When it first came into being, the word landscape had two meanings. It denoted an area, an extent of the earth’s surface with boundaries, a meaning that has persisted until the present day. But landscape referred also to the group that shaped that area through practices, rituals, and institutions. Like the modern ‘township,’ landscape in this original sense was both a physical space and a political community. And like political communities everywhere, landscapes were almost always marked by unequal degrees of power. Landscapes were, and remain, places of contest and conflict, of hard work and brute force, even when studiously concealed. To ignore this political dimension of any landscape is to miss a fundamental part of its essence.

So: recover the political dimension of landscape. Wherever you work, know who has influence, who lacks it and why. Take the measure of old rivalries. Understand power.

Thomas Oles, Go with me : 50 steps to landscape thinking (2014)

Perhaps politics has really taken notice of the landscape? Is the opposite also true? The crises accompanying periods of great change are often occasions for new moments of creativity. The time has come to adapt and initiate a dialogue that manages to involve the general public. The landscape involves the science and technique of relations; it is not only an object of contemplation and reaction, but also a discipline in its own right. In recently times, the relationship between the landscape and politics has grown schematic, ambiguous and evanescent. Successively, it is as if it foresaw the imminent coming of a moment of truth, a moment that would raise a question that is not only cultural, but with notable effects on social and economic, and thus eminently political values. The greatest difficulty was to admit the need for a new approach, that it was no longer possible to wait and that the time had come to act and take risks. Despite the anti-political nature of a vision of the landscape as a controlled and guaranteed consumer good, a new way of speaking about the landscape and politics gives precise meaning to these two terms. The problematic dimension of the landscape viewed as a «project» highlights the urgency for transformation, a dimension that demonstrates not only an elevated level of ductility, but also a usefulness, in many cases strategic, to the governance of phenomena in an explosive phase of becoming. The thesis, to date in no way to be taken for granted, is that the question of designing the landscape is a challenge, a political emergency to be confronted as a priority.

Franco Zagari, Landscape and Politics, Finally (2016)

Franco Zagari, Victor Hugo Square (2007)


Dig Down

ln its original meaning, ‘landscape’ was not a net draped over the surface of things. lt was a thing shaped from, and the act of shaping, the earth. It was the digging of ditches and canals, the mounding up of berms and walls, the shaping and reshaping of these things over centuries. The substrate was the matrix of this shaping. Landscape went deep beneath the feet into the topsoil, into the gurgling bubbling under that, then deeper still into rock and heat. This early, earthy side of landscape was all but lost in the seventeenth century, and we live in the shadow of that loss. For without knowing the world under your feet, you will never fully know the world before your eyes.

So: get down on your knees. Lay your hands on the ground, then start digging and do not stop until your hands are bloody. Then turn your palms upward and smell the landscape there. Feel the roots of things. 

Thomas Oles, Go with Me. 50 Steps to Landscape Thinking. (2014)

THUPDI + Thinghua University, Shangai Quarry Garden (2010)


Arranged Marriage

I am all the time bothered with the miserable nomenclature of L. A. Landscape is not a good word, Architecture is not; the combination is not — Gardening is worse. I want English names for ferme and village ornee, street. ornee — but ornee or decorated is not the idea, — it is artified and rural artified, which is not decorated merely. The art is not gardening nor is its architecture. What I am doing here in California especially is neither. It is sylvan art, fine art in distinction from Horticulture, Agriculture, or sylvan useful art. We want a distinction between a nurseryman or a market gardener or an orchardist, and an  artist; the planting of a street or road, the arrangement of village streets, is neither Landscape Art, nor Architectural Art, nor is it both together in my mind, — of course it is not, and it will never be in the popular mind. Then neither park nor garden, nor street, road, avenue, or drive, nor boulevard, apply to a sylvan bordered and artistically arranged system of roads, sidewalks and public places, —  playgrounds, parades, etc. (…)

If you are bound to establish this new art, you don’t want an old name for it. And for clearness, for convenience, for distinctness, you do need half a dozen technical words at least.

Frederick Law Olmsted, Letter to Calvert Vaux (1865)


Say it again: landscape architecture. The words roll off the tongue as if their union were inevitable. But this is an arranged marriage. Most landscape practitioners know the name doesn’t quite fit, though few give it further thought. If it hasn’t stopped the production of innovative work, they reason, where is the harm? The crucial question is whether the apparent alliance of landscape and architecture conceals other possibilities for how these two parties might relate to each other, and how they might relate to the world.

Brian Davis & Thomas Oles, From Architecture to Landscape (2014)


Grant Wood, American Gothic (1930)


Grant Wood, The Birthplace of Herbert Hoover (1931)

"Young Corn"

Grant Wood, Young Corn (1931)


Grant Wood, Stone City (1930)