Tag Archives: Landscape Architecture

Just around the Corner

The Architectural Association in describing ‘Landscape Urbanism’ says what Landscape it is not. It is NOT:

“…understood as a scenographic art, beautifying, greening or naturalising the city.”

And then what it IS;

“…scalar and temporal operations through which the urban is conceived and engaged with.”

Thus, Landscape Urbanism prioritises the phenomenological experience of the city, while distancing itself (perhaps defensively) from the visual aesthetic. Perhaps an ironcial realisation of this preference for the non-aesthetic is the prediction by James Corner of the disappearance of the city into the landscape. Perhaps this prophecy will be realised quite differently than the romantic post-industrial ruin?  Corner, typified by the high line project, focuses on the rehabilitation of the abandoned elements of the city and post-industrial landscape.Can landscape urbanism be artfully conceived? 

Perhaps the city of the future will afterall disappear under the advance of the landscape, but once again capture something of the beauty which is now itself abandoned by its favourite profession?

Liveability: understanding quality of life

The Danish architects BIG (the Bjarke Ingels Group) have designed an extraordinary hybrid tower Scala Tower to house the municipal library, conference centre, shopping and a luxury hotel. It also provides public space to the city of Copenhagen.

Although it seems not quite fully resolved as to the programmatic and landscape elements, the way the building emerges from the ground ‘like a tree’ with a glassy bark trunk and yet sits well within the traditional urban fabric like a sinuous counterpoint is truly inspirational.

With a population of just over a million people and the famous Tivoli Garden, Kongen’s Have in the city centre  and the Fredericksborg Slot Baroque gardens in Hillerod the Danes have the benefit of aesthetics, cultural and recreational opportunities aplenty.

So apart from contributing to Denmark’s already stellar reputation for being on the forefront of design how does Scala Tower contribute to the quality of life in Copenhagen? Political measures of quality of life in liveability terms are both objective [divorce rates, safety and infrastructure]  and subjective [life satisfaction surveys].  So, the Danes have gained a great piece of civic infrastructure in a city which is already considered relatively crime free. I wonder whether that will show up on the next life satisfaction survey!


The importance of being landed














The Danish artistic trio N55 came up with the concept of the walking house based on the gypsy caravan. Although reminiscent of Archigram’s Walking City, walking house is not an aesthetically sophisticated piece of architecture. However N55 have amazingly managed to achieve real life rather than paper mobility via renewable energy sources – a remarkable feat in anybody’s language!

In Archigram’s Walking City on the Ocean Ron Herron addresses the concept of “indeterminacy” or the idea of an architecture that can change. While N55 are more interested in exploring the idea of property ownership. They describe the walking house as follows:

“WALKING HOUSE is a modular dwelling system that enables persons to live a peaceful nomadic life, moving slowly through the landscape or cityscape with minimal impact on the environment. It collects energy from its surroundings using solar cells and small windmills. There is a system for collecting rain water and a system for solar heated hot water. A small greenhouse unit can be added to the basic living module, to provide a substantial part of the food needed by the Inhabitants. A composting toilet system allows sewage produced by the inhabitants to be disposed of. A small wood burning stove could be added to provide CO2 neutral heating. WALKING HOUSE forms various sizes of communities or WALKING VILLAGES when more units are added together. WALKING HOUSE is not dependant on existing infrastructure like roads, but moves on all sorts of terrain.”

Based on the nomadic culture of the Romani the project asks whether land ownership means some people have more right to stay on the surface of the earth than others. This question is fundamentally anthoprocentric. Of course the basic question could be extended to encompass an ecological perspective and indeed is not dissimilar to eco-centric ethical viewpoints espoused by the conservationist luminary Aldo Leopold.

For landscape architecture the value of land as place rather than passage and the capacity to garden and enjoy gardens are central values. Undoubtably the voice of landscape architects will be heard strongly as the debate proceeds and develops.

When is a tree not a tree?

wrapped-trees

Sometimes the best way to see something – is to see it differently. Thanks to Christo and his project Wrapped Trees, Fondation Beyeler and Berower Park, Riehen, Switzerland 1997-98    the humble tree can be seen more clearly as part of the three dimensional compositon of space. The exaggerated sense of presence wrapping the tree affords gives a greater sense of volume, solid and void and perspective to the overall scene.

And this is an art work that the viewer inhabits, experiences first hand and interacts with as the hours of the day colour it slightly differently. Time to reflect on our place in the world … [ http://rainfromthesky.blogspot.com/2009/03/trees-were-sculpture-without-their.html ]

Light 2c by

textile-architecture-and-lightlight-sculptures

 http://sojamo.tumblr.com/post/74728983/synetic-textile-architecture-environmetally

The Made of Light project by Speirs Major and Associates Lighting Architects  http://www.madeoflight.com/mol/site_map.htm is a wonderful e-book that discusses the relationship between architecture and light in 12 simple themes.

1. Source – natural and artifical

2. Contrast – light and darkness

3. Surface – light and texture

4. Colour – spectral colour

5. Movement – where time meets space

6. Function – the ability to see

7. Form – visual shape of mass and volume

8. Space – the absence of mass

9. Boundary – to unify or separate

10. Scale – the comprehension of size

11. Image – creating identity and charater

12. Magic – phenomena which can inspire us

The photographs above pick up many of these themes in the use of light in the landscape.


