“What can the artist draw? …what the artist can draw”F. Nietzsche “You cannot do anything until you have a base plan” “4WD’s create possibilities”Stephen Muecke
I would firstly like to mention three things. Two related observations and a historical trend. Leon van Schaik1, in a short talk on Landscape Architectural competition entries, two or three years ago, said that from experience as a juror, he has noted that Landscape Architects tend to want to fill up their designs and sites with all manners of things. This had instant resonance with me. Effectively this means things that you see, as forms, objectified in plan representation. These things are often chosen, explicitly or implicitly, to bring something to the site or to represent or stand-in for certain pasts, cultures, meanings and contexts; as if the competition sites were lacking some-thing, or that nothing — no-thing is there, until something is put there.
Second, it is common to observe,2 and students will say, that they are not dealing with the qualities and characteristics of the landscape itself. Designs which are created with the desire for difference and newness and which immediately look graphically compelling or suggestive, turn out on further examination when related to the particular site to not offer the difference that was first desired and promised. The very things that attracted a student to a site seem to be denied by the design process.
Yet, there seems to be a strong interest in design in some schools at present. So why do we have this situation? I would suggest that we are at a particular moment and that some things need to be dealt with at this particular moment. Is what we are currently calling ‘design’ not dealing with the qualities of the landscape?
In landscape architecture what is called ‘landscape planning’, as most landscape architecture students and practitioners would know, has in the past, and probably still is in some places, regarded as a / the key mechanism or process (or discipline) for linking a site to its wider world. Landscape planning was to complement site design. However, both traditional site design and landscape planning share assumptions and techniques in a manner that not only do some feel is detrimental to design — but also that the promise of landscape planning, for designers, seems to have run its course.
Landscape planning has been largely rejected by designers. It seems that now ‘design’ is off on its own trajectory somewhat detached from ‘planning’. I am interested in revisiting the ambitions of this couplet, but not in repeating the way in which it has existed. I am interested in the forces, vectors, rhythms, orders, closer and wider relations, energies, synergies, ecologies, social-cultural-political forces, histories, mythologies, stories, futures, emerging desires, geographies and processes that are variously ever-present and centrally determining for any particular project. How is it possible to move beyond such things as the abstractness of GIS on one hand and the site, or plan, or plan composition, or image, or object, fetishism of much contemporary landscape design work? It is common criticism that the qualities of a site almost seem to “hide behind the design”. There was something very empowering about how aspects of the wider world were suddenly made available to landscape architecture by McHarg and Co. It was generally felt that landscape architecture seemed to have a much larger purpose after the publication of ‘Design with Nature’. It seems now, however, that ‘landscape planning’ does not provide access (if you like) to these wider forces in a manner or form suitable for design. What has ‘design’ lost by seemingly ditching the old landscape architectural ambition, or what could be gained, in terms of experimentation, newness and discovery, by revisiting it? This requires visiting somewhere close by.
It is an obvious statement that designing involves translating from the richness — or fullness of the richness and/or banality or even rich banality — of the manifold of the world to a 2D or 3D representation. The qualities and implications of such a translation receive scant attention in landscape architecture. This translation involves a gap — a gap between representation and the landscape. A design representation is not a landscape. To say ‘yes, but it is a representation of a landscape’ is gloriously obvious and equally naive. Whereas here it may seem that I am alluding to the failings of representations — as per say Andrea Kahn3 — that is not my interest in the end. As where there is loss, there is always, in theory and certainly through my experience as an educator, another side of the coin, potentially gain. Productivity. I would like to be able to draw productive conclusions out of this gap. First, however, I want to take you into a very personal area that I am lead to believe all designers have to confront, and is ever-present in design education.
the horror of representation
It is fairly evident that this gap is accompanied by what I would call a ‘horror’ from students. This is the horror of representation. The gap and the horror associated with it are central to landscape architecture. Constitutive of landscape architecture. It is the gap of representation that allows a certain distance from the landscape. This distance is powerful. Such is the apparent paradox of representation. This distance allows you to separate something essential or useful for design from the inessential of the world. It allows an abstraction that is essential to modem design. This is an abstraction from the world or site,4 an abstraction that has a relation to the ‘qualities and characteristics of the site. What is less remarked upon or understood is that it is an abstraction that also then allows for an intersection with multiple other abstractions, discourses, poetries and notions potentially relevant to the ‘site’. An abstraction that intersects with the abstractions of the world and site. It would be difficult to do justice to the power of abstraction and hence design representations. The abstraction of design allows the designer to engage with the site in an infinity of new ways. Abstractions are always concrete at the same time. Abstraction is limiting and this is essential. It is this limitation that is an opening which is powerful. Abstraction is powerful. It is constitutive of landscape architecture.
However, to repeat, with this power comes horror. With any gain there is loss. This horror is multiple. It involves a horror of the ‘white page’ of design representation so to speak. It involves a horror of marking the ‘white page’ of design. It also involves a horror of the landscape what the artist Robert Smithson might call ‘terror’. Not as the Enlightenment theorists regarded the sublime as involving the ‘terrible’. They tended to have an extreme model of the sublime, such as associated with the vastness of the ocean or of treacherous mountainous regions. Smithson, differently, sees the sublime as those orders and aspects of ‘nature’ that we are not able to assimilate or represent easily or represent to ourselves easily. This horror or terror certainly includes the extreme manifestations of nature, but Smithson’s5 model is far more wide-ranging. More ‘down to earth’, practical and precise if you like. He talks of ‘nature’, but his definition is just as easily relatable to the seemingly non-natural. These are aspects of the non-natural that cannot easily be represented or assimilated. The (at least relatively) non-representable aspects of the world involve a certain horror that is not just the same but is strongly related and connected and interconnected to the horror of the white page. This is a condition of all representation, that is acute in-landscape design.
So, without wanting to take away all of the personal and cultural mysteries and significant joys of marking the page, it also has to be remarked that associated with these horrors is the horror of being responsible for what goes onto the white page, a responsibility to provide a design. Western culture, largely responsible for the modem notion of design, intensifies this responsibility with its extreme privileging of the individual and their responsibility as the source of meaning and truth. Such collective belief or mythology is possibly essential in maintaining a design culture. The horror of having to provide it all, is strangely an assault on traditional notions of subjectivity, assumed as it is to be unitary and self-enclosed. It is at this point that it can be observed, in design education at least, that the contradictions inherent in this provision-theory become most apparent. It is as though the gap of representation invites such a notion, or that such a notion goes hand-in hand with the conditions associated with this gap. The individual and their provision fill the blankness seemingly and theoretically created by such a gap.
The intensity, fraught nature, frustration, horror, investment and joy, of a good student design critique signifies that the discussion of design is inseparably about, new and unexpected openings and discoveries, and just as much about coming to terms with the horror of the various lacks of reference of representation created by this gap.
colonising the page
The blank page, source of horror, may even at the same time suggest an infinity of possibilities for design. An infinity which is the flipside of nothingness. There is nothing ‘there’. That means that anything can ‘go there’. A freedom associated with that modern ideal condition, the tabula rasa. The liberation associated with modern design, often assumed reductively to be the same as or reduced to what is called ‘modernism’, may be a freedom that shuns a good proportion of the existing orders of the world, including the very ones that draw us to a landscape. It is also common that an analysis starts and/or concludes with identifying as the central characteristic of a site a lack, to which the designer is to provide some-thing.
