Canon Bernard Iddings Bell and the postmodern landscape architecture of Heatherwick and Jencks

Old Airport Road Park (from Thomas Heatherwick Making, Thames & Hudson, 2012)

I visited the V&A this week, to see the Heatherwick Studio Exhibition, and looked at two books in the V&A Library. Heatherwick’s exhibition and book complement one another. TS Eliot proclaimed Rudyard Kipling a great hymn writer on the basis of a single hymn. Kipling’s Re­cess­ion­al is below. Heatherwick can be recognized as a great landscape archtiect on the basis of as single unbuilt design, above. It is the Old Airport Road Park, commissioned by the Abu Dhabi royal family in 2010. Most of the new landscapes made during the Middle East’s Age of Wealth have been horticulturally, climatically and culturally inept. Heatherwick took a lump of clay, moulded it to the shape of a tortoise shell and let it dry. Cracks appeared. This generated the concept of a canopy through which shafts of light pierce the dark, as in a hamam. It was ‘Conceived as a place for friends and families to gather and picnic… the colonnaded spaces below ground are protected from the harsh sunlight by the fragmented pieces of desert supported overhead on columns. Within this environment are cafes, public baths, pools and streams, as well as community vegetable gardens, market gardens and date palms’.
Heatherwick, like most artists, holds back from classifying the style in which he works. But he has a well-tested design method and explains that ‘If a potential commissioner asks for “just a sketch”, we have to try to explain that this is not the way to work’. This is because ‘The studio’s design process has always depended on its workshop, which allows it to test and realize ideas through the making of experimental pieces, protypes, models and full-size models of buildings’. I commend this method to the landscape profession. Jonathan Ive (of Apple) also goes through a protyping sequence – which results in the classic High Modernism of Apple products. Corbusier would love Apple products. Heatherwick and Ive both trained in the UK, Heatherwick studying 3D design and Ive studying industrial design. Heatherwick then went to the Royal College of Art, which presumably helped him to become as much an artist as a craftsman as a designer. Also, I believe, it led him into postmodernism. Heatherwick accepts the core insights of Modernism but adds ‘something more’. The more is often a fascination with the controlled repitition of shapes and patterns. Sometimes, this reminds me of Andy Goldsworthy’s work.
The word ‘postmodern’ was first used by John Watkins Chapman in the 1870s as a term for what we would classify as post-impressionist art. In 1926 the term received an unrelated but serious treatment in Canon Bernard Iddings Bell’s Postmodernism and Other Essays. Bell’s argument was that religious fundamentalism is unacceptable, because of the advance of science, and that a full Modernism is also unacceptable. Equating Modernism with the Liberal theology of George Tyrrell and Alfred Loisey, Bell put forward a Postmodernism which welcomed the the insights of science but held firm to the core principles of Christianity. Quotations from Bell:
The Bible can no longer be regarded as an inerrant touchstone, the wholly infallible gift of the Eternal to struggling man.(p.4)
Modernism is, properly, a way of looking at religion which originated with Loisey and Tyrrell, two eminent and deposed Roman Catholic priests. (p.7) [Both were excommunicated]
There is no art for art’s sake. All art exists for the sake of Truth. (p.13)
The scientific intelligentsia now realizes, and for the most part freely admits that, merely by scientific methods, nothing of basic importance, of primary importance, of ontological importance, can be discovered. (p.21)
Fundamentalism is hopelessly outdated. Modernism has ceased to be modern. We are ready for some sort of postmodernism. (p.54)
Insofar as he exists at this moment, the Post-modernist is apt to be a man without a Church. Protestantism, Modernism, and Romanticism alike seem to him to miss the point. (p.65)

This takes us to the distinguished theorist and landscape designer who brought the term Postmodernism to the visual arts. Charles Jencks argues that postmodernism is an approach which is ‘one-half modern and one-half something else’. This is not as different from Bell’s view as one might have expected. Bell and Jencks appear to agree that (1) a scientific understanding of nature is essential (2) artists should be concerned with truths about the nature of the world – as the best landscape art always has been.


God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far flung battle line,
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The captains and the kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy mercy on Thy people, Lord!

