Saturday, June 6, 2009

Landscape 2.0

The conception of the city as a chaotic place is not a new one, a sentiment which belies a certain intuition about our environment. Chaos is the appropriate description of the flows of matter, ideas, and energy constantly occurring across a variety of temporal and spatial scales in a symbiosis of catalytic processes, feedback loops and amalgamations. Chaos- randomness occuring within a set of parameters, self organizing, intelligent- this is the city.

Landscape design, whether a purposeful act, or a bi-product of other interventions, is a key player in the urban system. Landscape is the setting for objects- buildings and other intensely programmed elements such as industrial yards and transit hubs. It is also the residual space left by these objects, the in-between and left-over. It is necessarily in a dynamic relationship with the context, responding to and giving impetus to the thousands of interactions and transactions.

Today, however, thanks to the lack of imagination and daring, landscape design is largely practiced as the imposition of a graphic pattern on the ground plane. It is the rendering of a 2D image within which 3D objects are set. Landscapes in our urban spaces are conceived of as an intervention made in one moment (and after that moment their quality spirals downward, how quickly is a question of maintenance). It seems to be looked at as the chance to play with some pretty patterns and install some vegetation. And verily, at times, this is appropriate. Walking the streets of Barcelona or Rio, one can attest to the contribution that a beautiful paving pattern can make to a space. But the catalog of contemporary urban landscape design largely represents a superficial understanding, and consequently treatment, of the urban environment. In a time when our world tends towards complexity and economic, technological, and ecological forces and flows are in hyperflux this mindset represents a missed opportunity to positively affect change in the built environment and society at large by building more meaningful, equitable public spaces.

Landscape 2.0 as an idea is a different conception of landscape design; it proposes a landscape that improves as more people use it. It is a landscape that not only adapts and responds to the forces acting upon it but asserts its own forces, facilitating and catalyzing new processes, at times necessitating its own obselescence. It is the organizing of a more intelligent and robust environment capable of adaptation through a re-prioritizing of design criteria where the construciton of social capital and implementation of strategies considering the various futures of the site for its continued growth and adaptation is more important than imposing stylistic form or decoration. Landscape 2.0 is a setting-in-motion of things, a leashing and unleashing.

The irony is that this dynamic is inherent in landscape design, despite the short-sightedness of its practicioners. Even in a Peter Walker landscape from the 80's plants are going to attempt to colonize left over spaces (with maintenance budgets being used to wipe them out) and kids are going to skate the handrail. However, even plants are rarely considered from the perspective of complex, dynamic systems but rather as ephemeral ornamentation and people are so much decoration like lords in a Tolstoyian narrative.

Landscape 2.0 is a departure from this mindset in the field of landscape architecture.

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