Of course, a blank page does not stay blank. Drawing conventions and what I would term mechanisms or strategies of colonising the page soon mark and order the page. Such mark-making could be described as involving a dialectic between representational colonisation and site appropriation, where the two are inseparable, feed off each other, at the same time as they maybe somewhat distant from each other. Colonisation has a machine-like and joyful logic that has its own half-imperatives. These half-imperative link with the other imperatives of design practice to often produce what we recognise as the ‘sameness’ of landscape design. Such are the conventions of marking and, as Robert Smithson also says, “conventions shield us from the abyss of representations”. Mark-making may certainly be joyful. It is also comforting. Horror and comfort go together.6
From observation it also seems that a good deal of design practice is about comfort, especially the most normalised aspects, found in their most comfortable form, in one sense, in an office situation. Such a situation generally requires a guaranteed result in a guaranteed time. As a result risk, danger and horror are to be suppressed at all points. If one were to talk of conventions, then a certain relation between appropriation and colonisation is central. A certain style of marking the page leading to a certain appropriation of the site. A countervailing presence in an office, an order of reference in itself, if not the key order of reference, is the economic. The pragmatic that stems from the economic, in all senses, has the great and productive value of restraint and the necessity to be strategic, in a manner that ‘overheated’ student design work often lacks.
The mechanisms and strategies of the colonisation of the page occurs at all moments of design: for instance, referring to the traditional classification: ‘data collection’, ‘existing conditions’, ‘site analysis’, ‘concepts’, ‘detail design’, etc. Most of these strategies are learnt unconsciously, “through the skin” so to speak.’7 Colonisation is however positively central to design. Just as abstraction is needed and unavoidable, graphic armatures and interventions are key aspects of design. To start marking the page is to enter the realm where-lines lead to other lines and ‘design begets design’ etc. Overlain orders bring out latent site orders. Overlain marks link with other overlain marks to facilitate the discovery of previously unseen relations. Yet whilst being essential colonisation also has strong tendencies to certain practices, including deferring from having a reference to latent site orders to a focus more on the orders of the representation itself. Colonisation takes over from appropriation. Such orders of colonisation have a rigour and history themselves which can act more as a self-referential imperative than an entry point.
Smithson’s notion of the sublime, treated very cursorily here, is as potentially useful to landscape architecture as the characteristics of representations are; both are relatively unexplored realms. Both seem interdependently related. Other senses of sublime may be very different, and also useful here.8 Most notions of the sublime, however, suggest that the sublime demands response, whether by comforting denial or by struggle or horror — or all of these at once. The panoply of strategies of the colonisation of the page and the appropriation of a site also involve a rich assortment of what could be called compensations, compensations to the designer. I refer to these as compensations as it commonly occurs that whilst a designer may be sacrificing appropriation for colonisation in a particular instance they also seem to be getting something out of doing what they are doing. Many of these compensations come through the act of drawing (or whatever ‘mark making’) — through the touch of the pencil, the order of a grid, the sensuousness of a line, the promise of meaning, the joy of representing something, the joy of discovering something coming to be etc. These are obviously centrally important for the whole design endeavour and for each design act and not at all purely compensatory but they certainly involve compensation. The lack of ability to assimilate and represent central aspects of the landscape demands a response which is often compensatory.
the over-determination and limits of design representations
The marks on a design drawing, assuming they are serious design acts, are not a representation of something else — the landscape — so much as they are constrained by something else … the landscape. They have a relation to this something else. A representation has a relation to a certain dimension or dimensions of the landscape. To have access to all dimensions would mean that it was the actual landscape, not separate from the world, and would thus no longer be a representation, and thus would deny totally all of the powers of representation. Alternatively, certain dimensions of a landscape become something else in a representation, liberated by a representation. The conventions of design, a richly hidden and historical area, conventionalise which dimensions are available and how, and conversely which ones are not.
It is worthwhile considering landscape architectural design representations as completely overdetermined. The degree of investment and the thickness of the history of development of such tools goes largely unnoticed. They seem virtually natural, or not a topic worth examining. In the extreme and normal, thick and naturalised, therefore most perverse, case of a typical office plan drawing; consider the functions it is to perform, the requirements it is to deal with.
Design representations are required to, or commonly required to:
- fit into office practice and be acceptable in the wider world;
- be part of a management system for a job;
- be part of an expected set of drawings for a job;
- be a part of a system of office practice with cross reference to other documents;
- have the ability to quickly shift into performing different roles and that such roles are directly comparable and transferable to each other; such as existing conditions, site analysis, design concept, layout, documentation and presentation drawing;
- fit neatly into standard categories for fee disbursement;
- be able to exhibit clearly and simply the hallmarks of modem site planning: a rational, linear and comprehensive analytic at the same time as providing the ability to explore the relations between all factors brought into the representation;
- show reference to the wider world, i.e. location, orientation etc.
- be a precise technical and legal document, where the world relevant to design can be given locations and dimensions etc, and be utilised for laying out a design;
- be a site referencing system that allows any aspect of the site and design to be cross-referenced to any other;
- show graphic and textual description of reference to the levels, location and forms of the site etc;
- satisfy all of the conventions of symbols, line weights, scale, etc.
- represent the landscape with a very limited range of symbols and graphic tools;
- show the relationship to the context or external factors;
- give an overview in one image of an entire site;
- be able to capture the subtleties of ground form in plan representation; depict or represent or suggest 3-dimensionality 2-dimensionally;
- be a drawing which represents sensual qualities;
- satisfy all of the conventions of design taste for page layout, composition, balance, order, neatness, precision, picturesque aesthetic, sense of history etc;
- be both a rhetorical device to suggest the authority of the design and designer, with all manner of symbols of reference, grid-lines, and drawing qualities — whilst also possibly done with a casualness, which also can suggest an ease and therefore authority with doing design;
- be something that can hopefully communicate to expert and ‘lay’ audiences alike;
- employ the appropriate imagery, signs, and marks to evoke a feeling complementary to the design;
- suggest creativity; fit into the office style, which should be considered a contemporary style by other designers and the ‘general public’;
- be a marketing device;
- be a coherent and hopefully beautiful and I or compelling graphic plan composition, which evokes the site design, usually, as a composition itself — a plan that did not look like a design itself is not usually seen as a plan;
- be a representation that is quickly reproducible, alterable, accessible, storable, cheap, and universally and constantly available.
- be able to show the overall effect of the design, i.e. before and after reference;
- be a ‘testing device’ that shows the effects of any particular act; and,
- have all of this work together in one seamless way.
This is a ‘tall’ order, and yet, in a functioning office it all seems effortless. Never mind that it takes years to be able to learn how to do all of this, or that you do not actually learn it. Never mind that it has involved a whole hidden history of development. The strangeness of this should at least be appreciated. Conventions are always doubly strange. The effects of these limits of representation and strategies of colonising the page are of interest here to the extent that they do effect or even strictly delimit possible and potential relationships to the landscape.