46 thoughts on “Canon Bernard Iddings Bell and the postmodern landscape architecture of Heatherwick and Jencks

  1. Christine

    The problem with the ideas of modernism is that religion is not entirely concerned with the natural world and therefore accessible through reason alone. The supernatural world is experienced through faith. Reason enlightened by faith is necessary to begin to understand the supernatural. For example Buddhists believe in Reincarnation. The Dalai Lama speaks of this through personal experience. Is it possible to scientifically prove he is a reincarnated being? If so, this would assist significantly with religious controversies.

    Reply
    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I prefer the term ‘belief’ to ‘faith’ in this context, because ‘faith’ derives from fidere ‘to trust’ and I do not see how a being can be trusted until it is known. However the distinction is not clear and the online etymological dictionary explains that ‘Belief used to mean “trust in God,” while faith meant “loyalty to a person based on promise or duty” (a sense preserved in keep one’s faith, in good (or bad) faith and in common usage of faithful, faithless, which contain no notion of divinity). But faith, as cognate of L. fides, took on the religious sense beginning in 14c. translations, and belief had by 16c. become limited to “mental acceptance of something as true,” from the religious use in the sense of “things held to be true as a matter of religious doctrine” (a sense attested from early 13c.)’. In either case, would you say that a person who lacks faith cannot experience the supernatural world? And would you say that Modernism has no base in faith/belief? Sorry to put such difficult questions but I think Modernism and Postmodernism are much in need of further exploration.

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  2. Christine

    According to Dominican definitions the distinction between faith and belief is that 1) faith is an intellectual habit of mind 2) belief is an act of faith.

    Can a person who lacks faith experience the supernatural world? My supposition is that if all people have souls all people have a supernatural life whether they realise it or not. What this means for experience of the supernatural world I am not sure.

    Perhaps we would need to clearly define things that belong to the supernatural rather than the natural world?

    Often intellectual movements are reactions against other intellectual movements. If modernism originates with the liberal theology of Tyrrell and Loisey it is squarely about faith and belief. If Bell’s postmodern thesis is in response to the modernism of Tyrrell and Loisey, it is also squarely about faith and belief.

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Christine, I agree that if anyone can experience the supernatural then everyone can experience the supernatural. But I don’t agree with the Dominicans (and I don’t think modernism, as an artistic movement, originates in theology).
      Modernist designers liked to believe that their work was rooted in science, rather than belief. I would say that Modernism also rested on beliefs but that the beliefs were unexpressed and ill-considered. That is why I think we now need to keep what was best in Modernism but become thoughtful and careful and explicit about the beliefs which should, and must, always underpin the work of a designer. ‘Postmodern’ is the best name current name for this endeavour – it was wasted on the semi-Pop designs of the 1970s.

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  3. Christine

    It would seem that the modernist philosophy did indeed arise out of theology and a reappraisal of the Enlightenment project, and has had a profound influence on art. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modernism ]

    How to do your views on faith and belief differ from the Dominicans?

    The implications of this philosophy for art and design are evident if the patronage and subject of art historically are considered (ie, Popes, Princes and biblical themes and portraiture.)

    Yes, the historicity of postmodernism is still current even with the recent neo-modernist tendencies in design(ie minimalism).

    I agree that “We now need to keep what was best in Modernism but become thoughtful and careful and explicit about the beliefs which should, and must, always underpin the work of a designer.” Of course, for many design professionals, design is an imitative rather than a creative activity and this too has implications for cities.

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Interesting re the origins of ‘modernism’. I guess they mean ‘the term modernism’, since people date the ideas from anwehere between the thirteenth and twentieth centuries (I favour Descartes).

      I disagree with the Dominicans because I think it is possible to have beliefs without having faith. Eg you can hold the beliefs that murder and wife beating are wrong without having faith in a supreme being with a kindly disposition who guarantees the virtuous ‘resurrection of the body and life everlasting’. If my body were to be resurrected, would it be as at my age of death or at some other point?

      One can’t expect too many designers to be philosophers, or to have high levels of originality, so I suppose they have to be imitators. But who should architects, landscape architects and urbanists imitate? I would put Tom Heatherwick on the list and, as with Tadao Ando, it is a little troubling for those who work in schools of architecture and landscape (like me!) that they did not attend such schools. Their life stories strengthen my belief that architects and landscape architects should spend more time making things and less time doing studio projects on computer monitors (necessary though computer skills are).

