This issue of kerb set out to discover how water functions in landscape architecture outside the usual scope. Kerb invited contributors to discuss water as other. In its desire to articulate otherness about water within the temporal condition of landscape, the theme is concerned with mobile and continuously shifting relationships. Perhaps any understanding achieved is largely to do with the inseparability of water from landscape and their continual flux. Discovering what water does may be no different from how a specific landscape operates. It can be a way of understanding landscape from the outside; finding that water does what landscape does only at different speeds and thicknesses. Water and landscape are solubly at the affect of each other.
In Australia the vastness of an arid landscape gives rise to a preoccupation with the coast. In terms of habitation and in the national identity we are ‘girt by sea’ (Mark Jacques notes the Swimming pool as the suburb’s revenge on the beach). In the Australian psyche at least we do not yet fully recognise degrees of water infiltration into a landscape, something Chris Sawyer identifies as a cultural tendency here to talk about the wet or the dry. Historically, environmentally and politically we have been compelled to deal with this country’s lack of water and the extremes of drought and flood. It is no wonder this paradox of the climate is embedded in the language; prolonged drought and the force of flood water are understood as potent cultural images as much as the sand and surf of beaches.
Language though, as Julian Raxworthy articulates, tends to work against us being water conscious as landscape designers. In the few months alone we spent reading and talking water for kerb 12, the watery innuendo, the puns and metaphors tempted the most rigorous of writers. ln a similar way the acronyms of environmentally sustainable design, having all the right letters, can tend to satisfy in their rational solutions to designing around water, while not often extending beyond mitigation of environment and infrastructure.
Perhaps landscape architecture in this country has been concerned with waterproofing, containment, drainage as improvement, concealment of infrastructure, beautification schemes and social niceness which preclude damp margins, within a rational, logical system. There is a sense that in the recent past, Australia’s white inhabitants viewed the landscape as a condition opposing settlement, in which water epitomised a destructive potential that needed to be controlled by humans. It followed that water has been treated as a repository for diluting contaminated material spewing from that occupation and has been an area for marginal social inhabitation. Jo Russell-Clarke cites the high ground of the new suburban aquatic developments as denying the richness of the swamp, billabong and backwater. In the Australian landscape, marginal, ephemeral and invisible water bodies have been regarded suspiciously due to their unknown qualities. Such zones inhabit an area of the psyche where murky thoughts are yet to be integrated with the whole; denied as unsavoury. in the same way creek lines have been diverted through underground drains as undesirable to habitation; yet the water is still there.
Water in this context can be identified within a dualistic view, such as expressed in discussing landscape as wet or dry, good or bad, as distinct from a multiplicity of conditions that exist on the ground under the earth and in the atmosphere.
The Metabolists, a group of Japanese architects, some of whom developed their work towards a philosophy of symbiosis,1 talk about landscape as intermediary space, an extremely tentative and dynamic condition making posstble the incorporation of opposition, revealing the life principle itself in an its ambivalence, multivalence and vagueness. Within the philosophy of symbiosis, which draws on Buddhism, biology and a characteristically Japanese view of technology and human activity as part of nature, there is potential for considering water in the designed landscape.
One of the most interesting ideas expressed in ‘the philosophy of symbiosis’ concerns ‘the rich yet by no means transparent, world of emotions that have been disregarded by modern rationalism’.2 The theory invites us to harness both the spirit of rationalism and the spirit of irrationalism paying heed to both what is international and what is local and recognise the nature of contemporary science. ‘Such an approach represents a shift to a feminist paradigm in the sense that an attempt is made to raise the consciousness of as many people as possible.’3 This paradigm suggests the idea of marrying environmentally sustainable water treatment with the mutable, invisible, feminine qualities of water in another nature.
In this way, designing with water in landscape has more potential to be about varying degrees of permeability, revealing invisibility, rawness, emotion and the abstraction of those ideas. SueAnne Ware laments a lack of these mutable qualities in her article ‘The New, Improved Yarra River’.
In such a zone human occupation, architecture and water in landscape are not so much to be mitigated but included. In drawing on this philosophy for landscape design, water has the potential for the highest expression of a lack of clear-cut boundaries, showing an interpenetration of zones, materiality, interior and exterior, while revering tolerance, the tentative and the dynamic as ideas. Of course, bringing these concepts to fruition in form defies logic and perhaps requires a different consciousness. The symbiosis philosophy states that human beings are born to live in a relationship of interdependence with nature, that we are adaptable to change and are physically and spiritually rugged enough to live practically anywhere. In the Mobile Landscapes Studio, Richard Black’s students propose dynamic and permeable designs within the widely fluctuating flood planes of the Murray River. George Wright writes about being in a strange place. ln what you’d imagine is a physically and spiritually challenging landscape, poised for a design response, she discovers occupants that are indifferent to the unharnessed torrents of flash flooding over the eroded desert surface beneath which they work and live.
It is human nature that we are generally more preoccupied with and conscious of water in a prolonged drought. A curious and exciting outcome is that this may lead to a greater receptivity of other types of landscapes that involve water. It would seem the design potential is greater now than ever for expanding the zone in between water and solid ground.