teach many aspects of design. There are books on design theory, criticism, history, its technology and modes of communication. There are guides on collaboration, team building and how to carry out design reviews. But large chunks of the actual design process, the real nitty-gritty of the discipline, are clouded by subjectivity and therefore thought to be beyond teaching. Design is often characterized as a highly personal, mysterious act, almost like alchemy, adding weight to the dangerous idea that it is possible, even preferable, to hide behind the supposed objective neutrality implied by more ‘scientific’, technology-based, problem-solving approaches. Talking about excellence is actually considered somehow undemocratic and elitist. It is this kind of dogmatism that impacts so negatively on our thinking about design.

Kathrin Moore, Overlooking the Visual. Demystifying the art of Design. (2010)

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André le Notre, Design for the gardens of the Grand Trianon (1694). Stockholm National Museum of Fine Art.

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Remarkable

Poverty

Having reached what one architecture critic described as the midpoint in my career, I feel I have nothing to show. Or at least nothing that resembles the seductive images in architecture books, nothing reminiscent of photogenic models, nothing that could be compared to the paradisiacal computer-generated images that clutter the trade journals. My work requires few objects—ideally none at all—and only ordinary materials. It does not entail any heroic feats of execution or any extravagance. So it is distinguished by a certain poverty. It is not a deliberate desire for an architettura povera, but rather the option of rusticity. It is a rigor that stands out in my mind. A structurally unrewarding youth. I do not feel any frustration about it. This was not always the case, and I sometimes resorted to appurtenances that were likely to give my efforts the status of works of architecture: the use of layouts or familiar objects, for example. This provided me with a very fleeting reassurance.

Michel Desvigne, Intermediate Natures (2009)

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Michel Desvigne, Keio University Roof Garden (2012)

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Poverty

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

Iconic

Our era is decidedly the one for the landscape, at least in the sense of verbal reproduction and being iconic. The word and the image are everywhere, in the daily newspaper and in the specialized publications, on the screens, and on the walls, in the leaflets and in the spirits. Today the landscape is labeled and revealed, it is explained and adulated, conserved and protected, and it is equally sold and re-sold. Popularised and democratized, it belongs to everyone, as it functioned in the past as a social code and distinctive sign of a certain elite who willingly recognized themselves in the common sharing of emblematic places or topical representations.

Michael Jakob, Le Paysage (2008)

 

Michel Gondry, Chemical Brothers “Star Guitar” video clip (2003)

 

Iconic

Ideas

Landscape reshapes the world not only because of its physical and experiential characteristics but also because of its eidetic content, its capacity to contain and express ideas and so engage the mind. Moreover, because of its bigness – in both scale and scope – landscape serves as a metaphor for inclusive multiplicity and pluralism, as in a kind of synthetic ‘overview’ that enables differences to play out. In these terms, landscape may still embrace naturalistic and phenomenological experience but its full efficacy is extended to that of a synthetic and strategic art form …

James Corner, Eidetic Operations and New Landscapes (1999) russ_deveau_highline_park_35James Corner + Field Operations, High Line (Russ Deveau photo)

Ideas