Accelerated Landscapes

Embankment Restoration near the Yarra River, Melbourne Australia

The in-process restoration image above and others like it reveal a ‘nature’ of intentional construction.  Deliberate restoration efforts run contrary to the common notion of letting disturbed sites ‘just go back to nature’ on their own.  Unfortunately, the pristine, place-specific nature implied in such assumptions rarely exists anymore.

As a recent mammoth post discussed, our collective human ecology characterized by hypermobility and pervasive disturbance regimes, has endangered endemic or ‘native’ natures, which often have to be strategically designed and constructed in order to successfully reclaim locations they formerly occupied.  These efforts are challenged by stiff competition from exotic weed species and the short time frames in which we expect these habitats to re-establish (i.e. skipping past early successional stages).

Restoration can be seen as the applied science of accelerated, or jump-start ecological succession and an active resistance to spontaneous colonization by aggressive foreign undesirables.  The materiality of restoration – the regimes of seeding, plantings, weed mats, tacified mulches, sapling protection tubes, temporary irrigation systems and various other restoration paraphernalia – provide a visible testament to the amount of work necessary to produce native plant communities in the globally mixed ecologies we have inadvertently created.  As the practice of restoration becomes more and more challenging in tandem with ever-increasing amounts of exotic weeds, these regimes will likely become more and more pervasive, and persistent in the landscape.

The ubiquitous terrain of habitat mitigation surrounding big box retail developments.

Of interest is the temporary installation-like quality of restoration practices – the way it often resembles some sort of unintended conceptual art project (which arguably it very much is),  a totemic relic of an unspecified ritual, tinker toys for adults.

Terraformed planting or temporary procession route?

Restoration installations are designed to be ephemeral.  If restoration is successful, the infrastructure that went into creating them eventually disappears through decomposition or active removal.  With the temporary evidence of the habitat’s construction removed, its constructed history often vanishes as well and the constructed landscape becomes assumed ‘natural’ habitat.

As we inevitably will continue to disturb more ground and globally mix in more and more invasive weeds, will the future landscape be more full of these as-yet isolated jump-start armatures?  Will they eventually be the only remains of local or indigenous nature?   Will restoration practices incrementally require more material and labor?

Is there a future scenario of weed globalization in which we will give up?  A future tipping point where we are practicing sisyphus-esque environmental practices and fates?  Hopefully not.


  1. nice exploration once again. For me, it sounds like the idea of “stabilization wedges” as landscape strategy. I think there is a lot of room for exploration/implementation here. If i remember correctly Michel Desvigne has done a lot of interesting work with these types of strategies over the years, though much of it is not well published…

  2. I like the analogy. I also like Desvigne’s work – particularly its engagement with process and time. Were there specific projects you were thinking of?

  3. There were two interesting ones in the Groundswell publication by Peter Reed when the exhibition was at the MoMA a few years ago. One was “Greenwhich Peninsula” in London, the other “Garonne Riverfront Master Plan” in Bordeaux. In both he talks about “introducing and establishing” an “intermediate landscape” of certain archetypes- the field, the forest, the marsh- which can then be carved and changed as it establishes itself and cultural program expresses itself.

    In their monograph (Desvigne and Dalnoky) there was also a very cool parking lot. I don’t remember much about it, but I remember being struck by the fact that it was a utilitarian parking lot, but seemed to have a lot of sophisticated strategies going on. Can’t remember the name, though.

  4. kate orff’s “Rising Currents” proposal is also very much in keeping with this approach, which is why i dig it.

  5. Yeah – the oyster reef – I love the idea. Wonder if it really could work. It reminds me a bit of early West 8…where they strategically placed sand in one location to have sea currents carry it away to create a future habitable island somewhere else.
    Two other process oriented projects of note that come to mind:
    Vista’s design for the reclamation of the Haarlemmermeer Polder (won an ALSA award back in 2004). Diverse habitats are generated through the considered articulation of water availability.
    Desvigne’s competition entry for Governor’s Island. Similar to the Vista project, the scheme is conceived as a matrix of habitats, this time differentiated through publicly engaged cultural practices (past and present) and ongoing experimentation. The design or ‘restoration’ has no intended ending.

  6. thanks for the link to Vista’s design. I don’t know anything about them- will certainly read up.

    With Orff’s oyster fixation, it is ambitious, but she is smartly building off of the work of some community activist scientists and educators who were already working on oysters in the gowanus.

    pretty cool, though when I spoke to Katie Smith she said they weren’t doing anything down there this year. Nonetheless, oysters will grow there, even in the open sewage pit that is the Gowanus.

  7. I love that you’ve captured the idea that the “native” landscape is increasingly becoming less “natural” (i.e. non-human) (and correspondingly more prosthetic) than the weedy landscape.

    This of course isn’t bad, but it is worth recognizing, if only for the realization that increasingly (particularly in the areas which we have damaged) healthy eco-systems depend not just on a lack of human interference for their sustainability, but upon appropriate human interventions. If we abandoned our cities (or even our suburbs) tomorrow, they wouldn’t become gardens of Eden filled with stable native ecologies; they’d become weed-infested, rat-haunted Ailanthus forests.

    The next step, as I think you’ve suggested, is to figure out how we design not just the end state, but the prostheses and (as Desvigne and Dalnoky term them) the intermediate landscapes.

    [A pair of notes on the projects you all are discussing; and thanks for mentioning Desvigne’s Governor’s Island entry (what happened to Dalnoky?), for some reason I never paid it much attention, even though I’m a pretty big fan of those two]

    1. Speaking of Desvigne and Dalnoky, I think the project which FASLANYC is thinking of is the series of TGV stations they did; the one whose location I remember is in Avignon, but there are a couple others. They did do some very neat things with those — using the parking lots and the attendant camoflauging landscapes to structure future development, or at least designing them with the hope of doing so.

    2. Lodewijk Baljon worked with Vista on that Haarlemmermeer Polder project (which I didn’t know, so I’m going to echo FASLANYC’s thanks for the pointer); he’s (or his office has) done a number of other interesting process-oriented landscape projects, including this naviduct where, rather than carting away the dredge from the construction of a tunnel, they repurposed that dredge locally to form a new & viable marsh habitat. Such clever re-orientations of the processes of landscape construction are tremendously interesting to me…

  8. Thanks for the reminder of the Enkhuizen Naviduct – I had totally forgotten about that project. I share the love of that kind of cross programmed construction process.
    Anyone recall that West 8 project I mentioned above? It was very early in their career and was a slower, process-oriented method that borrowed natural forces as a way of forming land mass for development (in contrast to the instant, heavy-duty industrial construction the Dutch do so well–such as Borneo Sporenburg). I can’t seem to find the project on their website or elsewhere. Maybe it was never realized or didn’t work…which could also be interesting.

  9. i do. it was in that first monograph put out by skira in the late 90’s. you can’t get it any more.

    I never heard any more news of it.

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