Kerb – is landscape architecture dead? – a magazine review

RMIT University in Australia publish the annual publication Kerb and Vol 17 asks the question ‘Is landscape architecture dead?’. It is a good question and a handsome volume with interesting illustrations. But most of the articles in Kerb led me to think that ‘if this is the future of landscape architecture, then it deserves to die’. The images do not have either captions or any discernable relationship with the text. Most of the 26 articles are inconsequential: significant questions are asked; random assertions are made; obscure paragraphs abound eg1 ‘Contemporary landscape architecture has not produced an aesthetic paradigm that describes the vicissitudes surrounding the idea of nature today’ (p 10),  eg2 ‘landscape is not an object. yet this image of landscape is projected upon the world with each project you undertake’ (p.73)  eg3 ‘interpret ‘scape as meaning ‘pretty dress up’. Dig up a Chinese creek bed, polish the booty, and dress up my ‘scape outside the screen door’ (p.92). But I must be wrong: many young Australian landscape architects come to work in London and they have earned a good reputation for Australia’s landscape schools.

11 thoughts on “Kerb – is landscape architecture dead? – a magazine review

  1. Christine

    It would seem that the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects as a profession thinks not. The AILA have embarked on a twelve month project to review climate adaptation strategies to respond to climate change. According to their timetable they are mid-way through Stage 2 of the project.

    Whether this means a re-think of the fundamental meaning of landscape design in this context I can’t be sure? Building level interventions are not being considered. [ ]

  2. Tom Turner Post author

    My view is that landscape architecture, with its eternal focus on the relationship between human systems and natural systems, is a vitally important profession. But this is no excuse for bad prose.

  3. Christine

    I am in total agreement that landscape architecture is a vitally important profession….in fact it has probably never been more crucially important. The landscape cannot talk for itself and so it needs advocates that understand its dynamics, the creative process and the fact that we humans do dependent on it in a myriad of ways including as a life support system.
    [ ]

    Also at present there an unprecedented integration of landscape into architecture is occurring. This is new for both the professions of landscape and architecture.

    Perhaps the writers at Kerb have fallen into one of the traps listed in the following blog on being provocative? [ ]

  4. Tom Turner Post author

    That is a good account of the ‘provocation’ trap and one sees it with stockmarket pundits. They have one success with predicting a downturn and then turn into gloom-merchants for the rest of their lives. Not worth it.

  5. Christine

    Yes. But it is worth reading ‘The Return of Depression Economics’ by Paul Krugman Professor of Economics at MIT published in ‘Foreign Affairs’ Jan/Feb edition 1999.[ ]

    Demographics, risk and liquidity seem to be key aspects of any evaluation of an economy. Krugman believes that post the Asian economic crisis many Western economies moved back to a pre-Depression era model of Capitalism. The result being “bringing back some of its vices, most noticeably a vulnerability both to economic instability and sustained economic slumps.”

    Of particular note is his mention of China’s ‘non-convertible capital account.’ Interesting that it was this feature of the world economy which was most prized when the GFC occurred.

  6. Tom Turner Post author

    I wish they made more of Krugman’s article available. Refereed journals do not pay authors – so why should they charge readers? From the excerpt, I agree with him about where we (particularly the UK!) are in the economic cycle.

  7. Felicity Waters

    ‘Also at present there an unprecedented integration of landscape into architecture is occurring. This is new for both the professions of landscape and architecture’.

    Christine – interesting point – not long ago architects were keen to NOT have plantings screen their designs – now many architects seem to be actively encouraging plant growth on building facades etc – it seems to have happened in the last 5 years (maybe 3?) – of course there are issues with this new approach but nevertheless I am finding LA alive… but perhaps this is not challenging enough for RMIT’s students ?

  8. Christine

    Felicity I believe the reluctance may have had to do with design intent – if you consciously design with plants in mind they are an integral part of the design.

    Rather than being used on the exterior surface of a building as an additive tool 1) to disguise less than desirable areas or views 2)to soften buildings or 3) in the worst cases to totally cover an unappealing building, as was probably once the case, plants on a buildings surface are now considered within design as part of the building fabric itself.

  9. Wells Rawls

    Very good comments all around.

    My observation as a horticulturist with a design focus is that landscape architecture is being defeated by the very thing that has made it the dominant segment of design work in landscaping.

    For 20 years the ASLA has had a program of lobbying state legislatures to enact laws that require all persons submitting landscape plans for design review to be a licensed LA. The Landscape Architecture curriculum in America has been incomplete with an over emphasis on architecture and not landscaping. Most landscape architects know little of how to build and maintain what they design. Unfortunately a legislated monopoly on landscape design (architecture and design should be the same field) has created an undereducated workforce with too much power. That’s my opinion.

    A fact is that over 20 years in landscape design/build, I have seen hundreds of examples of design work that required years of mowing, trimming, and power pruning to maintain. The landscape architect did not know the life span of the plant materials or the methods of maintenance to anticipate the labor requirements and reduce them on the drawing board.

    Furthermore, the disconnect that occurs between the LA and the contractor leads to further problems.

    We need to eliminate the requirement of holding a Landscape Architecture Degree in order to be eligible to take a state’s licensing exam.

    If you can pass the exam you should get a license.


    Wells Rawls
    EcoLandscape Group

  10. Tom Turner Post author

    Wells, I share your doubts about restrictive practices. Professional groups should explain what they can contribute to the public welfare. They should not campaign to restrict the professional activities of other people.
    Those of us who support trade and professional groups should always bear in mind the prophetic words of capitalism’s greatest advocate: “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty and justice. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary.” Adam Smith An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776) Book I, Chapter 10, para 82


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *