There exists a lens through which the world may be seen differently.
A lens that can adjust focus, draw on the peripheral and extend the frame.
This lens is known as speculative narrative.
Speculative narrative is a strategy for navigating new horizons for the narratives of landscape architecture. Examining the definitions and etymological roots of the words, we find that to speculate is to form a theory or conjecture without firm evidence, arising from the Latin, specula ‘watchtower’, from specere ‘to look’.1 Narrative arises from the Latin verb narrare, ‘to tell’; narrative is defined as a framework for communicating an ordering of events.2 The narrative paradigm as proposed by Walter Fisher (1984) describes all meaningful human communication as being unavoidably structured through narrative – human understanding of the surrounding world is negotiated through constructing a story or sequencing format. Narrative is understood as a form of navigation, and speculative narrative as a position for piloting new navigations.*
New navigations are forms of resistance to the existing knowledge (intrinsically linked to power3) on which a particular discourse relies. It is through the proliferation of resistance, the development of a ‘multitude of petit récits’4 (or small narratives), that change may occur. It is through the view of alternate navigations in landscape architecture that exploration is facilitated of both new possibilities as well as their implications.
Speculative narrative does not function to predict but to explore, and in doing so may build on what is accepted as existing knowledge. The explorations of this discourse in landscape architecture may vary in their aim – from constructing fictions to embedding ideas or activating design responses – the overarching connection is the liberation that this mode offers.
Contemporary cultures, characterised by accelerations associated with technology, are increasingly inundated by the notion of fear; relating to climate change, economic crashes and political instability.5 Speculative narratives can be a tool that overcomes restrictions by utilising a variety of methods employing form, spatial arrangement, material use, and perhaps more unconventionally, through language – creating a comprehensive fiction enables a complementary narrative to facilitate a greater investigation or critique of these instabilities. Speculative narrative is the intertwining of fiction and narrative – the disintegration of boundaries through fiction combined with the notion of narrative structures allows for the re-composition of order. These methods are the intermediary through which landscape architecture engages with social processes. Through manipulating these methods, perceptions are altered and change in cultural and social practices and processes can take effect. Speculative narratives in landscape architecture are engaged in many different ways; the mediums for articulating these stories vary, but do not act to define the point of difference. All function to explore and anticipate. However, it is the way they approach their navigation of the as yet unrealised that positions them within an order.
Explorations in speculative narratives are integral to the development of innovation in landscape architecture and are a crucial tactic in pursuing liberation from imposed limitation. Some explorations are conceived from a gap. Some materialise concepts in order to examine and present their findings for future excavations. Others take the constraints of today and investigate how these constraints can inform different unfoldings; a diversity of approaches to fortify the resistance.
At times, speculative fictions – a form of speculative narrative – have been termed historical inventions enabling the development of the new through the creation of a multitude of imaginative inventions.6 The new must exist as a figment before it can be actualised, only in retrospect can it be realised that imagination led to invention. The gaps between the world of ideas and the world of matter, discussed with reference to Aristotle’s hylemorphism, can be negotiated through experimental design practice. Fiction can be used for design conception, and to inform design to create the form of the territory.**
Fabricating stories can lead to new spatial explorations in landscape architecture. A pre-space is created by constructed fictions, allowing creatively generated products to conquer new territories. These fictions, such as ‘Scatterbrain’ by Jack Self (and others included in the following pages), are read as pre-spatial openings that construct the space in which space as we know it may exist.7 Gaps in collective understandings of current technologies, recorded history, and in the fabric of what we know, provide an opportunity for creative invention. More specifically, in landscape architecture there exist gaps between academic pursuits and the realities of practice, theoretical concepts and the process of design: this is discussed in Clouds Architecture’s article, ‘Third Sphere: A Collapse of Boundaries and the Birth of a New Domain’. These gaps may also be considered analogous to a‘crypt’8, a pocket folded in space. The process of writing can be a method for exploring these gaps – the fictions act as a pre-space in which space can unfold. Clark Thenhaus, in his project ‘The Botanic and The Buried’, documents the correspondence between two fictional characters. The written narrative creates the pre-space in which the mappings and design drawings of these characters can exist and proliferate. In addition to enabling space, the dialogue also operates as the mode for exploring a greater debate regarding environmental preservation versus technological advancement.
Inventive contributions to philosophical discussion that lead to renewed exploration of form in landscape architecture are conceived both through material means and rigorous intellectual experimentations that develop through fabricated fictions.
Fossilisation of information
Concepts can be materialised in different ways. The transfer of thoughts to something perceptible by a greater audience relies upon the notion of representation. Once a concept has been transformed by representation it may then be re-interpreted: this process expresses representation as analogous to fossilisation processes. Re-interpretations, whether expressed through oral, written or image based representation form parts of a system of fossilisation. In this process a loop is revealed: information transformed by materialisation, leading to fossilisation, which in turn gives rise to new forms of information.***
Speculation can foster representation of a concept that is yet to be realised. The process of representation acts to make the invisible visible by uncovering the previously unseen or unimagined. Through representation the designer both presents a tracing of a concept and develops their argument or proposition. James Corner, in his discussion of mapping, recalls Deleuze and Guattari’s plea for creating maps rather than tracings as a means to generate more open-ended modes of creative production.9 To speculate is to create, and to represent is to materialise that creation; actions so intrinsically linked that the latter cannot be achieved without the former.