Sparking the imagination

city visualisation by concept artist mark goernerCity visualisation by concept artist: markgoerner
The visualisation shown is by conceptual artist Mark Goerner. It would be interesting to surmise what premises might underlie this vision of a possible ‘future’ city? Although Mark is neither an architect or a landscape architect he has produced a vision of a probable reality that both architects and landscape architects can recognise and respond to.
I sent this picture to Tom after realizing I had confused the terms ‘aspect’ and ‘prospect’ in my previous comments [see where is this landscape?]. Tom sent through links to Repton’s discussion of aspect and prospect and Loudon’s response.
Perhaps the oversight (in not first checking terms) leading to this discussion is more valuable than I first realised. It is unfortuneately relatively common in architecture to deal with issues of sustainability by modifying climatic effects using techonology (green or otherwise), often without first having planned the use, proximity and orientation of spaces in an iterative manner. [In this discussion also no regard has been given to topographic (and other) concerns ie. founding materials, volumes and degree of incline etc on the arrangement of space.] This way of proceeding, if Repton’s comments are anything to go by, is hardly new. And, if Loudon’s response is correct (and I believe it is), this oversight is a constant source of chargin to architect’s who seek to optimise (the positive) and minimise (the negative) by design.
Prospect is an essential part of the visual experience of a building from the interior; as much as it is an essential part of the visual setting (perhaps approach…but not always) of a building. Aspect is essential to the bodily experience of a building from the interior; as much as it contributes to how the building and landscape meld in harmony to form a composite at a myriad of viewpoints and scales.
Where might this city most probably be located? Why is it situated and arranged in the way that it is? What is the relationship of built form to landscape? What sort of a place would it be to live in? Is it a sustainable city?

Context-sensitive landscape architecture in China

Tange River Park

Having criticized the lack of context-sensitive landscape architecture in China, it was a pleasure to find a contrary example: the Tanghe River Park Red Ribbon project:

  1. it is beautiful
  2. it is undeniably of its own time
  3. it is in sync with a long tradition of Chinese landscape architecture: the red colour, the dragon curves, the composition of walks with planting and water

So: well done to Professor Kongjian Yu of Turenscape 俞孔坚教授土人!

Old China had elegant concubines with bound feet strolling in lang corridors. New China can have fleet-of-foot girls bursting with energy as they race through the urban landscape.

Context-sensitive design is a problem for every country – or rather, one should say, for every region. Samuel Johnson remarked, on April 7th 1775, that patriotism is “the last refuge of a scoundrel”. Little did he know how nationalism was going to ravage civilization in the next two centuries. For landscape architecture, it is not so much that it should be “Chinese” in China as that it should be regional: there should be different approaches in Jiangsu, Guangdong and Xinjiang, relating to culture, climate, history, vegetation, geology, hydrology and habits concerning the social life of outdoor space. There can be no part of the world with such a severe shortage of landscape architects as China.

See also: landscape architecture competition for Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China 2009-2010

Context-sensitive garden design

Hort Park is in Singpore but it could be anywhere (photo Steel Wool)

Ken Yeang, the world-famous Malaysian architect complains that ‘Pursuing a kind of national architecture is a dilemma imposed by foreign architects’. He says that the Americans and Europeans can’t do it ‘Therefore, why should we define a national architecture, but these developed countries cannot?’. He is wrong. The architectural style known as International Modernism is really a North European style which just happens to be widely used in a context-insensitive manner.

For garden design and landscape architecture there is a far stronger case for a context-sensitive approach. Countries, regions and small localities have different geology, different climates, different hydrology, different flora, different fauna, different histories and, above all, different ways of using outdoor space. So why on earth should there be an International Style of Garden Design? The only possible excuses are the general lack of professional education in garden design and, in the case of landscape architecture, the general ignorance and lack of interest in design theory.

Curiously, the nearest thing to an agreed principle of landscape architecture is that ‘designers should consult the genius of the place’ (the genius loci). It is a great principle. But it has to be carefully considered and ‘though the genius must always be consulted she does not always have to be obeyed’. What most designers do is take a quick glance at the local character, find out a little about soils, find out some more about climate – and then do what they planned to do in the first place. The people should shout them down.

What is the difference between garden design and landscape architecture?

Residential garden design - or landscape architecture?It’s worth looking to see what Wikipedia and Britannica have to say on this question. And I have to say that the Wiki entry on landscape architecture is a lot more useful than the Britannica entry on garden and landscape design. Britannica only let you have a quick glimpse at their text before a big black screen tries to sell you a subscription. But you have enough time to discover that the text is badly written garbage. Here is a sample: “Efforts to design gardens and to preserve and develop green open space in and around cities are efforts to maintain contact with the original pastoral, rural landscape. Gardens and designed landscapes, by filling the open areas in cities, create a continuity in space between structural urban landscapes and the open rural landscapes beyond. ”

The Wiki entry ( at 10.40 GMT on 1.7.2008) is so much better, or at least so much closer to my own view, that I suspect the author of having made good use of the Gardenvisit.com website. It states that: “Both arts are concerned with the composition of planting, landform, water, paving and other structures but: (1) garden design is essentially concerned with enclosed private space (parks, gardens etc), (2) landscape design is concerned with the design of enclosed space, as well as unenclosed space which is open to the public (town squares, country parks, park systems, greenways etc)”

Compared to Europeans, Americans tend to be a bit sniffy about garden design. They see it (as in the Britannica quotation above) as a subsection of garden design. This makes garden designers inferior people, because they can only do a fraction of the work undertaken by landscape architects. The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) only introduced a professional award for garden design, actually called “residential design” in 2005: ” The ASLA 2005 Professional and Student Awards program features a new category—Residential Design—drawing more than 120 entries in its inaugural year. Cosponsored by Garden Design magazine, awards in this new category will be presented on Monday, October 10, during the ASLA Awards Ceremony. A special luncheon honoring all award recipients, their clients, and professors will be held following the ceremony.”

Personally, I see garden design as much closer to a fine art than landscape architecture. Art is for art’s same and gardens are for garden’s sake. Landscape architecture is often for a public or private body with a shedful of axes to grind. It is similar to the distinction between painting and graphic design or between sculpture and product design.