Landscape Architecture Will Become the Most Consequential of the Design Arts // Luke Custer
Landscape architect Laurie Olin has written, “It is hard to think of any field that has accomplished so much for society with so few people and with so little understanding of its scope or ambitions.” The issue that landscape architecture faces is that it has long been constrained by an attachment to the picturesque. It has failed to attain the public profile of architecture or the fine arts. John Beardsley, author of A Word for Landscape Architecture, explains that this is because “built works of landscape architecture are not as readily identified and evaluated as paintings, sculptures, or buildings.”(1) What the common man may interpret as a simple green space is in fact a complex ecosystem “bridging science and art, mediating between nature and culture.”(2)
The difference between other art forms and landscape architecture is that the complex and technical beauty of landscape happens beneath the surface, and is not as perceivable to the public eye. Complexity alone cannot engender consequential design. Significant cultural expressions often “result from the convergence of a compelling artistic language with an urgent external stimulus.”(3) Lately these external stimuli have become more prominent in landscape architecture. Demands for the restoration of derelict and often toxic industrial sites pose artistic, social, and technical difficulties; so does the need to reuse abandoned sites in declining urban centers. The emergence of environmentalism and the ethic of sustainable design are encouraging the development of “green” infrastructure for improved energy efficiency, storm water management, waste water treatment, bioremediation, vegetal roofing, and recycling.(4) Intensifying suburban and exurban sprawl requires new strategies for landscape management and open space preservation. All these stimuli motivate landscape architecture to do more than “produce places for safe, healthful, and pleasant use; it has become a forum for the articulation and enactment of individual and societal attitudes toward nature.”(5) So how can a profession so critical to our well-being and survival manifest its complexities and intricacies in a way that heightens people’s understanding and appreciation of it?
Picturesque British garden at the Haddon Lake House
Lagoon at Postdamer Platz in Berlin
One approach could be the interdisciplinary corporation or hybridization in the creation of “green” infrastructure. An example of this kind of work is landscape designer Herbert Dreiseitl’s unusual and visible storm water retention and purification system for architect Renzo Piano’s DiamlerChrysler complex at Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. The scheme features rooftop gardens that act as water retention systems which divert the water into cisterns that are used within the building. They also feed a lagoon, which utilizes the bio-chemical cleansing properties of reeds to purify the water. While there are obvious technical and aesthetic benefits, there are also educational ones. Much like Design + Make’s intentions with the Preston Outdoor Education Station, “the lagoon is an attractive public amenity that offers lessons in and demonstrations of urban hydrology.”(6) It brings to the public’s attention the complexities and layers that the project utilizes in order to give them an appreciation of its process.
Water Cisterns at Landscape Park in Germany
Landscape remediation is another narrative for design. At the 200 hectare site of the former iron and steel plant Duisburg Meiderich in Germany, the landscape architecture firm of Latz + Partner has designed a park that “does not disguise the problematic history of the site.”(7) The facility, abandoned in 1985, includes blast furnaces, a sintering plant, and oil bunkers; it was a disarray of roads, rail lines, and a canal, which along with the soil, was contaminated with heavy metals. Rather than remove all this infrastructure, Latz + Partner used it to their advantage. They created storm water collection systems which filled the former cooling tower and settling tanks, which were then used for swimming. The ore bunkers became enclosed gardens and several large slag heaps, already in stable condition and colonized by plants, were left undisturbed. As they are gradually decontaminated through bioremediation they act as a memorial to site disturbances. Though it may be less obvious, Landscape Park “is an example of social as well as environmental restoration.”(8) The previous site held no value to society, and in a region with little open space, the park offers significant and unusual opportunities for recreation. At a more contemplative level, the park offers a lesson in the environmental costs of modern industrial practices and creates discussion about appropriate future choices.
Long overshadowed by architecture and the fine arts, landscape architecture is producing remarkable transformations in our public environments. The ways in which we meet the challenges of urban sprawl, open space preservation, resource consumption and waste, environmental protection and restoration are crucial to the quality of our lives—maybe even to the survival of our species. It is landscape architecture that confronts these challenges. This only strengthens the notion that landscape architecture will prove the most consequential art of our time.
(1) Beardsley, John. "Harvard Design Magazine: A Word for Landscape Architecture." Harvard Design Magazine: A Word for
Landscape Architecture. 2016. Web. 16 Apr. 2016.
(6) Rowe, Peter G., Alan Altshuler, and Mohsen Mostafavi. "Nature, Landscape, and Building for Sustainability." Google Books.
2008. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.
(7) Latz Partner. "Landschaftspark Duisburg Nord." Landezine. 25 Aug. 2011. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.
Beardsley, John. "Harvard Design Magazine: A Word for Landscape Architecture." Harvard Design Magazine: A Word for Landscape Architecture. 2016. Web. 16 Apr. 2016.
Dreiseitl, Atelier. Potsdamer Platz. Berlin, Germany. Potsdamer Platz in Berlin Becomes a Sustainable Ecofriendly Urban Square. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.
Latz Partner. "Landschaftspark Duisburg Nord." Landezine. 25 Aug. 2011. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.
MaxicropUK. 2012. Isle of Wight. MaxicropUK. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.
Rowe, Peter G., Alan Altshuler, and Mohsen Mostafavi. "Nature, Landscape, and Building for Sustainability." Google Books. 2008. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.
Latz Partner. The Water Cisterns. Duisburg. Urban Green-Blue Grids for Sustainable and Resilient Cities. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.
Written by Luke Custer