Kerb invited experienced academics and thinkers from diverse locations to introduce themselves and to give their thoughts on water in relation to their particular landscape. They included Elizabeth Boults, Stuart Niven, Katrina Simon and Jillian Walliss. In doing so the theme of this edition is introduced and some of the main ideas that run through the body of the journal begin to be teased out.
Okay I will bite the bullet and begin a discussion about water. Firstly a brief description. This is Jillian, I’m in Wellington, New Zealand, and it is raining. I have been working at the School of Design at Victoria University for the past year establishing a new landscape architecture degree. I am however not a Kiwi but a rare breed of Australian who chooses to move to New Zealand. Originally studied landscape architecture/worked in Sydney for about ten years before going south for a two-year stint in Hobart, Tasmania doing my Masters. Then shifted to Adelaide University in South Australia for five years, also setting up a new landscape architecture program, before fleeing the Australian tertiary system and relocating to Wellington - aka the capital of middle earth.
For the past five years or so I have been looking at questions of cultural/national identity and how it informs contemporarydesign practice. So it is against that background I will begin to write tentatively about water.
Shifting from Adelaide, which is often described as the driest capital in the driest State in the driest continent, to Wellington represents a radical change in attitudes to water and its links to identity. Primarily there is a fundamental change in identity when you live on an island as distinct from a massive continent. There is no real question of interior but rather more an understanding of which side of the island you are on or a question of top of bottom. This is also the same with Tasmania which primarily identifies itself as the benign east coast and the wild west coast - with the middle not explicitly a destination but really a transition between one coast to the other. The weather patterns with snow, sleet and rain, are fast moving and dynamic on an island, generating a feeling of vulnerability and wildness.
Islands also have interesting connotations such as the dual qualities of both a place of quarantine and sanctuary. Water becomes both a void and defining edge. Water becomes a major reference point for where you are in the same way an absence of water can also establish its own spatial geography or reference points. And it is at the point I am going out in the rain to get coffee.
Thanks Jillian for starting us up. I can relate to your reflections about your move from one extreme climatic condition to another. I grew up in New York and lived for many years in Boston before moving to California. I remember being confounded (appalled, really!) by having to learn about ‘irrigation’. This was something that was for the most part ignored in our landscape architecture curriculum at UC Berkeley, but crucial to practice in the real world. At ‘home’, it rains; living in sunny California, I found myself yearning for a really good thunderstorm. But I’ve come around to appreciating drought-tolerant native plants and the whole Mediterranean garden aesthetic.
I’ve also grown up orienting myself to the ocean. On Long Island [NY], it’s to the south; in Boston, I had to remember that the ocean was on my right side. (This was critical to my youthful obsession with the perfectly tanned body a southern exposure always affords a ‘perpendicular’ view to water while one repositions oneself on the beach like the hands of a clock, following the path of the sun!) Now I live on the ‘left coast’ and here is the great, cold Pacific outside my west window. There was a brief point in my life when taught at the University of Kentucky - never having lived more than six miles from the ocean, I was completely disoriented there in the heartland (in more ways than one!).In response to the larger question about how landscape architecture can reinform a culture, or what is the position of the discipline in relation to overwhelming environmental conditions, I might offer up this gem from Marc Treib, who years ago said something like ‘Isn’t saying you are an “ecological designer” equivalent to saying you are an architect who considers gravity? There can be no other way.’
I think that that statement sums up the situation brilliantly.
This is Katrina. I have a background in landscape architecture and architecture and have been based in Auckland for the last six years, teaching in the UNITEC Bachelor of Landscape Architecture (which was only a year and a half old when I got here), and now in the recently established Master of Landscape Architecture. Arriving as a new staff member l was required to teach drainage (as the new person always is) and I have subsequently developed a particular teaching and research interest in landform and the cartographic process involved in its projection and representation.
I also teach a course which looks at urban form and process from a landscape a perspective. This course is structured around a continuum of landscape conditions which all relate to water, from island to archepelago, to peninsular, to isthmus, through harbour, river, valley and eventually to mountain.
At the moment there is widespread anxiety and agitation about water, namely that it is in the wrong place! New Zealand relies heavily on hydro-electric power, and the big hydro storage lakes in the South Island are at very low levels, precipitating (forgive the pun) calls for power savings and threats of targeted power cuts (chiefly directed at that icon of civilisation - the hot shower). At the same time, other parts. of the country are blessed with rain, and there is a strange dislocation between these conditions of abundance and dessication. As a long, thin, mountainous land mass in the ocean we do, as Jillian noted, have quite extreme differences from one coast to another and from the North Island to the South.
I spent much of my early life in Christchurch (officially a city but really a large market town) on the hot (by New Zealand standards) dry Canterbury Plains, which are large (by New Zealand standards) and alluvial - heavily irrigated and criss-crossed with extensive shelter belts which often follow old survey lines. We always felt very smug and superior about the fine quality of our artesian water supply. Although the city centre was planned around a small, now very tame river called the Avon, it is the big braided rivers which flow out from the Southern Alps which have really shaped the land, and still want to stealthily traverse their way back across all of those tidy farms and suburbs.