The various imperatives of practice conventionalise the use of representations in a manner which is: very powerful; and where the interdependence of such imperatives is at once complex and largely beyond consciousness, as well as appearing natural and simple. It seems that such an amalgam of demands, which take a designer considerable investment and time to partly ‘master, constructs representation in a manner where the landscape is made visible or liberated for and by design only in certain ways. Being plan compositionally driven usually this amalgam facilitates the creation of a highly determined set of relations stretched taut across the page. Facilitating a certain unity. The infinity of possibilities of the blank page, without even considering the constraints of a site or brief, is an infinity constructed by the rigors of landscape design representations. It is a certain infinity. An infinity which tends toward sameness. This sameness is something that we recognise. So whilst you can do anything, it tends to be a very limited anything. Student sameness, being a tendency, is recognisably related to and different from professional sameness. Student drawings may not have all of the same sorts of demands and effects, as office drawings but they certainly have others — certain limitations, losses and productivities.
Important questions would then be — what does the ‘real’ world of the professional and the ‘academic’ world of the student do to design? As collective and productive worlds, worlds where your tools make you do certain things, they are distinctly inseparable. Different shades or sides of the same productivity. The more unquestioned or unexplored the more rigorous this productivity. So, it is not a matter of asking the right questions, of truth or objectivity or accuracy or more accurate representation of the real landscape — that is missing the point — and in a sense too simple, too easy. The knee-jerk responses being greater objectivity or simply pointing out the lack of objectivity.
The desire for legitimation constructs landscape design in certain ways. Whilst exploratory in the synoptic sense, the traditional model tends to want to, in effect, hold onto where it has ‘come from’ at the expense of ‘where it is going’ and what it is or could be discovering. What I refer to here is that we only tend to have one type of legitimation, one which references origins and linear-rational exploration of origins. A version of comprehensive linear-rational problem solving, so beloved of modernist practice in general. As a design area the emphasis on the satisfaction of the procedure, and importance of a certain type of analysis in this, is fairly peculiar to landscape design. I would suggest that this peculiarity is, apart from other things, an historical recognition of the centrality of the preexisting characteristics of the landscape in the construction of landscape architectural practice. One would expect that such a peculiarity would be in the service of a design practice that fully recognises characteristics of the pre-existing landscape. Yet the ‘will-to-legitimation’ inherent in landscape architectural practice suggests that if challenged then we can Wind it all back to show that the product is a result of a good beginning and a careful following of a proper process. Landscape planning notions of ‘defensibility’ are extreme examples of this. The desire to legitimate and distinguish the practice of landscape architecture has despite intentions created a system that tends to defer from an exploration of productivity. How do we conceive of a form of legitimation which is based on exploration and productivity, and inseparably, where the full potential of ‘what is at hand’, the pre-existing forces, are the central source for design exploration and productivity?
Some design schools have learnt by practice that students should “draw to within an inch of their lives.”9 Through the process of colonising the page the intensity of discovery is heightened. The productivity of doing comes as doing is in the language of doing. This does not just mean drawing. It involves certain checks and a fluid self-critique. If not, drawing and design frenzy can also slip into or privilege self-referentiality, reinforce existing self-referentialities or even discover new forms of self-referentiality. ‘Drawing’ or ‘design’ alone are essential, yet, I would argue they are not enough. As Aldo Rossi stresses, a designer begins a design only half aware of the issues, and discovers the nature and weight of the issues during the process. The notion of productivity, is not just about drawn product, it seems to already contain an evaluative and critical component. It seems to be an evaluative that asks open questions, “it seems productive” … “productive in terms of what?” Productivity invites criteria of judgement based upon what is discovered. Discovery throws up such criteria. Productivity places an emphasis on moving forward, enfolding in further concerns, making connections, gathering, building up, discovering non-obvious relations and dependencies, synergies and implications. Productivity is interested in what is produced from what. ‘What is produced’ is a different inquiry and more attuned to the actions, products and sensibilities of designers. Productivity is particularly interested in adjusting the ‘how’ to more closely suit the issues that arise.
To begin with I gave what may seem an excessive weight to the horror of representation. The true immensity, subtlety, and multiple nature of this abyss I feel, however I can only weakly suggest. It is not something to just describe, but something to discover. Then I introduced the relationship between colonisation and appropriation, abstraction, compensations to the designer, the overdetermined nature of representations, and a new idea about productivity.
In response, and in the spirit of productivity aimed at re-conceiving what landscape design technique might be, I would like now to introduce some other conceptual interventions. Firstly, the notion of the bricoleur and the art of bricolage, to introduce alternative ways to conceive of technique. Second, a notion of ‘connectivity’ that clarifies the connection between design technique and the forces of the landscape. Third, a discussion about the nature of the medium of landscape to suggest what makes it different in terms of technique. Fourth, an excursus into the use of the cultural forces of the landscape. Fifth, is an introduction to the idea of ‘catastrophe’, as first discussed in a design forum by Sandford Kwinter in Assemblage Journal in 1992. Catastrophe is a reconsideration of commonly accepted notions of form, with implications for how to design. I will conclude with a brief summary bringing the main points together.
the anthropological notion of bricolage
The notion of the bricoleur became a useful notion through the work of the French structuralist anthropologist Levi-Strauss in the 1960’s. The bricoleur was Levi-Strauss’ way of communicating the special qualities and capacity of what he termed the ‘savage mind’. He suggested that modem man was like an engineer who spans a creek with specialised bridge building materials and implements. Whereas primitive man is like a makeshift handyman, a bricoleur, who does the same job with bits of wooden box, old fence poles, oddments of wire, or whatever happens to be available. For the primitive man what is available are the things of the natural world: animals, hills, stars, etc. For instance, “the difference between animals are adopted as emblem by the groups of men in order to do away with their own resemblances.” By identifying with the emuman (of the emu clan) man makes a sign of himself, and enters as such into the discourse of society. The relation between emu-man and other men as well as witchetty grub-man and other men becomes equivalent to the relationship between emu and witchetty grub. The identity of one is defined in relation.to another. The identity of one is defined in terms of the identity of others. The function being ‘social bonding’.’10 Such relations are not something that is added onto ‘real’ perception or experience. Culture provides the terms that allow experience to occur, the primary differentiation of the world that provides sense, identity and value. Culture continually discovers new ways to do this. Culture makes use of the world and humans, if you like, to do this. Culture makes use of seemingly concrete things for abstract purposes. Culture at the same time does not exist prior to or above the world, humans and individuals. They all come to be with each other and in the process of doing. The conception of the ‘savage mind’ applies to both individuals and culture in general, as if they are not separate. Culture works through individual human beings, and individuals work with culture to define themselves as individuals. Culture provides the sense to the world in a manner where differences of view and experience are recognisable. Culture makes do as much as individuals do. ‘Modern’ culture and man are no different.