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  4. Christine

    You have raised a very interesting question in this post! Descartes’ work was profoundly influenced by the dreams or visions he experienced. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/René_Descartes )

    Yes, humanists often have a strong moral code without believing in an afterlife of having faith in God. I am not sure what claims are made for how we will be at the Resurrection, however there have been reports in religious literature of a person’s appearance being transformed at death (think perhaps the Transfiguration account in the Bible). I am not at all sure that age is the same in the supernatural realm as it is in the natural realm. (Please pardon me Descartes for making the distinction for the sake of conceptual clarity.

    I am not sure of the best way to teach designers originality or creative thinking, especially since imitation of the masters is an invaluable part of learning. It is a like a vocalist singing standards. It is only when they sing their own songs that they gain a strong identity as a singer. But of course this process can not be frivolous. Vocal skills are important, but they do not an original artist make?

    Yes, while designers may rarely be philosophers they are often caught up in the zeitgeist, responding with varying degrees of insight and originality to its challenges.

    Perhaps Tom Heatherwick and Tando Ando were not imitators because they were not exposed to design heroes as students are?

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      If God is equated with Nature, directly as in pantheism or indirectly as in much religious literature, then it makes ‘Supernatural’ a difficult word. It is easier to believe that there are many aspects of the natural world which are far beyond our knowledge as atoms, electrons and so forth were in Descartes’ time – and this could still be the case if the existence of the Higgs-bosen were to be confirmed.
      Re design education (1) I think originality is over-emphasised and quality is under-emphasised (2) I remain convinced that one of the important roads to success is being able to work with dirty hands as well as with clean hands, like Heatherwick and Ando http://www.gardenvisit.com/history_theory/library_online_ebooks/architecture_city_as_landscape/design_planning_methodology

      Reply
  5. Christine

    Typically God is not equated with nature because nature is considered to created by God, whilst God is considered to be uncreated.

    The supernatural is not limited to God, other beings are said to be supernatural entities, such as angels and demons, as well as humans who possess souls.

    There is some sense in which the animal and plant world in Buddhism is part of the supernatural world in the cycle of reincarnation.

    What distinction do you make between quality in design and originality in design?

    Re: dirty and clean hands – yes, it is entirely possible to be successful in design through either method.

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      ‘Supernatural’ is not a category which I make much use of, so I have taken this from Wiki ‘The supernatural (Medieval Latin: supernātūrālis: supra “above” + naturalis “nature”, first used: 1520–30 AD) is that which is not subject to the laws of nature, or more figuratively, that which is said to exist above and beyond nature. With neoplatonic and medieval scholastic origins, the metaphysical considerations can be difficult to approach as an exercise in philosophy or theology because any dependencies on its antithesis, the natural, will ultimately have to be inverted or rejected. In popular culture and fiction, the supernatural is whimsically associated with the paranormal and the occult, this differs from traditional concepts in some religions, such as Catholicism, where divine miracles are considered supernatural.’ I was not aware of its Scholastic origins and associated it with the paranormal.
      I use ‘originality’ to mean ‘originated by a person through imagination rather than imitation’ and ‘quality’ I would explain with reference to the Vitruvian virtues. If a place has commodity, firmness and delight then it has a good quality, even if it was created by copying another place. So one place can have originality without quality and another can have quality without originality.

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  6. Christine

    Yes. I am in agreement with you that one place can have originality without quality, (ie. it can be in bad taste, be poorly executed or be unfit for purpose), while another place can have no originality but be of quality (ie it can be in good taste, be well executed and be fit for purpose).

    Delight (as in commodity, firmness and delight) is an attribute of excellence rather than of quality, as it is MORE than is required for quality to be achieved. So perhaps it is an attribute of a very high standard of quality!

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      ‘Delight’ seems to be a really bad translation, by Wotton, of Vitruvius word venustas. Venustas was the quality associated with the Goddess Venus. I know too little to speak with any confidence about this but much has been written. R. Schilling wrote a book, in 1954, on La religion romaine de Venus depuis les origins jusqu’au temp d’August (Paris, 1954) and commented (p.25) that Venus protectrice des jardins est aussi hellenique que Minerve protectrice des olivettes. (Venus the protector of gardens is also Hellenic as Minerva is the protector of olive groves.) Venus is more associated with women than men. Her representation of an aesthetic quality needs to be understood in the wider context that gods and goddesses represented general concepts, before the time when languages were rich in conceptual terms. To say that the aesthetic aim of architecture is to be ‘delightful’ is as trite as saying that the aesthetic aim of women is to be ‘delightful’ (note: I am out of my depth on these issues!).

