Category Archives: landscape urbanism

Landscape Urbanism vs New Urbanism


Here is a great video from Rob Cowan: he draws as well as he talks – and he talks as well as he operates a camera. Should we be Landscape Urbanists or New Urbanists? Rob’s answer is ‘let’s stop wasting time on theory and get to work on solving problems’. With an equally peace-making message I would say:
New Urbanist to Landscape Urbanist: ‘You’re so right: let’s love each other and work together’
Landscape Urbanist to New Urbanist: ‘You’re so right: let’s love each other and work together’
But then I would say to both of them ‘C’mon you guys. Stop thinking in 2 dimensions: that game’s a’gonna. You guys gotta work in 4 dimensions’.

Manifesto: Is the postmodern condition of landscape architecture its extinction? or is it landscape ecological urbanism?

postmodern_landscape_architecture
Landscape architecture: an apocalyptic manifesto, was the title of a landscape architecture manifesto published in 2004 by Heidi Hohmann and Joern Langhorst (and republished as ‘Landscape Architecture: A Terminal Case?’ in Landscape Architecture Magazine 95, no. 4 (April 2005): 26-45.). The original manifesto is still available as a pdf document. The Hohmann-Langhorst diagnosis was as excellent. Their prognosis was pessimistic and melancholic.
Having a nostalgic affection for manifestos, I responded with my own manifesto – and plan to mark its 10th anniversary with a revised version.
The above diagram, from the Hohmann-Langhorst article, shows the disciplines from which landscape architecture emerged and the disciplines into which they expected it to dissolve. Worldwide, this has definitely not been landscape architecture’s fate in the last decade. It has had a great many successes without, in my view, coming near to realising its full potential.
There is a great contrast between the two countries (Britain and America) which gave birth to landscape architecture as an organized profession. Landscape architecture is flourishing in the US and stagnant in the UK. It could be that the Hohmann-Langhorst article stimulated the US profession to examine its navel and engage in renewal and re-generation. In part, the regeneration has come from the body of theory known as Landscape Urbanism. Proponents have had many competition successes and advocates of New Urbanism feel themselves under threat. Andres Duany and Emily Talen have responded with a book on Landscape Urbanism and Its Discontents: Dissimulating the Sustainable City. The blurb to their book (which I have not yet read) states that ‘While there is significant overlap between Landscape Urbanism and the New Urbanism, the former has assumed prominence amongst most critical theorists, whereas the latter’s proponents are more practically oriented.’ This is despite the fact that Landscape Urbanists have done a poor job of explaining themselves. They should be grateful to Ian Thompson for his account of its Ten Tenets – and I hope his clarity will stimulate the much-needed revival of English landscape architecture. It is of interest that one of the landscape architects with the clearest vision of where the profession should be heading was born in the UK and works in the US – see this interview, in which Time Magazine describes James Corner as an Urban Dreamscaper.

Freshkills Park, New York City – a Landscape Urbanism project by James Corner

With luck, I will have to change my mind when it is completed. But my present view of James Corner’s design for Freshkills Park is that it is a dull design for a dull place. It reminds me of many landscape reclamation projects completed in the north of England in the 1970s. ‘Before’ photographs, intended to shock the viewer, showed heaps of mining waste with scrubby vegetation. ‘DERELICTION’ we were told. ‘After’ photographs, were of several varieties: the mouse-under-the-carpet, the dog-under-the-carpet and the whale-under-the-carpet. The ‘carpet’ was an expensively created layer of greeny-yellow turf with a sparsity of dying trees. This is what the clients wanted, it has to be said, but the results were of very little ecological, visual or social value.
Another Freshkills puzzle is why it should be regarded as exemplifying a new approach to landscape architecture. I see Landscape Urbanism as postmodern and Freshkills as a good example of McHargian Ecological Design – which was a modernist approach. James Corner’s design for the High Line is excellent – so I remain optimistic that Fresh Kills will turn out well. I re-visited Richard Wilson’s wonderful 20:50 sump oil installation at the Saatchi Gallery recently and it made me wonder about Fresh Kills. As an access-route, why not cut a glass-sided trench though the heap of rubbish so that visitors can watch the decay progress? We could see leachate dripping onto old motherboards and the occasional pair of mating rats?. Then there could be a flare to burn off a tiny fraction of the methane.

