We are living in a post-evolutionary world of extreme technological escalation. The complexity of both natural and technical processes can now converge. The outcomes of this convergence can empower us to address today’s ecological imperative, ushering in a paradigm shift in our understanding of, and relationship with, nature. Our current challenge is to alter the binary that has persisted between human culture (our artefacts) and the natural world.
The following ‘Manifestorial1 for Production’ suggests strategies available to landscape architecture practice which embrace the possibilities of the ‘postnatural’ – strategies which foster new bio-cultural inter-relationships. We make a case for the production of landscapes to move beyond technocratic authority, or singularly focused pragmatism, and to embrace a new potential. We call for an expanded focus which encompasses holistic design and moves beyond isolated interventions that represent only mild reform. This shift could enable deep change to occur in our metaphoric understanding of nature – creating an approach to design which allows for symbiotic co-evolution.2
1.1 We must assume a post-natural agenda that accepts the implausibility of recovering a pristine version of nature, while acknowledging that an ingrained ‘biophillic instinct’3 remains within human culture. In the construction of our habitat, we must move beyond the role of landscape as a decorative greening device, or merely pragmatic ‘sustainable’ infrastructure. A new framework must act as a catalyst of change, progressing us towards non-autonomous landscapes that emphasise and value the inseparability of ourselves from the environment. Design must become grounded in analysis of performance, arising from a deep concern and respect for natural processes and the experiential.4
1.2 Speculation unlocks the confines of design boundaries and their subsequent realities. Advancing technology continually challenges what is considered achievable. Designers should approach the frontiers of design through a willingness to speculate and a determination to co-opt technological advances into design thinking so as to avoid getting stuck in the bog of conventional reality. Imaginative and collaborative relationships between diverse fields overcome inherent knowledge boundaries. The ideas of Daisy Ginsberg and Sascha Pohflepp expand beyond the limitations of their field by suggesting a future model for consumer goods. This cross-disciplinary proposal for biologically engineered products commentates on the impact of global transportation and advancing bio-technology, questioning the limits of possibility. In ‘Acoustic Botany’, David Benque proposes a lyrical transformation of the landscape, where plants are genetically modified to achieve a postnatural, advanced musicality. Such speculations indicate that to progress ‘beyond landscape’ will ‘require a cultural leap of imagination, where the built environment is recast as a shared global habitat.’5
2.1 Life is messy. It does not fit into the neat geometries of an imposed architectonic order. With the introduction of new potential modes of architectural practice often comes a tendency to anticipate an idealised and singular utopian vision. Absolutist architectural inertia is non-evolutionary and resists change. In acknowledging our inability to determine every aspect of an outcome, we should not design with the intention of finishing. We should design according to conditions rather than conventions, and allow for contradiction. The architecture of ‘Dusty Relief’ – an installation by R&Sie(n) – deliberately augments dust pollution, assimilating with the contradictory, ‘sub-natural’ forces of the city. These iterations of responsive design challenge an ‘anti-naturalistic’6 approach to integrate with external factors, and hence to be transformed by the unexpected.
2.2 It would be naïve to presume that all this wild speculation could not merely act to perpetuate a new aesthetic. Landscape architecture continues to change. It adapts through its associated tools and modes of production, but the technology it uses should never become a means in itself. Designers must be wary of falling into the seductive promise of a sleek new computational reality, disregarding broader design concerns to become ‘exclusively dedicated and trapped by tooling’.7 The emergence of parametric modeling and ‘Parametricism’ has enabled the generation of form and complex geometries that simulate natural morphology. Parametric modeling is championed as a new style that, via ‘ordered complexity and sense of seamless fluidity, is akin to natural systems’.8 However, in spite of this complexity parametric modeling essentially remains another process of form making.
3.1 As we confront the emerging realities of climate change, urban migration, and escalating world population, it is critical that design becomes more efficient than ever before. Given the inevitability of human and technological development, a preservationist desire to freeze time – or to replicate or mimic what once was – is no longer useful. Simply mimicking natural form can limit potential design outcomes, disguising an essentially conventional architecture as something more sophisticated. If it is to create, rather than freeze frame, the contemporary sustainability discourse must evolve beyond conservation, beyond superficial, isolated, symbolic interventions. Projects such as Scapes’ Oystertecture suggest design now has the potential to integrate with, and respond to, natural phenomena, simultaneously allowing for urban environments that can ‘reveal natural cycles’9 and break down urban opposition to natural systems. We encourage wariness: we must be quick to question weakness in design that conflates various agendas into a single simplistic answer.