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  7. Christine

    Perhaps ‘Venustas’, translated as delight referred to the appreciation of the quality of beauty? Venus was also the goddess of beauty. Some have translated delight as ‘attractive appearance’. This could be understood as either a threshold standard (in which case delight is a less likely response) or as sexual attractivess (in which case delight is a more likely response). Of course, delight can be understood as an aesthetic response which is different in the appreciation of feminine beauty and of beauty in the landscape or architecture. Venus, is also associated with victory, and there are few males who don ‘t delight in victory!

    I am sure you are not at all out of your depth on these issues!

    Reply
    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Quite apart from Wotton’s translation, we would also need to know why Vitruvius used the word venustas instead of, for example, pulcher
      http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/pulcher beautiful, fair , (figuratively) noble, honorable, excellent, (substantive) beauty
      http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/venustas loveliness, comeliness, charm, grace, beauty, elegance, attractiveness
      Also, we need a knowledge of Greek and Roman aesthetic theory, including Plato, Aristotle, Cicero and Horace. But I would want to go further back than these writers to find out why the name of a goddess was used for an aesthetic quality. For various reasons the ancients regarded aesthetics (a term launched by Baumgarten in 1735) as being objective. The word ‘delight’ which would also need to be investigated, now suggests a subjective quality. Really, I am way out of my depth on this. But for our purposes, I think ‘delight’ is a bad translation of Vitruvius and lowers the objectives of the design professions.

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  8. Christine

    Tom perhaps the crux of the issue is that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’. Beauty is indeed a quality possessed by an object. However, the experience of ‘delight’ on viewing a beautiful object or landscape is subjective. Other aesthetic responses are possible.

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  9. Tom Turner Post author

    I think that the beauty which is in the eye of the beholder is the type of aesthetic quality which is ‘only skin deep’. So I agree about ‘other aesthetic responses’ and whatever connotations ‘delight’ had for Wotton are unlikely to be the connotations we have for the word.

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      A translator of Vitruvius comments that:
      Those many looking for “commodity, firmness and delight” will not find it in the Gwilt translation on this site. The phrase is a rendering of a passage of Vitruvius by Henry Wotton in his 1624 treatise, The Elements of Architecture — which as far as I can tell is by modern standards a paraphrase, rather than a translation of the Roman architect’s work, if often hewing fairly close. In Wotton’s context:

      The end is to build well. Well building hath three conditions: firmness, commodity, and delight.

      I would not go so far as the 15 webpages, all parroting each other, that read (my italics)

      Vitruvius claimed architecture was composed of the triple essence: strength, utility, and aesthetic effect. Sir Henry Wotton (1568‑1639) quaintly changed this to, ‘commodity, firmness and delight.’

      since Wotton’s translation was excellent in the language of his time, was not quaint, and changed nothing; but it’s a definite indication that this piece of nearly 400‑year‑old English is felt by many to be superseded or to need explanation; and indeed, a quick survey of webpages out there shows several misunderstandings of Vitruvius’ three principles that are due to a misunderstanding of English and a failure to return to the source. The author of at least one webpage, for example, presumably led astray by a modern meaning of “commodity” (as in financial markets), misunderstands the word as having something to do with cost-effectiveness: thus pointing out the mistakes that are so easy to make in reading older English; we see the same problem with Shakespeare and with the Bible.

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  10. Christine

    Tom you amused me with the persons misunderstanding of the word ‘commodity’. ( http://www.thefreedictionary.com/commodious ) This is understandable if you have ever walked into a room where it has been difficult to swing the proverbial cat.

    Is there a landscape equivalent for cramped conditions or overcrowding?

    And yes it is very difficult when understanding a phrase becomes an exercise in etymology! ( http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=delight )

    So between Vitruvius’ claims and Wotton’s translation of it there is a good deal of subtle language shift.

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I’d say that there are FAR more examples of outdoor spaces which are too big than of outdoor spaces which are too small. In fact the only European spaces I can think of which show signs of being overcrowed are in Rome: Trevi, Navona and Pantheon. And the overcrowding is because of mass tourism, not because the spaces were misjudged at the outset. In London the most egregious example of super-sizing is the ‘riverside walkway’ round the Isle of Dogs (and similar stretches made in the past 30 years). They are sized like two-lane roads and attract hardly any users. Stonking bonkers!