Landscape Ecological Urbanism

Landscape (Ecological) Urbanism is a better name

Landscape (Ecological) Urbanism is a better name

Wiki has the following accounts of landscape and ecological urbanism
Landscape Urbanism is a theory of urban planning arguing that the best way to organise cities is through the design of the city’s landscape, rather than the design of its buildings…. The first major event to do with ‘landscape urbanism’ was the Landscape Urbanism conference sponsored by the Graham Foundation in Chicago in April 1997. Speakers included Charles Waldheim, Mohsen Mostafavi, James Corner of James Corner/Field Operations, Alex Wall, and Adriaan Geuze of the firm West 8, among others.
The ecological urbanism project draws from ecology to inspire an urbanism that is more socially inclusive and sensitive to the environment, as well as less ideologically driven, than green urbanism or sustainable urbanism. In many ways, ecological urbanism is an evolution of, and a critique of, Landscape Urbanism arguing for a more holistic approach to the design and management of cities.
I welcome both initiatives as perhaps the most significant contributions to landscape design theory since the landscape architecture profession was launched in the mid-nineteenth century. But much the same group of people are involved in both initiatives and I am unpersuaded by the change of name. For the construct Ecological Urbanism to have a good chance of a long and happy life its two components would need careful definitions and accounts of their intension and extension.
LANDSCAPE Architecture has established itself as a design profession and uses the word landscape evaluatively – just as ‘a work of architecture’ differs from ‘a building’. ECOLOGICAL can be used evaluatively but is more often used to describe one of the natural sciences. The compound LANDSCAPE ECOLOGY uses both words descriptively. I would appreciate a justification for Ecological Urbanism’s claim, quoted above, to social inclusiveness. Mostafavi, in his introduction to a large book on the subject, provides no evidence of an interest in the social use of urban space – unless you include his final remark that ‘Guattari’s conception of an ethics of the ecological is an inherently political project with a commitment to countering the global dominance of capitalism’. I predict not many clients will brief ecological urbanists to overthrow global capitalism. So I suggest using the term Landscape (Ecological) Urbanism for a while – and then dropping the (Ecological) when people have recognized the ecological commitment. As Ian Thompson argued in 2000 (in his book on Ecology, Community and Delight: An Inquiry into Values in Landscape Architecture: Sources of Value in Landscape Architecture) the Vitruvian aims of landscape architecture already include Ecology. We just need to bang on about this important point.
See also Gardenvisit notes on Landscape and Ecological Urbanism
Note on the illustration: it shows James Craig’s famous plan for Edinburgh New Town superimposed on ‘the bark of a tree‘. The section of Craig’s drawing north of Princes Street was built and is a great success in its response to landform and views. The section south of Princes Street was not built and hardly could have been built. The land falls into a deep valley, occupied by a loch when the plan was drawn, and then rises steeply to Edinburgh Castle Rock – which is shown on the plan.

Space and place

Famous Danish Urbanist Jan Gehl after a nine month study of central Sydney in 2007 called for the addition of three new public squares along George Street:

“His report paints a picture of a city at war with itself – car against pedestrian, high-rise against public space. “The inevitable result is public space with an absence of public life,” he concludes.

His nine-month investigation found a city in distress. A walk down Market Street involved as much waiting at traffic lights as it did walking. In winter, 39 per cent of people in the city spend their lunchtimes underground, put off by a hostile environment at street level: noise, traffic, wind, a lack of sunlight and too few options for eating.”

If the City of Sydney was to implement his vision how would the addition of public space improve the perception of place in Sydney?

The City of Miami is also feeling the lack of a public centre. In considering the attributes of good public squares they describe a few of the most successful spaces in the US, including Union Square and Madison Square.

Feel free to nominate your favourite public square and tell us why it is so good!

Singing the greens: Joni Mitchell in concert 1970 – Big Yellow Taxi

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot SPOT
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Til it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot


They took all the trees
And put them in a tree museum
Then they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see ’em
Don’t it always seem to go,
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Til it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Healing hurts: past

The big picture of the London Riots is very disturbing. The burnt out shell of the 140 year old Reeves furniture store is symbolic of the losses London has suffered. “It is now likely that the damage which was ‘worse than the blitz’ would force the ravaged building to be demolished and rebuilt.” How to explain the mindless and pointless destruction and the reckless endangering of life supposedly by a twentyone year old?

So is it social division, or a bizarre new form of recreation to relieve ennui, the result of political correctness, a new phenomenon of virtual gangs or some other cause?