3.2 The integration of technologies with living systems could facilitate the creation of landscapes that go far beyond the mimicry of natural form but which assume the character of natural processes, enabling the creation of self-generating landscapes that have the ability to grow, repair, decay and multiply, responding to a multitude of forces. Rachel Armstrong argues that prophylactic construction measures ‘could generate innovative construction techniques that produce buildings that can respond in real time to more subtle environmental changes so that buildings are constantly adapted to their surroundings.’10 Furthermore, Magnus Larsson suggests that the creation of dynamic architecture (through the manipulation of cellular crystal arrangements) can generate adaptive and programmable forms. These new architectural forms avoid the necessity of resource-hungry building methods and materials. By contrast, these forms become a dynamic entity within the urban landscape, steering established conventions and modes of thinking in a new direction.
3.3 A merely pragmatic, singular approach to design disregards other concerns equally essential to human culture, such as the experiential and the imaginative. It is crucial that sustainable design evolves beyond functionalism to promote a heightened understanding and experience of these ecologies. Immersive, aesthetic experiences act to encourage an increased awareness and respect for the broader environment. Landscape production does not need to be limited by topography and vegetation: it can include less tangible, atmospheric elements.
For example, Paisajes Emergentes aim to amplify experience and ‘make visible the process of what’s happening’, engaging people at various levels with infrastructures such as renewable energy systems. Such projects combine narrative with the design process to invent new stories which shift our relationship with our broader context.
The following pages include a collection of broad, intersecting ideas accumulated in our search for new approaches to landscape. This collection demonstrates the importance of the role of landscape architecture in physicalising a change in our association with nature. The ideas we present are occasionally, and deliberately, contradictory but these projects may be useful guides for navigating new, post-evolutionary territories of design.
In our own exploration of them, we have found that they do not fit neatly into categories - we are content with this expansiveness. This far-seeking exuberance demonstrates the complexity, breadth and generosity of our theme for this edition of Kerb. However, in order to unravel the content we have constructed a series of curated chapters – NeoNatures, Beyond and Synthesis – each of which stems from ideas advanced in this Manifestorial.
By considering new paradigms, we have the opportunity to acknowledge the limitations of our current trajectory and encourage a new approach to practice. Of course, there is no one answer. But the collection of articles and ideas we have presented is unified by an insistent desire to establish new, considered interrelationships with the natural world. This edition hopes to inspire design practice which works towards a methodology of porosity, integrity of intent, spontaneity and responsiveness. We are accountable for fashioning modes of production founded on acceptance of our role and place within the grander scale of things.
‘Manifestorial’ – The cross-breed of an editorial and manifesto. ↩
A Drengson, ‘Shifting Paradigms: From Technocrat to Planetary Person’. Anthropology of Conscience, 22(1), pp. 9-32, 2011. ↩
SR Kellert and EO Wilson, The Biophilia Hypothesis. Washington DC: Island Press, 2000. ↩
J Pallasmaa ‘Natural Artifice’ presentation, AIA Conference ‘Natural Artifice,’ Melbourne, Saturday 16th April 2011. ↩
K Orff, ‘Beyond Landscape’, Volume Magazine, 1, pp. 58-9, 2005. ↩
D Gissen, ‘Subnature’. Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 2009. ↩
F Roche. Email to Sci-Arc Staff, 13 March 2011, Accessed 13 May 2011: http://www.new-territories.com/sci%20arc%20cancel.htm ↩
P Schumacher, ‘Parametricism – A New Global Style for Architecture and Urban Design’ AD Architectural Design - Digital Cities, (79), No 4, July/August 2009. ↩
EK Meyer, ‘Sustaining Beauty. The Performance of Appearance: A Manifesto’. Accessed 1 May 2011: http://www.arch.virginia.edu/lunch/print/territory/sustaining.html ↩
R Armstrong, Architectural synthetic ecologies and remedial environmental interventions, Kerb (19), pp. 86-91, 2011. ↩