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  11. Christine

    On a blog England is nominated as Europe’s most crowded country, having overtaken Holland in population density. China is the most crowded country in the world. This is based on a factual statement.

    So what you say is about outdoor spaces being too big rather than too small is very interesting. There is also a subjective aspect to crowding. For example, is the perception of crowding a relative phenomenon, i.e. one persons crowd is another persons isolation?

    My friend’s parents ran an Eco-retreat in the Daintree in Northern Queensland and they told me people from Europe often went home after spending only one night there, because of the deep silence and the night noises of the insects and wildlife. It was an environment that was totally unfamiliar to them!

    Similarly speaking to some young Jackaroos who had come into Brisbane from the far west of the state of Queensland, and who would not see anyone or anything other than fences and cattle for weeks on end; the city (as uncrowded as it is) was uncomfortably busy and crowded for them.

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I agree about England becoming over-crowded. Joel Garreau was right about the south of England being a single Edge City which reaches from Dover to Bristol.
      And I completely take your point about the relativity of the perception of ‘crowded’. I feel it myself: in a wild place, any other visitors can be too many. But when urban spaces are designed for crowds and fail to attract them I think the planning is bad, especially if they are paved instead of being planted. Here are a few illustrations of not-ugly spaces which were designed to busy but are normally vacant http://www.gardenvisit.com/landscape_architecture/london_landscape_architecture/visitors_guide/isle_of_dogs_landscape_plan . The central section of Canary Wharf, on the Isle of Dogs, was however designed to busy and is attractive because of its success in attracting users.

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  12. Christine

    Yes, this is true when spaces are designed for public use but do not attract the public to use them there is obviously a design problem…or maybe even a problem with the development of the brief or the feasibility studies. Sometimes without revisiting each of these stages it is a little difficult to pinpoint the precise culprit or culprits.
    For example, the Barangaroo Redevelopment in Sydney is dependent in part for its future success on the implementation of the transport strategy. Transport infrastructure provisions and upgrades require major public expenditure which can and do get caught within political and budgetary cycles.
    The rather infamous award winning Australia Square project in Melbourne is an historic example of a public space which didn’t capture the public imagination. Federation Square, also in Melbourne, while not without it’s critics and despite being mostly paved, it a highly successful public space.
    In design terms public spaces are large outdoor rooms which contain and direct activity. In a sense, this is a way of thinking that is more familiar to an interior designer than an architect whose considerations are usually structure, containment and articulation. This may be why, perhaps ironically, the global term ‘activation’ has entered the architectural and urban design lexicon.
    It would be incredibly interesting to do a re-evaluation of Canary Whalf in project terms as well as being given the public spaces of Canary Whalf as a contemporary urban design project.

    Reply
    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Thank you for the two Australian examples. I came across this article on the use of the word ‘activation’ in relation to public open space in Denmark http://www.mbbl.dk/sites/mbbl.omega.oitudv.dk/files/dokumenter/publikationer/activating_architecture_lille.pdf. It has many interesting examples from many countries. Activation seems like an obviously good thing to do. But i do not see it as a panacea. Urban spaces should have a range of good qualities. Some should be busy and some should be quiet. Some should be for people and some should be for plants and animals. Relating this to the above discussion, I guess the point is that if a square is designed for activity and does not attract activity then a mistake has been made. As you say, it could be a mistake by the client or the designer or the managers or someone else. Diagnosis should always come before treatment!

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  13. Christine

    Thankyou for the link – it demonstrates that how ‘activation’ is understood in a global context is not uniform. This Danish report links it with the idea of people participating in physical ‘activity’ which is of health benefit, while the usage I am more familiar with relates to the intention to ensure or increase the human use of public spaces.
    Often this has implications for the functional use of buildings at street level, the articulation of the facade and the public or private nature of adjacent open space – for example commercial uses are often encouraged including cafes, street markets and other forms of intensive use. The encouragement of particular activities over other possible uses will then have logical implications for the choice of ground plane surfaces, most likely favoring paved surfaces over green surfaces to reduce the costs of maintenance.
    Of course, there are social and economic limits to the potential for public and private spaces to be used to this way. However, present trends are favoring food and beverage outlets over retail outlets. This may be a symptom of the use of discretionary spending in difficult economic times and the rise of virtual retail shifting patterns of bricks and mortar retail spending. These factors are part of the feasibility analysis and are limited by the understanding that the life of the development will see numerous social and economic changes and the coming and going of many trends in spatial occupation.