More importantly, how should London rebuilt to heal hurts past and with a renewed confidence as the Olympic city? And what lessons does the experiences in London hold for the sustainable urban design and planning of other complex global cities?

Food glorious food

Modern life presents numerous paradoxes. Perhaps the first is the widespread trade in food produce and the convenience of supermarket shopping, that has somehow alienated society from the concept that all food is land or sea based. And this means – land area & sea area – must be used, managed and preserved for this purpose, generally in some direct relationship with the population that must be feed.

Can all nations feed their own populations within the bounds of their own land and sea resources?

“Some countries just do not have the land to feed their year-2000 populations even at high yields. They include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Algeria, Somalia, Lesotho, Haiti, and much of the Middle East. Some of these countries have resources they can trade for food; others do not. After the year 2000, if populations go on growing, other countries come onto the critical list, including Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria.”

How is sustainable agriculture and aquaculture to be understood?

Is new urbanism old?

The 10 principles of New Urbanism are:

1. Walkability
2. Connectivity
3. Mixed use and diversity
4. Mixed housing
5. Quality architecture and urban design
6. Traditional neighbourhood structure
7. Increased density
8. Smart transportation
9. Sustainability
10. Quality of life

According the wikipedia entry “This new system of development, with its rigorous separation of uses, became known as “conventional suburban development” or pejoratively as urban sprawl, arose after World War II. The majority of U.S. citizens now live in suburban communities built in the last fifty years, and automobile use per capita has soared.

Although New Urbanism as an organized movement would only arise later, a number of activists and thinkers soon began to criticize the modernist planning techniques being put into practice. Social philosopher and historian Lewis Mumford criticized the “anti-urban” development of post-war America. The Death and Life of Great American Cities, written by Jane Jacobs in the early 1960s, called for planners to reconsider the single-use housing projects, large car-dependent thoroughfares, and segregated commercial centers that had become the “norm.”

Rooted in these early dissenters, New Urbanism emerged in the 1970s and 80s with the urban visions and theoretical models for the reconstruction of the “European” city proposed by architect Leon Krier, and the “pattern language” theories of Christopher Alexander.”

New urbanism was fundamentally a social planning movement although it has morphed more recently to include at least a minimalist environmental agenda. Wendy Morris says new urbanism was “….Initially A Reaction to Sprawl…..Now A Basis for Sustainable Urban Growth/Smart Growth…….and a response to Climate Change and Peak Oil…and a Basis for Addressing Physical Health and
Social Well-being.”

Can the old theory of New Urbanism be adapted to adequately address new environmental concerns?

How green is my neighbourhood?

One of the unfortuneate consequences of the fight against urban sprawl, which has been largely taken up in the name of Jane Jacobs, is the loss of green space and the urban forests of many communities. They are disappearing in the manner environmentalists call ‘death by a thousand cuts’, that is (sometimes) slowly and incrementally.

Sherwood Forest is one of the old, upscale, districts of Detroit, ‘the city of Neighbourhoods’;

“Developers thought that the area should resemble an English village; thus, they selected appropriate English names and curved and winding streets. You will not find a rectangular street pattern here or in old English villages. There are about 435 homes, most of them built before the Depression terminated housing construction in the city. Many of them are Georgian Colonials or English Tudor homes in keeping with the English theme. Some of the homes are newer, having been constructed after building resumed in 1947. They are large, even by the standards of early 21st-century architecture since they average about 3,600 square feet with four to six bedrooms.”

In the adjacent suburb of Palmer Woods is the Dorothy Turkel House by Frank Lloyd Wright, which undoubtably also relies on its leafy surrounds for its ambience.

British biologist Professor Jeff Sayer in his lecture at James Cook University asked the apt conservation question, ‘Conserving the forests for whom?’

Getting wet: staying on the edge

As we await two expected tropical cyclones in North Queensland the following questions have a particular poignancy. What is the solution to coast inundation? Are there ways in which we can get used to getting wet and enjoy it as part of the experience – akin to playing in the surf?

While the Israeli port project may not offer the solution to the landfall of tropical cyclones, it might inspire ways to accommodate a slightly less defined and changeable boundary between the sea and land.

Mayslits Kassif Architects urban regeneration of the Tel Aviv Port is a landmark project which saw “the suspension of all the area’s rezoning plans” and set a precedent for “transformation not propelled by building rights, but by a unique urban design strategy.” The project received the 2010 Rosa Barba European Landscape Prize.

