The Landscape Guide

Back to urban design

Deleuze and Guattari landscape urbanism assemblage

Urbanism but not landscape: Deleuze and Guattari on a New York Subway

Modernism & landscape architecture design theory: Survey>Analysis>Design

Modernism had such a deep influence that most landscape architects were unaware of its icy grip. For students, it was like being born into a faith community. They learned how to think and act in accordance with Modernism - without reading its foundational texts or being able to give coherent accounts of its main tenets. For many landscape architects in the primes of their careers, this remains the case. Design is modeled on a simplistic understanding of the scientific method.  It is problem solving activity: you survey the site, you analyse the client's brief, you solve the problems and, hey-presto, you have a design. The general principles of Modernism, not all of which were followed by landscape and garden designers,  were (see Turner, T., European gardens, 2011, p.369):
  1. develop forms by following functions
  2. express structure
  3. be true to materials
  4. use modern materials for modern construction
  5. avoid stories and sentimentality
  6. remember that the styles are dead
  7. avoid decoration, because less is more

Post-modernism & landscape architecture design theory: Landscape urbanism

Not knowing they were Modernists prevented landscape architects taking much interest in Postmodernism. They saw it as little more a trendy style with Constructivist geometry. This was a misjudgement resulting from their lack of interest in design theory. But then landscape urbanism appeared. Charles Waldheim attributed the term to Peter Connolly, who, with a pleaslingly postmodern turn, denied having used it in Waldheim's sense. Then James Corner took it up. In Terra Fluxus, contrasted with Terra Ferma, he wrote of design in a Deleuzian flux and thus of:
  • 'the more significant potentials of landscape urbanism'
  • 'the concept of landscape urbanism suggests'
  • 'promise of landscape urbanism'
  • 'the landscape urbanism project'Constructivis
  • 'landscape urbanism is here both instigator and accelerator'
  • 'I believe that landscape urbanism suggests a reconsideration of traditional conceptual, representational, and operative techniques'
  • 'landscape urbanism is first and last an imaginative project, a speculative thickening of the world of possibilities'
This was good. It opened landscape architecture the creative potential of ideas. At its best, landscape urbanism holds to the logical rigour of Modernism - and aspires to sufficiently new directions to justify the description Postmodern. This was always the attraction in postmodern theory: to keep what was good in Old Modernism, to push forward, to welcome progress, to welcome change. For landscape postmodernism, the best aspects of Old Modernism were the principles that
  1. landscape forms should follow landscape functions
  2. landscape structures should be expressed
  3. be true to local materials: ecological, geological, hydrological
So far so modern. Landscape urbanism's postmodern turn came through its engagement with a strand of postmodernism known as post-structuralism. Ian Thompson explains this as the 6th tenet of landscape urbanism: 'Landscape Urbanism’s favoured philosophers however are the double act of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, whose A Thousand Plateaus has recently become required reading across the humanities. These authors use commonplace words in uncommon ways and they stretch the metaphor of the machine in ways it has never been stretched before. They make it deliberately difficult to pin this usage down, but they are happy to talk about love machines, literary machines, mad war machines, revolutionary machines and so on. Machines, in this very broad sense, can connect or plug into other machines. ‘‘A book itself is a little machine’’, they say (Deleuze & Guattari, 2004, p. 6) and we should not ask what it means or represents. A related expression is ‘‘machinic assemblage’’ which they use to discuss the way in which elements come together, mix or connect.'  Moshen Mostafavi led the teaching of Postmodern landscape urbanism at the AA.

Post-postmodernism & landscape architecture design theory: PAKILDA

Postmodernism has been challenged for its multi-everything-ness. We can reject such binary opposites as city & landscape, man & nature, ugly & beautiful or good & bad, But then how should designers act? And how should anyone act? My definition of Post-postmodernism, was published in a 1996 book on City as landscape - a post-postmodern view of design and planning - see the Wiki definition of Post-postmodernism which in December 2013, explains that 'A common positive theme of current attempts to define post-postmodernism is that faith, trust, dialogue, performance and sincerity can work to transcend postmodern irony'.  For landscape urbanism, the most appealing strand of faith and sincerity comes from the strand of beliefs associated with ecology. Ian Thompson wrote that 'Landscape Urbanism is on the verge of transforming itself into Ecological Urbanism, indeed a conference on that theme was held at Harvard in 2009, out of which a publication has already emerged (Mostafavi & Doherty, 2010).' Moshen Mostafavi has also led the progression to Ecological Urbanism.
I see the acceptance of ecology as a a necessary but not a sufficient advance towards what software engineers would call a 'stable release' of a theory which, I suggest, should be called Landscape Ecological Urbanism. Giving Vitruvius' terms a post-postmodern application, I believe designers should not privilege firmitas over utilitas or venustas. They are a triumverate which we can explore and manipulate through a PAKILDA hypertext landscape urbanismThe Pattern Assisted Knowledge Intensive Landscape Design Approach (PAKILDA) is Post-postmodern. It is an open-systems design method which uses landscape concepts. It cycles between the analysis and synthesis of geological, cultural and urban systems.  Landscapes are analysed as patterns and represented diagramatically. It would not be too big a stretch to understand them as Deleuzian assemblages. 
Deleuze and Guattari landscape urbanism assemblage
PAKILDA landscape architecture urbanism patterns
PAKILDA Landscape Architecture & Urbanism Patterns

Tom Turner December 2013