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      When leaving their partners, people are wont to explain that they ‘need more space’. It is not a phrase I like, or have had need of, but it does describe a feeling I have: a need for ‘space’. I have a liking for emptiness, even in urban wastelands. So I wonder a bit about the endeavour of busybody planners (possibly including me!!) to try and make urban spaces busy with activity.

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  14. Christine

    When getting together they tend to want less and less space! It is a process of course – but even after the honeymoon real life dictates that couples spend their lives together in varying degrees of physical proximity. It seems only con-joined twins live without the spatial separation we all take for granted!

    To some degree the need to make spaces busy is a commercial imperative. However for this to be balanced attention has to be given to the spatial demands dictated by the activity being planned for.

    It is probably important that planners gain a greater ‘experiential’ spatial awareness.This is definitely something we were given as interior designers in a brilliant course called experiential studio. It was modeled on the type of people and spatial awareness education actors and dancers are given. And, yes, we all have a contemplative side to a greater or lesser degree that craves space to ourselves to experience emptiness. This is often what is required to recharge us for some of our most intense activity.

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I think that as a profession architecture now suffers from not having enough people come in from undergraduate studies in other disciplines – like interior design. The examples of Tadao Ando and Luigi Nervi show what benefits they can bring. I keep hoping that landscape architecture will gain from bringing in people from many disciplines, as it does, but see few signs of it happening – except of course that architects have themselves done many excellent landscape projects and Charles Jencks is a post-graduate entrant to both professions. Here is my best example of a ‘standing room only’ POS, Trevi, re the designer: ‘Salvi became an architect only after studies in mathematics and philosophy’. Quite right too!

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  15. Christine

    Interesting use of the term ‘horde’ ( http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/horde ) to indicate a particular type of crowd! Can it be said in this instance that it is the POS that is successful or rather that the Trevi Fountain has iconic status in Rome? In today’s terminology would we say that the fountain at the junction of three roads is an infrastructure project? ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trevi_Fountain ) Perhaps this suggests that greater aesthetic consideration and integration of infrastructure projects would pay unexpected dividends for the urban realm.

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I used to think etymology was a very dull subject. Now I find it fascinating. I have often read of the Golden Horde but had no idea the word was of Mongol origin.
      Re Trevi, I think it is such a wonderful place that it would attract crowds even to the proverbial edge of nowhere or middle of nowhere. Also, I think this points to a fundamental flaw in the original Space Syntax theory: you cannot predict popularity from the geometry of space alone. Attractiveness also depends on ‘attractors’.

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  16. Christine

    You are right it is a fascinating subject. I am surprised at how little of Mongol history I am aware of!

    Yes, syntax theory does seem to be limited in its application – and perhaps is most useful as a ‘way finding’ and/or spatial accessibility analysis.

    There is probably a lot more to be said about spatial geometry and attractors within urban spaces as you point out. Another important factor is edge conditions, for example whether they contain or expand the space perceptually: either physically or visually.

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      The fact that a space does not ‘exist’ should appeal to postmodern theorists. It is a void; only the edges exist. So, yes definitely, a lot of thought should be given to the edges, including their physical form and their social characteristics.

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  17. Christine

    Wow, that is a very bid discussion you are entering by questioning the existence of space and it’s nature! ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trevi_Fountain ) The usual way in which space is conceived within the landscape, planning and architecture disciplines is as geographical space and the psychology of space.

    Thank you for pointing me to postmodern theories on space.

    Postmodern space (similarly to postmodern architecture) is “characterised through spatial variety over short distances, through feeling for historical and scenic qualities on the spot, through local instead of regional architecture, through a revaluation of old buildings through the introduction of playful or ironic elements in the physical surroundings.”

    Postmodern geographer Soja believed ‘space’ to be “always a culturally constructed entity”. He distinguished between lived space, conceived space and perceived space. When considering the success or otherwise of POS the concept of lived space is potentially very useful in gaining an understanding of why spaces are or are not successful when their aesthetics are contested;
    “LIved space embodies the real and imagined life worlds of experiences, emotions, events and political choices.”