The geography and topography of place

Urban designers in the port city of Copenhagen are making quite a splash for themselves with the design of several exciting new urban spaces.

Dune city is the latest urban design offering by SLA in Copenhagen. “Like a giant dune of sand or snow it slips in between and clings around the buildings, thereby creating a spatial coherence in the design.”

The foldedplate design enables the visitor (pedestrians, cyclists, skaters and the walking impaired) to tranverse the elevated landscape between the buildings amidst a vegetated space of reedy grasses and trees. The landscape has been designed to appear flat and two dimensional from a distance but to reveal its true three dimensional character as you move through its spaces. The high albredo effect is said to produce a cooler microclimate during the warmer periods by reflecting the incoming heat and radiation.

Can the the world’s model climate citizen lead the way also with climate sensitive urban design and by its example also change the fate of nations like Mongolia?

Viewing the bigger picture

The big question for what happens next for the city of Brisbane and for many cities worldwide is the role of climate change in flood events.

The previous big flood event in the city was in 1974. Since then a dam has been built as flood mitigation and in 2011 it has protected the city from more severe flooding.

However, with climate change, the expected frequency and severity of flooding could be expected to increase. So yes, a competition too – looking at the bigger picture – to design floodable spaces and places for cities would be a great contribution to urban flood defences and urban design.

>

Gardens as models for landscape urbanism, urban design and city planning.

As the above and below photographs show, it is a good idea to test ideas at the small scale and the human scale before building them at full scale. This also applies to city building: ideas should be tested at the garden scale before being built at the city scale. There are three advantages to this procedure. First, city building is immensely complicated and therefore requires even more testing than engineering design. Second, working with garden-scale models creates an opportunity for piecemeal planning, working from details to generalities and from small to large (see post on gardens and landscape urbanism). I argued for this in an essay on The Tradedy of Feminine Design and, though not happy with the method being described as ‘feminine’, I remain convinced that the small-to-large design process is a necessary counterweight to the far-too-popular Master Planning approach. It is also very well suited to the garden-and-landscape way of thinking. Detail decisions can be conceived as planting ‘seeds’ which will grow into cities. This is, let us not forget, both the way most of the worlds cities began and also the way they have grown. The third advantage of using gardens as laboratories for city design is that gardeners always and instinctively deal with ecological, hydrological, recycling and climatic issues.

Above photo of wind tunnel testing of a model of a plane courtesy QinetiQ Group.

Parterre with plate-bande in compartment garden, shown in Stoke Edith Wall Hanging – and landscape urbanism

This tapestry (dated 1710-20)  was rescued from a fire at Stoke Edith Park  in 1927 (see aerial photo of Stoke Edith today). It shows a garden which may have belonged to Stoke Edith House and which may have been designed by George London. It is the principal section of a compartment garden, designed for walking and for displaying the owners valuable statues and valuable flowers. The planted ribbons (plate-bandes) and the nature of their planting are clearly shown, as are the citrus fruits in tubs, placed outside for the summer to scent the air and provide fresh fruits which were otherwise unobtainable. The building at the far end of the parterre is an orangery.The design style is that of the Late Renaissance.
The use and the layout remind one of the squares of eighteenth century London and Paris (eg the Place des Vosges) – which were, in effect communal parterres. I see the urban examples as landscape urbanism in the sense of city plans inspired by garden and landscape plans.
When the Stoke Edith parterre was made the surrounding settlements (eg Hereford) were, presumably, densely packed and grubby almost-medieval towns. Their ‘shared space’ would have been roads for riding: unpaved and strewn with animal dung. For fine ladies in fine clothes they were not suitable places to take the air – so they needed gardens with gravel walks, statues and flowers to admire. The social use of the garden space is evident.

A Stoke Edith gate lodge (built in 1792) survives on a bend in the road between Ledbury and Hereford.