Aspects of Levi-Strauss’ body of work have come under attack in more recent years, but the notion of the bricoleur is still radical. It even has turned on Levi-Strauss’ own ideas of the distinction between the engineer and the bricoleur. The engineer is really just another bricoleur, the means at hand; abstract formulae, numbers etc.; being simply different means at hand. So, the bricoleur is about ‘making do with the things of the world’. As such it is about a certain ‘practical capacity’ to make do with the pre-existing. This cultural use of nature, the world, is directly relevant to designers. This essay is particularly concerned with how to make use of the pre-existing. Being constitutively more reliant on the pre-existing, landscape architecture should confront the condition that this is the source of design qualities and invention. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that students seem often to position invention as something with little relevance to the pre-existing landscape. So firstly, I would like to consider, with the aid of the notion of bricolage, a way of conceiving of design technique relevant to this question. Second, I would like to return to the anthropological notion of the bricoleur, to an understanding of the cultural nature of the things of the world, to explore an interconnectivity of culture with, the preexisting landscape and design technique.
the new landscape Interest and ways of conceiving of technique
Architects, urban designers and design theorists have recently been championing what I would call ‘the metaphor of landscape’, effectively being the great design metaphor of the last ten or so years. This has in the best of cases, most recently, been tied to a renewed interest in technique. An especial attentativeness to how things get done. There are good reasons for this; one being that architectural critique has realised the potential of an architecture conceived as inseparably part of its world. This cultural interest is part and parcel of the new ‘landscape’ of globalising tendencies, with new emphases on forces and flows as opposed to a sense that form is ‘static’. Such a cultural interest is too vast to do justice to here. Suffice to say that some of this is highly valuable for landscape architecture, and I would like to suggest that for landscape architecture this is a bigger question than for, say, architecture. Yet the recent landscape interest has, both strangely and not strangely, received less attention in landscape architecture. I would like also to suggest that it is not just a bigger question, but a different question for landscape architecture. Part of the new, or renewed landscape interest of architects is already always being explored as part of landscape architecture’s daily operation, but overall it is ignored. I will allude to the difference of landscape architecture throughout the remainder of this essay. As part of this difference it is worth considering that the condition of the world, of landscape, can be practically conceived of in terms of ‘connectivity’.
the connectivity of the world
“space is the most determined phenomena” Ed Casey, The Fate of Place
One writer in the new ‘landscape’ tradition is John Rajchman, architectural thinker and philosopher, who talks of the value of the idea of ‘connectivity’ for design. I would like to propose such a relation, amongst others, as a useful way to help conceive of landscape design technique. The notion of connectivity is very similar, to say, ecology. The principle of ecology is highly instructive and suggestive about the interrelatedness of things, and despite strong historical recognition of such interrelatedness in landscape architecture and landscape planning, the exploration of such interrelatedness has been and is still relatively limited. It certainly has been associated with a particular conservationist attitude, that tends to be somewhat anti-design. This idea of ecology, tends to privilege and, is an unavoidably conceptual, notion of interrelatedness. This metaphysical aspect of ecology is different to say the intertwining of the abstract and concrete, with say, the bricoleur. This conceptual part is opposed to the visible, and seemingly ‘just aesthetic’, counterpart of interrelatedness. Interrelatedness is sometimes even presented as being outside the visible, the visible being seen as somehow ‘static’. Sometimes recent student design work presents itself as being outside such invisibility as well. Commonly, especially with computers, design seems to limit itself to a kind of scenic formalism. One that restricts all understandings of interrelatedness to visual-formal relations in the design composition. Connectivity, instead, should be able to deal with all those connections and relations within and between the various ‘forces, vectors, myths, orders, closer and wider relations, energies, synergies, ecologies, social-cultural-political energies, geographies and processes that are variously ever-present, invisible and visible, and centrally determining for any particular project. So, in this sense connectivity should be more inclusive and a much wider thing than, say, ecology, and certainly more than say, that important abstraction, of visual formalism.
the connectivity of design
“By an examination of the ground I gained the trifling details which I gave to that imbecile Lestrade (Scotland Yard Inspector), as to the personality of the criminal” “But how did you gain them?” “You know my method. It is founded upon the observation of trifles” Sherlock Holmes and Watson
In contrast to the almost metaphysical notion of ecological interrelatedness, connectivity is a more manageable form of interrelatedness. Connectivity refers to the specific way that each dimension links, activates each other, and brings each other into being. Connectivity also presents itself in the way that is most useful to designers, in how one ‘thing’ relates to another, and how in particular such a connection relates to a designer. Equally importantly, how such connectivity presents itself or is available to a moment in the design process. Connectivity is about exploring the controllable and potentially controllable relations available to a designer. This is the discovery of the world in terms of the particUlar design inquiry and techniques. Representation is the way that connections are brought to be, and how they are made. Representation in this sense is about discovery, starting with what is already at hand. It is also about the various manoeuvres, or navigations around a design issue; clarifying and collecting relations between issues and discovering ever-new connections. Design always requires a multitude of interrelated decisions, actions, realisations and reactions. Even the smallest design act requires many decisions that are effectively unconscious, or have happened before the designer has even considered that they have started to design. Each ‘decision’, to grant each connection in the process with the honour of potential consciousness, is an opportunity to contribute to, or, explore the value of each little ‘connection’ in, and for, the process. So, connectivity also refers to the connectivity within a decision-making process by focusing simultaneously on activating connectivity in the landscape. It refers to how each decision, in its small way relates to some very particular and abstracted-out dimensions or aspect of a site or design; such that clear criteria for that act are understood and the means employed to explore that act are very appropriate to that act. This means conceiving of design as a series of fluidly related small acts, with each one being attentive to a productivity relevant to it.
Connectivity particularly refers to the commensurability and synergistic, mutually reinforcing, co-operating, interactive, mutually stimulating or jointly focused relations and interactions between the means at hand and a particular moment or relation or interaction within the landscape. It is the matching of the micro-scale of the decision-making with the particularity of relations in the landscape. Such little moments of connectivity or connection are part of greater design logics and a particular general set with its own trajectory of discovery and regulating criteria. Each connection has its own micro-criteria, which are only significant in terms of how they are regulated by the ‘larger’ criteria and productivity of the project.
Other similar notions are recently available to the designer, such as navigation, the ‘logistics of context’, instrumentality etc.; each providing different consideration of the particular styles of relations between connections and styles of connections, particular relations of precision and openness. All of these notions and others have a mode of being which coincides more closely with how a designer actually does something, than say with ecology. Practicality here is about potentially opening up; to all decisions, to the trajectory of discovery of connections, and to emerging alternative movements. Practicality is about accepting what is happening as well as questioning what is happening. The withholding of judgement and ‘letting something run its course’ are equally part of the decision-making, requiring just as active a decision-making in a project trajectory. Letting it take you somewhere. Letting something happen may come after, as Stan Alien says, you ‘set up the conditions’ for design to proceed. Allowing it or facilitating it taking you somewhere. So, design in this sense is a steering mechanism, responding within tight guidelines to reactions that occur.
As representations are the most obvious and easily alterable component of design, attentiveness to connectivity particularly refers to the connections relating to representational activity, and inseparably connections and cross-reference between representations, and the relation of one representation to the trajectory and over-riding criteria of the project.
