Landscape Urbanism at 10+

[River + City + Life, Lower Don Lands Competition entry image by Stoss with Brown and Storey, ZAS and Nina-Marie Lister.  Sourced here]

“Many questions remain, for us and for others, relative to how landscape urbanism as a set of ideas and practices is played out – and refined, or even reformulated.” -Chris Reed, Landscape Urbanism in Practice

Chris Reed’s quote is taken from Topos’ current issue devoted to landscape urbanism (which we briefly made mention of earlier).  The collection of essays are surprisingly diverse  and perhaps more engaging than parts of the last published L.U. collection as the proprietary jousting over intellectual ownership seems to have thankfully subsided in the intervening years.  In its place appears to be a return to a more open, shifting and self-critical rhetoric on the topic that is more in tune with what landscape urbanism theory and method is about.

A major shift in posture is apparent in the opening essay of the collection (On Landscape, Ecology and Other Modifiers to Urbanism) by Charles Waldheim:

“The now well-established discourse around landscape urbanism is ripe for middle-aged reasonableness, a midlife crisis, or both…While it may be true, as has been recently argued, that the urban form proposed by landscape urbanism has not fully arrived, it would be equally fair to say that landscape urbanism remains the most promising alternative to urban design’s formation for the coming decades.”

[Above and Below: GroundLab’s winning competition entry for the regeneration of China’s Longgang Centre and Square.  The project is featured within Waldheim’s essay]

A similar shift, or reflective humility also appears in the essay by James Corner (Landscape Urbanism in the Field):

Landscape urbanism is as much an ideology as it is a mode of practice…landscape urbanism is at root an undefinable and unlimited idea.  It is purposefully plural, inclusive and projective.  In this sense it is utopian, perhaps inevitably unrealizable and incomplete.  But this is precisely its value: landscape urbanism provides a hopeful and optimistic framework for new forms of experimentation, research, and practice.  It is in essence an emergent idea and indeterminate promise.”

All this comes at an interesting time, when it seems like the ‘L’ moniker has faded a bit.  As Waldheim also mentioned in a recent lecture (09) at the AA, (and I paraphrase), talking about L.U. is a sometimes like talking in the past as there is so much interesting and comparable stuff coming out that no longer offers itself up as L.U.  Such splintering and diversification seems productive and a sign of the extended influence the movement has been able to achieve.   Likewise, I have never been comfortable with the ‘ideological’ realm of landscape urbanism as it has limited and contradicted the underlying effectiveness of the approach (as institutionalized  ideologies always do).   Thus the maturation or ‘reasonableness’ expressed in this collection and the focus on the work is appreciated. That said, the theory of landscape urbanism as extremely worthwhile for its contribution in interpreting and working with existing urban conditions, rather than design realms that adhere to defunct and inappropriate historical models).  I would also defend the holistic and synthetic conception of ecology that leaves nothing outside its purview (thus the emergent ecological modifier) and lastly, its richly penned and unachievable idealism, which in the clogged vacuum before it arrived, was much-needed.

Content wise, there is plenty in the Topos collection for proponents and critics of landscape urbanism.  Essays provide additional built precursors to L.U. and the movement’s apparent historical blind spots (or lack of due credit) are discussed.  Planners have the chance to give their thoughts, and although landscape urbanism’s built work is years away from being able to conduct any sort of comprehensive post-occupancy evaluation (human and other), the critiques centered on what landscape urbanism is able to build in comparison to what it can conceive is introduced within a periodical dedicated to practice and built works.

** Interested?  Landscape + Urbanism promises a forthcoming, more detailed review of each essay in the collection**

2 comments

  1. sounds interesting, and exciting to hear the powers that be still totally invested in good work, their own or others’, as opposed to merely proclaiming the significance of their ideas. I dig that, and as you rightly note, the framework they have claimed and helped set forth has given rise to some fascinating tangents, explorations, and ideas. A great student essay about some of the roots of L.U. is here.

    I’m hoping that the next 10 years will yield some methods for actually implementing these ideas and approaches, or that an emphasis on appropriateness will be seen in the next generation of ideas and concepts. Right now they are still mostly based on the developer/public agency capital project model, which has its merits, but is extremely limiting, especially given today’s economic climate and the fact that those models have been completely co-opted by capitalism as modes of consumption/disposal (which is one of my main critiques of LU at 10+).

  2. Interesting. Great link. I think such historical critiques strengthen rather than weaken the L.U. agenda by demonstrating that like-minded approaches are perennial and have emerged before under different conditions. It follows that L.U. comes as the next iteration, uniquely expressed for the present.

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