Images courtesy Wikipedia. See photograph of Stoke Edith garden and parterre before 1927

The definition of landscape urbanism

Landscape urbanism in Safavid Isfahan - with hills on the horizon and a recent water feature

A previous post considered landscape urbanism and led to this definition:
LANDSCAPE URBANISM is an approach to urban design in which the elements of cities (water, landform, vegetation, vertical structures and horizontal structures) are composed (visually, functionally and technically) with regard to human use and the landscape context.
I am content with this definition for the time being but would like to give a little more explanation.
(1) The idea of ‘compositional elements’ comes from the history of garden design. It is a field in which water, landform, vegetation, buildings and paving have been composed, for at least 5,000 years – and it has always been done with regard to exiting landscapes and specific human uses. This has often made garden design a crucible for urban design, with the famous examples of Late-Renaissance Rome, Safavid Isfahan, Yuan and Ming Beijing, Georgian London, Late-Baroque Paris, even-later Baroque Washington DC and the Garden Cities of the twentieth century.
(2) The classification of design objectives (functional, technical, visual) is based on Vitruvius: Commodity, Firmness and Delight.

Under landscape urbanist programming, the design of urban space begins with the design of urban space. Buildings are then arranged and designed to surround and contain the urban space. Designing the buildings before the space will almost always diminish the potential quality of the urban space: visually, socially and ecologically.

Above image courtesy François Bouchet

History of Isfahan urban landscape from maidan market to western park (photos 1737, c1930, c2000)

History of Isfahan urban landscape from maidan market to western park (photos 1737, c1930, c2000)

What is landscape urbanism?

Charles Waldheim Landscape urbanism reader

Charles Waldheim's Landscape urbanism reader

[See notes on Urban design and landscape urbanism]

London’s Architectural Association has picked up the term landscape urbanism and come near to draining it of meaning. The programme’s ‘rationale’ states that landscape urbanism is understood as ‘a model of connective, scalar and temporal operations through with the urban is conceived and engaged with: the urban is conceived and engaged with: the urban is diagrammed as a landscape; a complex and processual ecology’. In social science, ‘processual’ means ‘of or relating to a process, especially to the methodological study of processes’. In physics ‘A scalar is a quantity with a magnitude but no direction’. So I would describe the above ‘rationale’ as profoundly vague.
Wikipedia defines landscape urbanism as ‘a theory of urbanism arguing that landscape, rather than architecture, is more capable of organizing the city and enhancing the urban experience’. This definition comes from The landscape urbanism reader edited by Charles Waldheim (Princeton Architectural Press, 2006). Waldheim associates the term landscape urbanism with James Corner’s essay Terra Fluxus. Corner, in turn, associates the term with a conference organized by Waldheim in 1997. But Corner’s essay, unlike the AA statement, is cogent and useful and has a simple underlying message: buildings and landscapes must be considered together, planned together and designed together (my phrasing). They comprise a ‘field’ on which we operate. Corner works with an architect (Stan Alan) and their firm has the name Field Operations. Corner’s essay allows one to understand what the AA means by processual. City planning should rest on an understanding of the ecological and social processes which underpin Ian McHarg’s Design with nature approach. The term Terra Fluxus is therefore a contrast with Terra Firma: the world is not firm – it is a flux (as Heraclitus observed). I commend James Corner for his clarity and abhor the AA’s obfuscation of the term.

For more discussion see Jason King’s landscape + urbanism blog. It is an important debate and I have provisionally added Charles Waldheim’s reader to the list of 100 Best Books on landscape architecture.

See also: the definition of landscape urbanism

NIMBY Urbanism and Landscape Urbanism

Hundertwasser's design for Spa Blumeau increases the urban area while allowing a vegetated landscape to develop

Hundertwasser's design for Spa Blumeau increases the urban area while allowing a vegetated landscape to develop

The most popular urban design policy is NIMBY Not In My Back Yard: lets keep on building but lets do it somewhere else. This may change when we all come to see the Earth as our Back Yard. Meanwhile, how can we make urbanization more popular? There are about three times as many humans on earth today as on the day I was born. If this trend continues, as is projected, we need a lot of space for urban sprawl or we need to intensify the use of each square meter which is already urbanized. How can either policy be popular? My suggestion is asking landscape architects to study plots of land and  find ways of simultaneously (1) creating more indoor space (2) creating more greenspace which is both useful and accessible to the public. This can be done in lots of ways and one of the best examples comes from the work of the Austrian artist-designer Friedensreich Hundertwasser. At Spa Blumeau, illustrated above, he took some tired farmland and made a popular spa with, I guess, more wildlife and vegetation than before the development took place.

See the Landscape Urbanism Blog and Wiki on Landscape Urbanism Landscape Urbanism is a theory of urbanism which argues that landscape, rather than architecture, is more capable of organizing the city and enhancing the urban experience.