The New Wave Of Folk Is On Impulse!

In an ideal world, making landscape wouldn’t be a professional job. Everyone would make their own with whatever land they had kicking around, feeling out spaces as they went, directly speaking to each others’ desires, along a compass that knew what could be maintained over time.

When we say “In an ideal world…”, we usually do it so as to pivot as quickly as possible from the sight of an ideal world – why be dazzled by such a thing? This pivot is meant as a bad-faith proof that it is not possible to glimpse the contours of a better world. But the better world must be articulated as a goal; and to be a goal felt to be worth striving for, it must be figured. And so we must envision a world that cannot and shall not come to pass under present conditions.

A landscape profession is an evolutionary step. I would not wish it to be eternal or immutable. Like Loudon or Downing, turning out magazines and encyclopedias, landscape architects should work to make themselves irrelevant in as many situations as possible; rather, that people can access their own tools and form their own communities for what does not require expertise or consultation.

friedberg manual
Friedberg, well in advance of our current "handcrafted" mania.

In how it apportions attention and value, this profession has lost sight of two of the most helpful things it can do for the culture at large: model a relationship of care, and spread practices that are healthful and fulfilling. While the profession shows indications of moving back toward both, for the most part landscape architects still hop about installing things without seeing how they turn out; they are forever proposing and not spending enough time sitting with and evaluating. The model of the project seems, in cases of high complexity or pressure, a necessary model, and here something closest to the work of a landscape architect should continue to be observed. It seems mostly a perversity, however, to insist that the formal stamp of the designer must travel beyond one area, or that their individual procedures are so important as to need to transplanted. I can’t see a compelling reason why we should not follow the model of Olmsted as superintendent and simply charge lands to designers as a local interest, which would tend to cut down on absurd amounts of air travel and remote conferencing. The designer, moving from post to post in a career, would be acting on an assumption of care, and would I hope be rather more careful in documenting what is and is not important to preserve in what they have shepherded through.

The interest toward the kit of parts seems to be bending in the other direction, toward mobility and away from the assumption of personal responsibility. But for now it still seems oriented toward an in-group audience, pointed toward a proprietary model of production capture (as with the elements of the Lawn on D). Professionals in landscape could innovate instead in creating truly modular practices and elements that they 1. would not mind seeing used in any context where they had now been proven to work in practice, and 2. could be readily manufactured autonomously. 

 With that genetic material floating out there in the world, new forms of landscape would arise at a distance, with no need of thought leaders to dictate terms and mark out fashions.

detroit lots
From Detroit Future City's how-to website for citizen groups looking to remake their landscapes.

(February 2019)