Landscape Is A Verb

First, it stands to reason that making ecologically should presage making ecologically should presage making ecologically. That is, that a site that fits within a larger movement for ecological action should itself be a working ecology; and that to set that ecology rolling on a site we should use ecological form as the basis for how we think it through and test it.

That said, out of the variety of approaches that have been floated for instituting new ecologies, some seem more practicable and ethical than others. To design an ecology is the Apple-of-Cupertino sense seems a hateful thing; that is, an artificial linkage of products that hang together off of human needs, tending toward the parasitic. This makes me suspicious of any proprietary set of modular elements that would attempt to perpetuate itself from one site to another. For a model, I’d look instead to one of the clearest and least recognized ways in which elite culture has benefitted people at large: through incubating games, most notably the various forms of football, that can be disseminated and enjoyed at minimal cost.

chess disabitato
Moscow, 1985: Kasparov defeats Karpov in a marathon match for the world championship.

An ecology for site could instead be kicked off by introducing a gamelike system of allowable moves with common, innocuous elements that already have their rules baked in. That is, unlike a pawn, queen, or rook, a redbud, black oak, or even a shingle of slate has a necessary and non-arbitrary set of requirements and capacities, that are vague but knowable. In designing the ecology of a site, those core rules could be abstracted up to a set of requirements that give breathing room for that material’s individual representatives to be somewhat different than the abstract type; say that an oak is given no less than 10 and no more than 50 feet of clearance on all sides. The success of such an approach would be measured in which it could be enthusiastically taken up by the maintenance community, which would adjust it as needed to adapt to lived reality.

The longer I spend in this field, the more objectionable it seems to be to cast a work of landscape in stone, which is to say, to regard it as the analogue to a durable piece of architecture. To be preserved in the usual sense, a landscape must have a definite form. But that landscape need not have a definite form to be perpetuated; it need only have an identifiable process through which it is produced. If you can make out a purpose in a landscape – if that process is visible in its results, as say a hedgerow is, you can respect it, engage with it. Otherwise, you will close it off or pave it over.

Something like Galí-Izard’s vision in the Parque Central competition seems to me the most practicable version of landscape architecture as verb because it proposes a system of organization in time and space that is sufficiently engineered to resemble conventional authorship, and thus sufficiently resembles (landscape) architecture as a discipline that applies draftsmanship and authorship to the problem of building. Who knows if that is an approach that can sustain itself; but insofar as it points toward an actual two-way working relationship with the people who build and maintain landscapes, it is a possible step toward equity and solidarity.

(September 2020)