The Easter Island Path to Perdition could show where humanity is heading

Following the below comments on Attitudes to life, death and trees in western culture and ‘civilization’, I thank Anoldent, for his photograph and his account of the Fifteen Moai on Easter Island: ‘Moai were status symbols. The more you had and the bigger they were, the greater your village’s status. Unfortunately, moving them around the island required many trees, and when the last trees were cut on the once heavily forested island, the topsoil blew away, the islanders could no longer build fishing boats, or even escape the ensuing famine. Wars erupted and the culture collapsed. An environmental cautionary tale. The island is still largely treeless.’ On a larger scale, too many humans think this way: ‘the more you have the better you are’: more rooms, more people, more buildings, more cars, more economic growth. But for humans who inhabit an island or a planet, aiming for more may result in less. Let’s call it ‘the Easter Island Path to Perdition’, and let’s be sufficiently optimistic to believe that the ‘civilization’ of cities will be replaced by a sophisticated landscape urbanism.

19 thoughts on “The Easter Island Path to Perdition could show where humanity is heading

  1. Adam Hodge

    Is the continuing treelessness of the Easter islands what Christine comments as ‘ a rich cultural heritage in countries that have often depleted their natural heritage…and the manmade heritage is worth preserving also’ ?

    Having read the current blog I find myself taking issue with this perspective.Is the cultural heritage of a shaven landscape really better then a restored landscape.

    Surely, as we are preaching to the countries currently depleting their natural heritage about ‘managing’ their jungles, it is possible to plant, both in the UK and the Easter Islands new multi-specie forests! It needs a proletariat will to compel our Government to design it into landowners tax breaks partnered with a campaign by the red top tabloids to invest in new timber to increase our natural assets. Just as our junior generations are being educated/indoctrinated with current PC propoganda,so an awareness of reinvesting in our heritage of forests be instilled in their consciousness. ”Plant a wood .it’ll do us good”

  2. Tom Turner Post author

    I have been criticising UK forest policy for about 40 years (!) and while I would not yet describe it as ‘good’, I have to admit that it is ‘better’. There is, for example, more emphasis on hardwoods and more on aesthetics. So there are some grounds for environmental optimism – as well as a terrible disappointment that so little has been done. The standard policy for UK professions when faced with an environmental ‘problem’ is to learn how to say the right things while continuing to do as many of the wrong things as humanly possible.

  3. Tom Turner Post author

    I would say that landscape urbanism is more of a good term, with a good future, than it is a fully worked-out theory. So I like the ambition contained in its description as ‘a theory of urbanism arguing that landscape, rather than architecture, is more capable of organizing the city and enhancing the urban experience’. So, yes, I would be pleased to see it as an approach which treats cities as landscapes.
    In France, ‘urbanism’ means ‘planning’. In the UK and the US ‘urbanism’ tends to be close to ‘urban design’ and to involve ‘an approach to making better public space in cities’.

  4. Adam Hodge

    Is Jubilee Park at Canary Wharf an example of this peculiar phrase Landscape Urbanism ? What a limited pallet of trees the landscape architects utilized..a bit like a commercial plantation..nothing but Taxodium or is it Metasequoia ?

  5. Tom Turner Post author

    No! – Jubilee Gardens are an example of weird garden design using Metasequoias. And it beats me why they have not done the decent thing – and dropped dead.
    I have been meaning to write more on landscape urbanism for ages – and have to admit that the phrase is not self-explanatory. In my view the classic streets in Bath are an example of landscape urbanism: they are ‘urban’ because they are part of a town and they are ‘landscape’ because they draw on landscape/garden design ideas (rather than military, planning, engineering or architectural ideas).

  6. Tom Turner Post author

    I think the AA lecturers are stupid – not you. They do not seem to appreciate that for a new idea to flourish it must be as simple as possible and as clear as possible. The AA is not the cradle of landscape urbanism. A cradle is a place for a child to grow in safety. The AA landscape urbanism course is a snare for the unwary.

  7. Christine

    Ying would it help if I told you that the AA as an institution was started by architects in order to provide formal education to the profession at a time when architecture was an apprenticeship?

    Inevitably the AA sees certain issues through an architectural lens. The AA has a well deserved reputation for excellence.

    Perhaps the best approach for a keen landscape architecture student is to understand when you go to lectures which pair of glasses you have put on.

    There are some aspects of landscape which are peculiar to landscape. For example, animals make their home in the landscape while humans tend to build architecture to provide themselves with shelter.