The process of representation materialises the concept so that it may be understood in a different form, allowing further interpretation and different perspectives that expand upon the original subject. Simon Takasaki, in his project ‘Turbulence Flesh’, demonstrates how a concept can be iteratively materialised as he develops a narrative around the phenomenon of turbulence. The narrative develops concurrently with the form, choreographing both its physical and virtual shaping, the result being a reflection of a multiplicity of influential variables and the process of time. Form can be shaped by the physical definition of static coordinates and active context, while the virtual force of the environment in which it is designed also contributes to its shape.10
‘Data Fossils’ by Tobias Jewson, in collaboration with Ioana Iliesu, exhibits another way in which information and concepts may take physical form, and in doing so forge new possibilities. In this project imagery acts to engage the audience in reflecting on the consequences of ignoring the data recording – or rather, ignoring the physical infrastructural side of the digital era.
The process of fossilisation, as understood in relation to representation, describes the ability to represent forms, spatial arrangements and material explorations – to exist initially in a primary context and then to take on different meanings in a retrospective context. It is in this manner that representation can generate more than it makes primarily evident. This progression is dependent on the means of communication employed and the subsequent effect, rather than design tangibility.
Innovative invention can stem from varying degrees of the familiar and tangible: speculation through narrative entitles the author to control the level of constraints that their narration responds to, or incorporates in some way. Design is often concerned with problem-solving or improving that which exists, and speculative narrative is often concerned with experimenting in an effort to avert the undesirable. Responsive design scenarios that embrace current collective narratives can act to subvert the anxiety of an unfolding crisis, infiltrate the discipline with applied use of latest technologies, or actively experiment with unfolding contemporary narratives by other means.****
Design framed by current concerns can exert influence beyond its initial context – the designs of Paxton’s and Olmstead’s parks aimed to address growing concerns for society by providing a place that would facilitate education in nobility and societal culture. Design can unfold beyond its initial remit to create new and significant spaces that proliferate through society and time. In ‘Hydramax: Port Machines’ by Future Cities Lab, the concern of rising sea levels is embraced to catalyse a design that shows new applications of technology in the landscape. An innovative harbour port system is developed that is characterised by robotic structures and active engagement with the surrounding environment.
Existing narratives may be unravelled through speculative narratives as an allegory. This method may subvert or resist possibilities of current narratives or conditions through the operation of a ‘cautionary tale’. This is evident in ‘Splice Garden’ by Martha Schwartz, and in the tale of ‘Gamma’ by Factory Fifteen. The difference between these two projects signifies a paradigm shift, initially evident in the medium, which is representative of greater devices at work. ‘Splice Garden’ critiques the advances in science and technology relating to gene splicing. Schwartz employs spatial and material means to provoke discussion. In ‘Gamma’ speculative narrative is communicated through the medium of film to examine a post-nuclear future, detailing the results of a failed ‘Nuke-Root’ (a patented solution designed to soak up radiation). ‘Gamma’ investigates these current concerns through projecting an alternative scenario while propelling the narrative forward and covertly critiquing underlying issues of privatisation and development symptomatic of a capitalist economy. In this instance, constraints (being those of radiation within an urban environment) are maximised to explore the possible outcomes of greater narratives such as urban development, privatised disaster relief, and abandoned ruins of urbanisation.
At times a close relationship with existing constraints is maintained, acting as grounding within the familiar. At other times constraints may initiate responsive design which can range from vehicles that suggest without overly determining, to those that are intended to initiate a wider polemic. Change can be catalysed by both small and grand gestures – and while change can be appreciated for different reasons, it is when there is collective concern that it is demanded.
Creative response or imaginative invention should be initiated by a range of influences, including but not limited to anxiety about instability, urgency to embed concepts within the concrete, curiosity to explore the possibilities of technologies into the open air, creating a platform for expression, and investigating the gaps in what is accepted as knowledge. Through speculation the discourse of narrative can be corrupted with innovation as it is through speculation that the notion of fiction and narrative may be merged. It is then that what was conceived as speculation can emerge as new knowledge. The discourse of speculative narrative within landscape architecture endeavours to resist the tendency for our creative pursuits to be limited, while also acting to expand the horizon of what it defined as landscape architecture practice, as well as unravelling the trajectory of our discipline. Speculative narratives in landscape architecture augment the current understanding of the discourse by establishing experiments, resulting in contributions to new knowledge.
- Oxford Concise Dictionary, 2008.↩
- It is the memories I possess that inform the world in which I exist, my entire perception of that which surrounds me. It had crossed my mind before but I’d chosen not to acknowledge it. I knew I was different from the others in some way. If it’s true then I encourage it for all – it would change everything.↩
- M Foucault, ‘Society Must Be Defended’, Picador, 2003.↩
- J Lyotard, ‘The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge’,(1979), Manchester University Press, 1984.↩
- P Virilio, ‘The Administration of Fear’, MIT Press, 2012.↩
- J Lyotard, Ibid.↩
- If what I remember – what I believe I know – is a fabrication, an implant, what does that mean to me? I wouldn’t change it. It is when a new beginning must have taken place. Fabrications are not deceptive if their purpose is to create; surely they should be considered generative. Was that my creation?↩
- M Wigley, ‘Derrida’s Haunt’, The MIT Press, 1995.↩
- J Derrida, ‘Choreographies’, Points: Interviews, 1974-1994.↩
- The act of placing ideas into something that is but a physical entity is to create. Now that I have had these memories embedded within me I am more than just a composition of thoughts and a physical vessel. In effect, I’ve taken on a whole new form. My recalling of these events is enmeshed in my existence and so the change is perpetuated.↩
- J Corner, ‘The Agency of Mapping: Speculation, Critique and Invention’, in Mappings, ed Denis Cosgrove, Reakton Books, 1999.↩
- G Lynn, ‘Animate Form’, Princeton Architectural Press, 1999.↩
- There are whispers that it would allow greater control. It was not a complete fabrication. It must have come from something familiar. Wherever it came from, it had morphed into something else now. I had sculpted it. It may have been informed by what was already known, but since in my possession it is now liberated from where it began.↩