Traditionally, for example in French formal gardens of the Baroque era, landscape architects intended to control and tame nature or to enhance its beauty by manipulating temporal qualities and slowing change. ln contrast, in the nineteenth century, as Frederick Law Olmsted and H. W. S. Cleveland were defining the emerging practice of landscape architecture, they often took a different stance, acknowledging and working with characteristics of time and change. This work was furthered by designers into the early twentieth century. However, by the mid-century, such approaches were viewed with less enthusiasm as modernism and issues of professionalism sought to read landscape design as a form of architectural design. This approach discounted the ephemeral and dynamic nature of the landscape medium, instead describing projects as formally determined, rigid spatial scenarios.
Inflexible, expensive, and maintenance-intensive solutions designed to withstand time resulted. (…) [T]he Parterre Garden at the Kempinski Airport Hotel in Munich, Germany, designed by Peter Walker and Partners in collaboration with the local Rainer Schmidt Landscape Architecture firm, and built in the mid-1990s. This public garden, characterized by two overlapping orthogonal grid systems and the use of highly manicured elements, represents a contemporary, yet traditionally designed, formally-determined and static high-maintenance project. Such a landscape type, conceived to remain static over time, fails to balance placemaking and the visual-spatial with processuality.
Emphasizing a common problem with such stable and artistic approaches to landscape design, the landscape architect Anne Whiston Spirn stresses that “[a]rchitects and landscape architects tend to focus not on process, but on form and material; when designs fail to be substantiated in the real world, it is ohen because designers ignore the processes that shape them during and after construction”. (…)
A strong focus on indeterminacy and adaptability can work against the creation of well-crafted, usable landscapes. Thus, the key question at hand is: how much process is too much process? How do we as designers strike a project-appropriate balance between the potentially conflicting design goals of process and placemaking?
First, let us briefly examine the dimension of time. Many elements in natural and designed landscapes mark time in space. Sundials are the most literal example of such a materialization of time. Time itself however, is invisible to humans-we cannot sense it. Since antiquity, philosophers, artists, and scientists have worked to explain the interrelated concepts of space and time. Barbara Adam, a British expert in the area of socio-environmental time, notes that “[n]ature, the environment and sustainability… are not merely matters of space but fundamentally temporal realms, processes and concepts. Their temporality… is far from simple and singular”.
Similarly, in “The Temporality of` the Landscape,” social anthropologist Tim Ingold reminds us of a key characteristic of the medium we work with. He insists that “the landscape is never complete: neither ‘built’ nor ‘unbuilt,’ it is perpetually under construction”.

Judith Stilgenbauer, Processcapes: Dynamic Placemaking (2015)

Peter Walker + PWP Landscape Architecture, Hilton Hotel (former Kempinski) Gardens (1994)



Little Influence

The public was never made fully aware of the scope of landscape architecture, and among those who were aware, attitudes have changed over the past forty years from hopeful interest to, at worst, critical wrath.

Why has a field so full of idealism and both practical and economically available solutions had so little influence and effect? The answers do not seem to lie in the arguments and dichotomies of the field itself, though insecurities that may have been both cause and effect certainly have played a role.

One basis of insecurity may have been inherited from the modern architectural movement’s dictum that history is not important. While being educated for a greatly expanded contemporary role, students of design were routinely underprepared to measure their current efforts against the work of previous generations and other cultures. This has not only psychologically orphaned the young practitioners but also denied them the means to evaluate previous work in any but their own terms. The emphasis on learning about, and assimilating, increasing amounts of science and technology in the schools has limited students’ access to cultural and philosophical inquiry. This has tended to remove students from debates about the political and economic forces that have controlled the direction of society. What is more, the mistaken faith that technical knowledge would give the power to lead may have reduced the designer’s ability to affect society by the power of iconic example. If one is service oriented, how much scope does one have for offering philosophical guidance or cultural leadership?

Peter Walker, Melanie Simo, Invisible Gardens (1994)

Peter Walker + PWP Landscape Architecture, Barangaroo Reserve (2015)



Alfred Caldwell, Promontory Point Park (circa 1937)