Moving to Auckland as a student was a big shock I as I encountered humidity and a topography on a daily basis. Auckland is situated on a (dormant) volcanic field with approx forty-seven cones, craters and tuff rings. It is also an isthmus and has a very extensive coastline, a wild west coast, and a much more benign east coast, protected by an array of islands. These islands are all quite different and have interesting relationships to the city some are cast in the role of unspoiled wilderness, others as olive-and-wine growing, jazz-tooting antidotes to urban stress. Living in this watery realm I have recently taken up sea-swimming as a new form of landscape experience (total immersion!). Am still wondering how to turn this into a lucrative publishing phenomenon à la Richard Long.
Hope you have all picked out a local peak to climb tomorrow for Summit Day (fiftieth anniversary of the first climb to the top of Everest - patriarchal and imperialistic I know but still bloody good!)
Hi colleagues-in-water. I’m Stuart and I guess it’s my turn to dip my toe in and stir. I live in Melbourne, but I’m a Wellingtonian — born there, and have lived there for longish periods of time. I’m n an architect (lapsed) and an designer, and currently work for the Victorian State Government, where I have carte blanche to meddle in almost that attracts my attention (as long as ‘the public’ is in some way involved). I’ve lived by, or near, water (usually an ocean of some kind) for most of my life and even when I didn’t (five years in the Thames Valley, an hour from London) there were times of the year when wtater (fog, rain, snow) seemed to form the whole world. When I reflect back on it, the effect of water on me has always been about what it evokes.
In Wellington, looking out from the living room of my house, through trees and down to the city’s almost completely enclosed harbour, my attitude to the day was always shaped, to some extent, by the nature of the harbour surface (its colour and wave texture, and occasionally its sound) against the wider ocean seen to the south through a narrow gap in the hills.
Looking at that glimpse of the Pacific, I knew there was nothing between me and the Antarctic and there were weather patterns that often made that seem sometheing more than just idle abstraction. The more benign aspect of the harbour was like all water outlooks, mercurial and subject to instant change - bright, dark, grey, aquamarine, deep blue, or black (and occasionally red at that minute or two at dusk) — sullen, wild or as flat as water in a saucer. I found it almost impossible to keep these moods of water at bay, in the shape and form a day aquires in my own consciousness. The other strong tug of water is its sound. I notice this in Melbourne, where I live in the heart of the city, in an apartment, buried deep.
In Wellington, when it rained (which it did frequently) the sound of it on my tin roof became the sound of weather — its ebb and flow. In Melbourne it is the change in the sound of car tyres on the road outside, and its smell (that instant, fleeting release of wet earth), when water hits a parched city. I guess what all this begins to signify, is the raw power of this element to evoke sharp emtions and feelings - and to intensify and fix memory (of place, person, occasion, or moment in time). As such, it becomes part of the raw materials of the designer’s art, where the personal evocations of things, through water, provide clues to its deployment in design. I bought a book this afternoon (entitled, rather blandly, Excellence in Design) — one of a recent US series published by the National Endowment for the Arts. In it, under a section entitled The Artist, is an image of the water room by Paul Friedberg and the artist Jackie Ferrar. The setting is an irrigation canal in Phoenix, Arizona, and the project is a canal walk, of which the water room is an incident along the way. It is a shallow rectangular depression with stone walls set down about 1500mm into its desert-like surroundings. Along one edge of the room is a water channel (the water kept in check by a knife edge along the room side of the channel). Opposite it, set into the side of the depression is a long stone seat running the full length of the space. The setting looks hot. The explanatory note beside the image says: ‘…The water seeps under stones at the base of the room, offering a poetic form of natural air conditioning…’ As everybody knows, there are thousands of these incidents where water (or the sound of it) is introduced as a benign influence in a considered setting. What has to be added to this are the savage components of the medium that can just as easily carry us off as soothe us.
At this point the subject opens up so wide I’m not sure where this is taking me…so over-and-out at this point while think about this for a bit.
I will offer up, in no particular order, my favorite ‘wet’ spaces which at the moment include:
- Villa Lante - water as choreography
- The Court of the Lions at the Alhambra water asstillness
- The Court of the Oranges in Granada water asirrigation, then
- Adrian Geuze/West 8’s combination sprinkler/light fixture - water as irrigation, now
- Cheryl Barton’s projection of the historic Sutro Baths on fog -. water as spectacle
- Ken Smith and David Meyer’s rain curtain in Yorkville Park, Toronto - water as ice
- The California State Water Project which, in a typical Army Corps of Engineers Way (visible from space), brings water from the Sierras through the Central Valley to southern California - water as politics
- Pete Walker’s Tanner Fountain at Harvard - water as steam
- The fluxus event by Chieko Shiomi entitled Water Music give the water still form; let the water lose its still form’ — water as poetry
Chip Chip Sullivan’s new book Garden and Climate also has a section devoted to water as natural air conditioning. The chapter on water jokes in Italian Renaissance gardens is particularly enjoyable.