As Levi-Straussian anthropology says, making do is not a passive capacity, it is only activated by a doing. It has a number of general dimensions. It is, on one hand, about what the ‘savage mind’ can make ‘what is at hand’ do. This refers to the creative ability and sensitivity to what you can get something to do. What can I do with this? it is, on the other hand, about how ‘what is at hand’ makes primitive man do things. This means an attentiveness to the strong tendencies of something to do certain things. What should this thing be used to do? What does it do best? What should you use instead? What can it or cannot it do? Where does this lead me? What is at hand, what is really at hand is also much wider than what we normally conceive of as tools. Design requires an attentiveness to whatever happens to be available — the landscape, particular aspects of the landscape, what occurs in representation, the tools of design, the propensities and skills of the self, a feeling about the landscape, abstract notions, theories, observations, interventions, other peoples views and likings, what you saw on the way to the office or in your hand-bag, assumptions, this base material, this photograph, good pencil drawing skills, this pencil, this software, this paper, this hunch etc. All of this is at hand, and all of this is inseparable. One is at hand because of another. All are at hand to each other. Each facilitates and directs the availability of the other. Each informs and re-figures the others. All have material consequences. Each particular dimension of the landscape relies on how such an ensemble is focused together and it focuses together in practical and fluidly-related and inseparable little connections. Making-do, is … practicality, in the sense that it involves making-do with what you find, lying about, what is thrown up by chance, what is available, what is practical, what can be quickly done etc. Design practicality is, on one hand, about the practical initiative of spending the time to find the most appropriate way to do something well, and on the other hand, it is also about what is the best that can be done with what. Is available right here right now. The capacity to make-do always comes about in a context or a frame of reference. Just as ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, necessity demands practicality. It is significance, like necessity, that demands and makes sense of connecting actions. Making do is not significant without some greater purpose. Such purpose, not just what is stated in the brief, if you like, has to be recognised as being as much at hand as the tools of design, and activates the other parts of design. ‘Process’ in itself is of no value. The greater purpose, and especially not in any detail, often does not become clear or clarified till later in the process. Technique and process as traditionally practiced and conceived are notorious for instilling a forgetting of purpose. Technique, evolving from the Greek notion of techne, should embody such a rigour of regard for significance. Techne, the art of doing, is an art of significance.
the traditional notions of a means
Currently computers would probably come to mind as an important means. That is because they are obvious. They have come about recently and we can see this newness. The question of computers as a tool is still fresh. From this we could consider the other more general tools, such as the other drawing instruments of landscape architecture and ‘design methods’. Certain cares must be taken in their use, however their use is not greatly questioned, as there are few frameworks for such a critique. Designers tend to have no historical consciousness of when such tools came into use and what strange powers and limits they possess, and what productivity meant that they came to be institutionalised.
So, how does a designer get a critical distance from their tools? How to uncover the potential of a tool? One simple ‘method’ involves comparisons of different uses of the same means and, similarly, comparisons of different means for the same task. These comparisons can be an obvious gauge and indicator of some of the actual and latent productivity of each tool and their uses. Computers for instance are not simply something that is going to take over from the pencil or the pen. A computer also, if allowed, brings out the productivity of the pencil, and vice versa. Such concrete examinations are central, there being no ultimate vantage point, as ‘the world’ somewhat suggests, to gain the grand summary of the nature of computers or pencils. Each comparison throws up different aspects of a greater problematic, or set of questions, and this is ongoing. Considerable knowledge from the eighteenth century resulted from comparisons across the arts. There is nothing more weakly true, passive or more commonly repeated than ‘computers are (not the answer, they are) just another tool’.
conventions and invention
It seems that there is a constant battle that a designer engages in to discover the productive close to the jaws of the ‘unproductive’. The productive comes out of exploration and experimentation as well as from the awareness of the negative tendencies of a medium and how it is used. Such an exploration gains from an understanding of the limits and power of traditional and conventional uses of media. The traditional is the rich, dull and primary reference point, the great precedent, for all exploration and discovery To experiment seriously is to engage seriously with conventions and history. It is only a technician culture, that treats technique as purely given, and simply accepts and repeats how things are done, and therefore denies the power of both the ‘conventional’ and of the ‘experimental’. Experimentation without regard for tradition cannot be regarded as experimentation, as there can be no position from which to regard anything. The conventional and the experimental bring each other into being. Without tradition, such ‘experiment’ tends to be standardised and flips easily over into another technicianism.
Of course, as the previous examination of the various functions that a typical plan representation is expected to perform, and the discussion of the nature of what is at hand should suggest, that much of means available to the designer are always already there, even before you ‘lift the pen’ or ‘flick the switch’. I would not want to suggest that this already-thereness could be summarised. It involves all of the ‘infrastructure’ and relationships, physical and not, that is a culture, discourse, profession, discipline and practice. All of the assumptions and decisions at once philosophical and pragmatic; including office structure, office operation etc. The machine-like aspects, more ‘desiring machine’ than mechanism, of practice are the result of this great configuration.
So, one of the functions of this essay is to: partly, set the scene for an understanding of what we would normally term ‘process’, technique and tools. Such a context needs to be filled out a little richly if the significance and potential of technique or process in general, or of any particular tool or decision, is to be appreciated or explored. Specific examples of designing have been sacrificed for a more general discussion. This is unfortunate, as nothing explores the potential of technique more than doing itself. Yet despite such a condition I would like to claim that the significance of technique has been seriously underestimated. Sometimes it seems that technique is just accepted, that the set of techniques that are normally used are adequate for further use, and that there is no need for ‘reinventing wheels’, and that given this tried and tested technique, we can now start to design. I would suggest that landscape design that wants to take the world seriously needs to treat design as continuous invention. It is only by discovering the limits of techniques that a designer is able put any act in some productive frame of reference. It is in doing that one discovers such frames and points of reference. From educational experience such limits are to be discovered or rediscovered for each project, and within each project.
what do techniques do to your interests?
Such an underestimation of technique involves a tendency to defer unconsciously to figures that seem to provide answers, guarantees or at least comfort. An example, as it is topical (especially at the conference this paper was originally presented at), in this case would be the recent interest in cultural studies, as if cultural studies was the key to culture, and maybe ‘meaning’. Landscape architects, with the admirable desire to be exploring significant issues, seem to find it easier to defer to or be attracted to such things as aboriginality or critical art practice that talk of various important cultural issues. Cultural studies, apart from being relatively glamorous in the recent past, seems to make the world more meaningful. Such an interest is understandable and timely. Cultural studies has been very productive in the invention of ways to engage with the world. Cultural studies, that I am relying on here also, is central to the development of some valuable recent landscape architectural thinking. Cultural studies provides powerful tools for the interpretation of and interaction with the landscape. However, like landscape planning, cultural studies does not come in a form particularly useful for design.
Cultural studies is interested in the ways and things of the world, designs even, yet the interest is in what such things ‘say’ about culture. Landscape architectural design can gain considerably from the way that cultural studies opens us up to the (cultural) nature of the world. In being focused distinctly on what things say about the world, cultural studies defers very quickly from the things of the world, thus in the end, effectively supporting the idea that the physical world of a designer, and strangely as it turns out the cultural inquirer, is rendered insignificant, and not a source of cultural possibility or whatever.