    Although I suppose both animals and humans are climate sensitive in their outdoor behaviour.
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  8. Tom Turner Post author

    I like the idea of packing different sets of glasses for different sorts of lecture! – and I certainly agree about the AA’s reputation. As for urban designers, I do not think they do nearly enough to respond to changeable weather conditions (see comment on postmodernism)

  9. Christine

    John Croumbie-Brown in ‘The Forests of England, and the Management of the Them in Bygone Times’ notes that:

    “When Britain was invaded by the Romans, about the commencement of the Christian era, the country was extensively covered with forests…Caesar found upon the South Coast people engaged in agriculture, and some towns inhabited by traders between Britain and the Continent; but all beyond appeared to be a vast and horrid forest;…”

  10. Tom Turner Post author

    Interesting that John Croumbie-Brown uses ‘about the commencement of the Christian era’ in this context – because the Roman invaders and the British peoples they conquered seem to have been in broad agreement on religious issues. They were pagan and shared an Indo-European cultural heritage, including a respect for trees and forests. Christianity came later and was no more than a minority urban religion in the final years of the Roman imperium.

  11. Christine

    Hmmm. Apparently by the time of Pliny Italy was almost stripped of its forest cover:

    “For this reason the Romans had to import most of the timber from all parts of the Empire and metalurgic industries, which depended heavily on charcoal, moved out of Italy. The centres of mining and metal smelting became the most deforested areas of the Roman Empire. Pliny must have realised that human industry and activities put forests at risk of destruction. In a world where trees were a scarce resource it is not surprising that Pliny wrote with awe about the massive forests in Germany..”

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  12. Tom Turner Post author

    I guess it was only sacred groves which received the protection of ‘sacredness’ – and that industry was more important than religion. I feel offended at the idea of sacred trees being cut down on principle. It is also interesting that Japan’s forests were and are protected because of a belief in their value. So the Japanese import their timber from what was once called the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (大東亜共栄圏 Dai-tō-a Kyōeiken).

  13. Christine

    I sure the Pacific nations were pleased that Japanese plans for the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere were never fully realized.

    It seems that the sacredness of particular trees are religion and culture specific. Therefore the cutting down of another’s sacred tree[s] is not considered taboo?
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  14. Tom Turner Post author

    Most religions appear to need a New Testament at the rate of approximately one per millennium. For example: tree worshipers should extend their scope from ‘our sacred trees’ to ‘all sacred trees’; Muslims should re-consider the position of women in society; Catholics should re-consider whether priests can marry.

  15. Christine

    Yes, it would certainly be a worthy thing if ‘all sacred trees’ could be respected.

    Eastern rite catholic priests do marry. Here is an interesting article on the topic for you to consider. [ ]

    What would be the next question? Can married priests be bishops? Can married priests divorce?
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    After that of course, would be, can divorced priests remarry? Can divorced priests be bishops?

    I suppose there are as many differences in how the Islamic faith is understood, lived and practiced as there are of the Buddhist faith. This website provides a good introduction, and perhaps helpfully illustrates some misconceptions that may exist in Islam about Christianity.
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    Perhaps most enlightening for me, is the idea that the Islamic faith does not believe in original sin. The would be consequences flowing from this for the Islamic understanding of the human condition.

    Perhaps someone of the muslim faith could clarify this for me?

    Christianity certainly believes women have souls and does not believe that women are inherently evil.

  16. Tom Turner Post author

    My very-outsiders view is that Islam was a very-enlightened faith at the time of its inception but that a ‘mistake’ was made in stating that because the Koran is the word of God the faith can never change. There are indeed ‘many differences in how the Islamic faith is understood’ – so presumably some of them are right/wrong, good/bad, better/worse. Therefore the faith must change even if the Koran never changes.
    An interesting problem for Muslims is that if there is no God but Allah then all the world’s 7,000,000,000 people should convert to Islam – and all of them should visit Mecca at least once in their lives and during the 4 months of the Hajj. At present the world has about 1,100,000,000 muslims and the city receives about 3,500,000 visitors/year, because many muslims visit the city frequently. Could Mecca accommodate 22,272,727+m visitors/year? Certainly, they should educate many muslims in landscape architecture.

  17. christine

    I would be interested to know if landscape architecture is a formal discipline within Islam. There is such a strong garden tradition that it would be surprising if it was not a formal area of study at some period within the Islamic cultural flowering.

    Perhaps accommodating increased pilgrimage numbers to Mecca in the future has already been considered?

    I wonder whether faith adherence generally increases or decreases with education and wealth? This seems to be the case presently with Christianity. Is the Islamic experience different?

  18. Tom Turner Post author

    Iran has an active and enthusiastic young landscape architecture profession but it is split between (1) a desire to be forward-looking and modernistic (2) a desire to be true to Islam by avoiding westernization.
    Many of the other Islamic countries are either so poor that they cannot afford what is seen as a luxury profession, quite wrongly, or they are so rich that they employ foreigners to do the work.
    Mecca is always making provision for increased visitor numbers but if present trends continue the visitors will have to be rushed past the Kaaba on banks of high-speed travelators. Hajj pilgrims were once Saudi Arabia’s main source of foreign currency and may be so again when the oil runs out. So investment in promoting Islam and Islamic tourism makes good financial and religious sense.
    Do you mean that Christians and Muslims may be wealthier than aethists?


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