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I have often wondered about the different ways in which a ‘space’ is conceived by, for example, a worm, a robin, a microbe and a man. Each is perceived via what Soja might call a ‘cultural construct’ and I certainly agree with him that all maps are done FOR A PURPOSE. They show ‘space’ as the client wished it to be conceived. At a simple level, I guess Chinese maps of the ‘South China Sea’ show it as within the ownership of China – and I doubt if the fish agree with this designation! Similarly, who does the Great Barrier Reef ‘belong’ to? Difficult questions.

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  18. Christine

    There is a big debate within environmental law as to whether ‘trees’ and ‘animals’ should have standing within the law, however, even if this was granted, ironically they would of course be represented by a human!

    The flat earth/round earth saga shows that there is more than cultural constructs in play in mapping! The consequences of ignoring the reality of the physical world in order to serve a cultural construct has been shown to come dramatically unstuck in a number of instances. The accuracy of physical mapping is open to improvement.

    But yes the ownership of physical space, in the sense of created political boundaries, is an interesting and difficult question.

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I heard today that in England it is necessary to get a license for EVERY oak tree one wants to fell. Yes, the license comes from humans but then so do ‘human’ rights, I think. France has a much stronger oak-growing tradition but, presumably, the trees have fewer rights.

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  19. Christine

    Yes. Lets suppose the difference would be if the trees were able to argue for ‘tree rights’. In our imagination we might expect them to come up with some surprising issues which only an oak tree would think of?

    What is the thought process behind the licencing of felling oak trees in the UK? Is it anthro or eco centric?

    Reply
    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I guess the ‘Hearts of Oak’ are considered but of England’s all-too-mutable heritage. Most of the oak sold in the UK now comes from France, which has had an excellent policy for managing oakwoods since the time of Louis XIV. England cut down its oak woods to make ships. The elm trees were lost to Dutch elm disease about 30 years ago and the ash trees will soon be lost to Chalara.

      Reply
  20. Christine

    So in the first instance the oaks were lost to unsustainable forestry practices (anthro centric) while elms and now the ash trees are endangered due to disease ( eco centric)?

    Holting the spread of chalara seems to be partly a quarantine issue, and possibly much of the reasoning behind the need to license tree felling. (and at this point the anthro centric and eco centric aspects overlap).

    Do you know whether changing climatic conditions are making the trees more vulnerable, including incidence, timing and frequency of winds which spread spores?

    Reply
    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Yes re both oak and ash. I do not think the tree problems are caused by climate change. They are more likely to result from a lack of bio-security for wood products, rather as the conquistadores decimated the population of South America by unwittingly transporting European diseases to the ‘new world’.

      Reply
  21. Christine

    Yes, another recent reading was on the transmission of yellow fever from the New World to the Old. So there was a little bit of two way traffic in terms of the transfer of diseases.

    Possibly with increased medical understanding ideas of immunity, disease resistance, disease origin, communicability, localised treatments including diet and socio-cultural behavoural adaptations and other aspects of disease profiles will be less mysterious?

    Reply
    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Tragically, the ‘undiscovered’ tribes of South America are still be devastated by infectious diseases http://www.livescience.com/14772-uncontacted-tribe-brazil.html . Taking the discussion to Canon Bernard Iddings Bell, I wonder if he would see this as a failure of modernism (ie its reluctance to base the action of ‘protecting the indigenous peoples’ on belief and tradition. I think he might see it this way but I do not know if he would advocate a pre-modern remedy (isolation) or a post-modern remedy (antibiotics, I suppose). I’d go for pre-modernism and leave them alone for ever and ever.

      Reply
  22. Christine

    It is strange that once a tribe has come to our attention there is almost a compulsive need to go and meet them, and hence expose them to our disease profiles. From our perspective it is entirely understandable. Scientifically it is very interesting…

    However, I am wondering if some ‘advanced’ civilization existed in space whether we would really be happy to be contacted? In what circumstances would this be good? In what circumstances might it have all the negative impacts that are sometimes portrayed in science fi movies? Perhaps some ethical scenarios might help us work out what we would like to happen if we were the ‘undiscovered’ ones?

    Reply
    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I have not read many alternatives but my favourite account of such an event is H G Wells’ War of the worlds. The aliens arrived with hostile intent and aggressive hardware, only to be killed off by infectious diseases – in fact I think it was the common cold! So yes: I think I would want to be un-discovered and I think the Amazon tribes would like to be undiscovered. Except that as soon as they see our cotton clothes and less-useful inventions, they want to have them. Also there are likely to be queues of ‘charity workers’ wanting to deal with their medical problems.

      Reply

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