Landscape architectural design in contrast to cultural studies should be centrally interested in the objects themselves, not as aids to the interpretation of culture, but as constitutively cultural matter, or at least as integral to any cultural situation. Not just as objects ‘in-and-of-themselves’. This is the location, place and realm where landscape designers can engage in the cultural world. The question of how a designer may engage in the issues of culture is simply not addressed in cultural studies. Designers have to construct this for themselves.
Deferral from exploring technique is often associated with the assumption that change will somehow follow from just having a good idea. Such assumptions are not necessarily born out in practice. Previous studies of mine almost ten years ago explored the relation between what students and practitioners said and seemed to assume about what they were doing, and what they actually produced. These studies tended to show that; the notion of (and a desire for) ‘meaning’ was a central interests in student work and that students also assumed that design could virtually engage in or express whatever meaning that a student was interested in. Correspondingly, the interpretations of cultural studies are often treated as if they were the significance, or at least the key reference of a design project.
Landscape architecture, largely because of representational abstraction, tends to promise a great deal by allowing connections to be made to ideas and notions from elsewhere. Cultural studies is ripe for the satisfaction of such reasonable desires for significance. Yet, from my work, the resultant sameness of many of the products and how the means were used tend to radically contradict the variety and richness of such interests. The question then has to be asked: what do the techniques do to these interests? All of the fashions of design seem to barely alter a range of unquestioned, unexplored and effectively invisible techniques much remains radically the same. The existing landscape architectural techniques seem, unconsciously and unintentionally, able to absorb into sameness, all interests, ideas, factors and considerations, and to deny even why. This promise and resultant sameness is one of the great sources of disenchantment in landscape architecture and a denial of legitimate student desires. The stress placed on ‘meaning’, for instance, may or may not involve limiting models of ‘meaning’, but such stress underlines that students implicitly and legitimately recognise important forces in the landscape.
architectural and urban design bricolage
Bricolage, using what is at hand, has already been conceptually explored in architecture and urban design, initially and notably, by Colin Rowe in his ‘Collage City’. This critique of modernist assumptions has been very influential. That it is a theory of urbanism that is a critique of modernist practice is highly relevant. Rowe showed how much the city is constitutive of any piece of architecture. However, Rowe, presented a fairly exclusive sense of bricolage, tending to use in an architecturally privileging way the figure-ground. Rowe was privileging the pre-existing, but in a way that is of limited use for landscape. architects. Meyer’s critique of the figure-ground is at least relevant here. Rowe’s contribution is inestimable, helping to bring the city, urban relations and connections back into design. What would be a more useful notion of bricolage for landscape architects? Firstly, it would pay us to examine ideas about the nature of what could be called the ‘medium of landscape’.
possible characteristics of the medium
“each man kills the thing he loves”lyrics and torch song title from the Fassbinder film, ‘Querelle’
Within an ongoing ambition of contributing to landscape architecture as a design discipline it is worthwhile comparing the object of inquiry of landscape architecture with that of architecture. This means we are looking at the differences between ‘a landscape’ and ‘a building’ in terms of design representations. Of course such a comparison is simplistic, and has the potential to be far too general as the two are, for instance, not separable.
A number of draft generalisations may be said about the difference, some of which may be more true than others, and some of which have effectively been said before. Each of these generalisations contains within it counter-examples that may somewhat nullify the statement. They are all related and left here as an unresolved, and inconsistent list, where the reader may judge the veracity, understatement, overstatement or usefulness of each statement for themselves. Taken together they however say that there is something about the landscape where design tends to defer to the more easily objectified aspects of the landscape, in a manner where this deferral privileges colonisation over appropriation:
- Architecture is easier to represent than the landscape. Meaning that the form of architecture is more objectifiable in representation than the landscape is. Or even that more of architecture is practically objectifiable in a given representation than for a landscape. Or that at least some aspects that are given importance such as the façade and object qualities of architecture are easier to-represent than most aspects of landscape .”11
- In architecture the material that is generally designed with is material that is a product of what Henry Lefebvre terms the ‘abstract space’ of representation already, hence it is more amenable to commensurable transformation within such ‘space’. Additionally, it is more difficult to be precise about landscape than about architecture. An architect can be totally precise about delineating every aspect of the form of the object of inquiry, as architecture is always already and always will be effectively designed in abstract space.
- Representations of landscape design are obliged to appropriate what was at hand before design as this is the stuff of design. It is not just a site for adding stuff to. What was preexisting the design is not replaced by the design, but transformed through design: ‘Analysis’ in landscape architecture is not something providing a setting or a place or clues to the nature of context or locale for a design to be inserted or added.it is the bringing into being of the material to be transformed. As such, being an abstraction, it is an act of design already.
- To repeat: ‘The (at least relatively) non-representable aspects of the landscape involve a certain horror that is not just the same but is strongly interconnected to the horror of the white page’. The relations between these two horrors is particular to landscape design.
- The landscape tends to involve an inseparable and unique combination of two relatively unrepresentable realms: firstly, the concrete characteristics of the site and land and vegetation etc, as per Beth Meyer, and two, the dominance ‘within’ a site of the more open and abstract qualities of region, context, geography, economy and culture etc. The more concrete aspects of site in landscape design are more beholden, intertwined with or more deferring to, connections to ‘wider’ forces, in a manner that seems abstract
- For all intents and purposes there is a relatively clear demarcation between the object of inquiry and the environment in terms of identity and characteristics of the object of inquiry. (Not less relations it should be said.) So, relations to the environment can in a sense be more strategic in architecture than in landscape, as transformations of the environment in architecture are limited to that which is possible with architecture, which are generally those which involve the architecture, as building, itself. In relative terms such relations are limited. This limitation is powerful. Architecture is often therefore afforded a rigour with such relations that landscape architecture does not construct for itself.
- By architecture being able to be conceived of and designed effectively in an abstract space and therefore as more object-like, the cultural relations of the object tend to be more objectified and objectifiable as well. This tends to for instance more easily allow a typological understanding of the object of inquiry. This is an important reference point, that is relatively obscured in landscape architecture. Effectively culture makes use of the world by appropriating the world through difference and repetition. It places certain values and significance on things by distinguishing them from other things. With the dominant tendency in landscape design to defer to scenographically visual understandings of the site, the aesthetic unity of what is understood tends to be reduced to a scenic unity, thereby reducing an understanding of the possible relations of a site to those scenically visually understood. This invariably limits an exploration of relations to those more on-site and in representation, and in a visually-formal way at best.
- As the landscape is less amenable to the abstract space of representations, the objectifications of the landscape, tend to be less referable to aesthetic experience than in architecture, as the representations of landscape involve a greater distance from aesthetic experience of the actual landscape than is the case in architecture. This means that acts of transformation tend to be less easily related to the aesthetic understanding than they would be in architecture. So, in effect, a landscape architect may therefore know less or less directly the effect of what they have done and are doing. The action and reaction relation is therefore less direct, less fluid and less immediate in landscape design.
These are written in the negative to get across why there may be a deferral which privileges colonisation over appropriation. Taken together these suggest a number of implications that need to be explored at this time. To begin with there needs to be a reclaiming of what is normally termed ‘analysis’, which tends to be seen, or effectively treated, as something before, and irrelevant to, design; as well as being dull and standardised. Analysis is in a sense much more important for landscape architecture than for architecture. Analysis must be recast as already a transformation of the landscape, an activation, a bringing ‘to hand’ of the landscape, in a manner where what is brought to hand is commensurable or productive of design transformation, and that as such analysis is seen as, in effect, a design act. This all should invite a continual exploration of aspects of the landscape that are at once constitutive of the landscape and yet relatively un-representable: including those seemingly more concrete and sensual site characteristics and qualities, such as vegetative quality and the ‘figured-ground’; as well the more abstract geographical relations, as mentioned above both of which offer vast possibilities as ‘unspoken languages,’ that are representationally unexplored. It is essential that landscape architects are attentive to such things as objectifications of what could be at hand about the landscape. This is the material to design with, it is not just something to be invented in abstract space, as architecture tends to be. So, design is much more than having a good idea. A really good idea is a device to activate the potential of the landscape toward newness.
Design needs to be reconsidered in terms of technique. So, this means asking, how do you reconstruct the design question or task to suit what means are at hand? This may seem humbling, as it tends to, on the surface of it, deny ideas, and self. I would suggest, instead, based on experience that, it tends to re-craft what an ‘idea’ and the self are in landscape design. Reconstructing the question to suit the technique is a far more creative and ‘practical’ action. The question must be asked of the technique at each ‘connection’, not just at the start. Design therefore brings together what you can do with what you can discover. They become the same question. The world, the landscape, is only available through doing, it comes to be through being activated by what is at hand, and so the idea of ‘what is at hand’ effectively expands to eliminate the distinction between the designer, the designer’s tools and the landscape.
more ‘unspoken languages’ of the landscape ‘in the era of the ” production of space’
It is again worth reflecting on landscape design in the era of cultural studies (roughly from the seventies), the era that has been described, by Henry Lefebvre, as the era of the ‘Production of Space’. When space is no longer just provided in a functional urban and suburban way, but is recolonised in a manner that space is assumed or expected to be a culturally meaningful medium. Space is no longer just provided, it is ‘produced’. This potentially opens up a vast realm of possibility for Landscape Architects, who are in a key position for such a cultural expectation.
There are standard, and reductive for design, interpretations of this new era. The neo-Marxist slant on this, found in almost all political economic writing and some cultural studies work, would tend to posit that the cultural nature of space is just the flipside, and possibly servant, of the general commodification-of-space-coin. The currency of the cultural nature of space being economic. That economic issues are played out in the ‘cultural’ realm.
Also, from about 1975 landscape architectural techniques and discourse found itself in a kind of crisis. Whereas the tools of modernism were able to construct an expectation of a visual-sensual-functional. medium, they were unable to cope with the new invisible ‘unspoken languages’, to borrow Beth Meyer’s phrase, that seem to have arisen. The general interest is in things called the ‘cultural landscape’, meaningful environments, terrain-vague, ethnic communities, aboriginality, cultural identity, gentrification, the new cultural politics of space and the notion of the spatially un- or under-represented, etc. The continual dissatisfaction with attempts to deal with these things possibly means that landscape architects have for at least ten years been championing ‘culture’ without really saying how. It appears that deal of cultural studies is only able to see the ‘cultural’ landscape in certain ways, ways that are less productive for designers. So far landscape architects have not been very culturally articulate; less because of limited desires, intentions and ideas; and more because of how we go about designing.
a landscape architectural notion of bricolage
So, to return to our interest in a notion of bricolage more suited to landscape architecture, I have detoured through architectural notions of bricolage, as a limited and valuable notion of what is urbanistically at hand. A landscape architect’s notion of bricolage needs to also, and seamlessly, hold onto the contributions of anthropology. However, the emphasis of anthropology, relies on privileging social integration over form-as-constitutively-social. Inquiry in anthropology and cultural studies almost invariably means a textual interpretation, which is not specifically useful in design terms. The things of the world, what is at hand, are in the end, of secondary interest. Hence, how do you conceive of the things of the world as constitutively cultural, and as such design, without mentioning the word culture, is therefore always a cultural investigation?
What does this say about the ‘the things of the world’, and our relationship to the world and how we approach these things. As the emu-man story communicates, culture does very abstract things with seemingly concrete things. The things of the world, the things of what I refer to as of the ‘everyday realm’, are constitutively abstract, if you like. Much has been said of this by such writers as Gilles Deleuze, that the concrete is constitutively abstract. It is Roland Barthes who answered his own question, that, yes, there is ‘myth today’, and it is at once obvious, in that we live it, and not obvious, in that if we go looking for it, it disappears. ‘Myth’, as the collective significance of things, exists in the everyday. To slightly mis-quote Slavov Zizek, [Barthes finds mythologies-in-the-things themselves]. Associated with this myth is the myth, in the negative sense, of the everyday; being conceived of as or naturalised as largely concrete and not mythological or abstract. Such concreteness is an abstract historical notion that we tend to forget.
‘Appropriation’ has been one notion that allowed architects a connection between the abstract and the concrete. In the eighties appropriation was a central topic in architecture, with the knowledge that any particular piece of architecture was always a recombination of or version of past architectures. There did seem to be a strong tendency to limit investigation to a certain appropriations of architecture by architecture, and also sometimes to a belief that the significance of what was being appropriated was, limited to, what the designer chose; further limiting the richness of the possibility of appropriation. More enlightened architects and designers knew however that we are, to be anthropological, ‘always already’ appropriating when we are designing, whether we are conscious of it or not. Anthropology can therefore be used to provide a powerful critique of common architectural notions of appropriation. Architects often approach appropriation With an exclusivity that blocks out a good deal of the world. Designing means always already appropriating the cultural appropriation of nature. I would suggest that as landscape architects we have only been dimly aware of the potential we have been denying by not being able to conceive of how the landscape is always an appropriation of something appropriatable. Dimly aware of how culture is always already appropriating our design work for ‘its own’ purposes. Appropriation highlights that the material of design is not just the pre-existing landscape, which suggests something like ‘site factors’, or the re-use of landscape design history. Site forces are only activated through culture, if you like. Appropriation is at once, from previous historical landscapes; at the same time as it is about engaging in and reactivating the interconnectivity of pre-existing site forces. This is a form of appropriation where both ‘history’ and ‘nature’, that great dichotomy of the nineteenth century, are simultaneously and inseparably appropriated. The conception of historical appropriation is very poorly developed in landscape architecture. Such a combination is impossible to conceive of in current landscape architectural discourse.
technique, aesthetics and culture
This is partly a typological question, which is too large a question for this paper. Technique also requires a strong sense of aesthetics, if it is to have a healthy regard for cultural appropriation. By aesthetics I refer to something much wider and more precise than is normally assumed by such a term. Aesthetics refers to ‘how something presents itself to you’. According to Immanuel Kant, the eighteenth century philosopher, such a presentation, how something presents itself to you, is a ‘unity where all judgements, speculation and results of real or imagined actions; need to be examined by reference back to such a unity’. The significance of any of these only comes out in relation to this unity. Aesthetics is about how something appears to me how something affects me, and how I am effected by some thing. This is about being ‘objective’ about the relation of self and world. Design, to take this further, and to make it relevant here is consistently and inseparably aesthetic in an interconnective sort of way. The aesthetic in design is a whole series of interrelated moments in the design process. Each of which refers back or forward to aesthetic unity.
As culture provides the sense of the world and of self, and of the relationship to the world, to be aesthetic is to be unavoidably cultural, to be exercising your cultural facility, to be engaging in culture. To repeat, the connectivity of the world is most practical engaged with at the many moments of connectivity or stages a design process. It is these moments, as intertwinings of particular abstract and concrete aspects of the world and project which are the pragmatic entries to cultural investigation. So, place a process in a context of significance a designer needs be attuned to how each transformation or act at each connection, relates back to such a unity through whatever regulating criteria or proposition, which are themselves made significant through such unity. The agenda of a project must depart from and ultimately return to, such unity.
There are a number of ‘languages’ of landscape architecture that are not objectifiable easily in plan representation or the dominant scenographic vision of landscape architectural vision. Three genres of these are important here: firstly, the geographical, being all that spatially relates to the site that is not to found on the site itself; second, the figured-ground and the other ‘unspoken’ languages of a site, as per Beth Meyer; and, third, what could be called reductively, the ‘cultural’. This latter involves a radical otherness, different and intertwined with the other two forms of otherness, in that identity is activated through cultural differentiation, through reference and deferral beyond itself. This makes such otherness effectively invisible. Hence culture, if you like, evades simple representation. It is no wonder that landscape architects have not dealt with ‘culture’ very well. It is through attentiveness to technique that such relatively invisible yet central languages become activated for design. The otherness of these unspoken languages has come to light at the same time as a whole new set of design techniques that tend to defer from it.
the fascination and fetishism of contemporary design
Since about 1975 there has developed a good number of new and potentially powerful landscape design techniques, largely modelled on the work of architects and urban designers such as OMA and Bernard Tschumi. These techniques involve certain plan freedoms, various layering techniques, collage and other re-uses of pre-existing graphic material, etc. At a large scale these techniques tend to offer very productive and novel possibilities for the exploration of formal-functional and compositional relations between things in randomised ways, with high degrees of specificity of plan products probably not better done than by OMA. Such techniques also opened up new possibilities for urban re-structuring, which allows landscape designers to freely explore urban design beyond the site-oriented and such things as ‘streetscape’. At a small scale these techniques lose a lot of this power and have a tendency to be very efficient means of colonising sites in a manner that privileges plan compositional relations. Even at large scale they tend to treat the landscape as a collection of arranged things on a flat plain, or the arrangement of the surface as pattern. In landscape architecture they tend to create what Meyer refers to as ‘landscape-for-architecture’.
The use of pre-existing plan material, as a re-used sample of pre-existing world in plan, in what has been regarded as ‘critical’ design, also tends to be about ‘carpeting a site’. The notion of a ‘Collage City’, introduced by Colin Rowe, very productively introduced attentiveness to how a design project relates to the city. Yet collage in landscape architectural education notoriously is however often less interested in urban relations and more on the graphical effect of a collage composition, a collage carpet.
The recent notion of ‘intervention’, with the beautiful invitation to the designer to simultaneously consider, with all of their judgement, skills and sensitivity, what they are intervening in, is often more focused on the seeming qualities of what intervenes, to the relative exclusion of the former. All of these collage-like models are usually not occasioned by any serious analysis, as analysis of the site seems not to be required given such a privilege to the over-lain order. This era of collage has built on the notion of ‘analysis paralysis’ that traditional landscape planning method promoted by sharing some of its limitations. It is not unreasonable to suggest that, as others have, that students tend to be currently very poor at analysis.
It is not hard to see at least the general character or tendency of design here: site fetish, image fetish, object fetish, plan and plan composition fetish. Of course, computers have, despite possible counter-tendencies, many of which are very liberating, probably intensified this. In the recent past PhotoShop made ‘carpeting’ a site really groovy. To get students in a design studio who are using CAD to move beyond designing objects can be hard work. CAD may have very powerful 3D manipulation possibilities for say landform, but it very strongly tends to ‘get you to do’ objects. CAD and other platforms, especially software like Form-Z and Alias, have an in-built seductiveness and representational seamlessness that make it difficult for the designer to not just equate aesthetic unity of the landscape with the visual-sensual unity on the screen. Designers quickly forget why they are designing. Computers have their own horror, and designers don’t just have to confront the abyss of this form of representation, they get lost in it.
So to come back to the original question; how to deal with the qualities of the landscape? This question, as I have suggested, has wider implications than that implied in the original modernist site planning notions of the ‘site factors’ to consider. The question seems more complicated now, as on top of the site ecology, functional relations and visual sensuality, etc., we must add all those urban relations, cultural relations, political relations, issues of identity etc. On one hand this is the era of the invisible, whilst on the other it is an era of the fetishism-of-the-easily-objectifiable. Hence, and this may sound conservative, but in a project exploring difference and newness, I feel that there is an uncritical fascination with, and uncritical appropriation of, recent approaches to design, whereby the potential for difference and newness is denied by an inability to appropriate for design ‘what it is’ about the existing landscape.
As a counter device I would like to introduce the notion of catastrophe or ‘catastrophe theory’, as it is known. Catastrophe theory is a useful critique of what is regarded as the dominant or prevalent assumption or theory of form, ‘Cartesian form’.12 Kwinter says that historically, with the development of a linear notion of time came commensurate notions of space and form. Form was now understood, effectively, as an object located in a universal and neutral space. What appeared as form objectified itself in this effectively gridded and mappable space. Form appears to be separate from this space, and from other forms, and the qualities of a form are to be found within the form itself. Such a notion is resolutely essentialist and normal. Against such notions Kwinter argues that form appears not because it is a form, but because it is a perturbation, inflexion or ‘catastrophe’ in a wider order or order of orders. In fact a ‘singularity’ as a way of focusing many orders.
The examples he gives are very simple examples, two dimensional and graphic, to get across the idea. Some examples he cites include such perturbations, inflexions or catastrophes as when ice crystals form or melt, magnetism, and the complex relationships that cause a rainbow to appear. He reminds us of the times when we are on a beach and notice, as a wave recedes from the beach that a whole array of very similar and characteristic forms may suddenly appear in the sand at the same moment of wave recession. So that ‘they’, as form, as what is at hand, seem individuated, but this example simultaneously suggests graphically that something greater or beyond what appears as individuated form is happening. These forms are really catastrophes or singularities in a wider set of orders; which probably, with a little consideration, involves the wave, the water, the particular sand, the beach, the shoreline profile and longitudinal form and the ocean floor etc. These forms only occur at certain points on the beach, and probably change or disappear with different times, seasons, weather and light conditions etc. All of which is not hard to make out, or at least speculate upon. Kwinter uses such examples to get across the principle which may seem less directly obvious in other forms.
A catastrophe, as what appears to us as form, describes the way in which a system will mutate or jump to an entirely different level of activity or organisation, sometimes as a result of even the most infinitesimal perturbations. Kwinter suggests this is the condition of all form. So that, form is an irruption of discontinuity, not on the system but in it, or of it. For form to emerge the entire space must be transformed along with it. Forms do not belong to a closed system but to open, dynamic and evolving systems, like a pot of coffee or the weather system. Catastrophe theory recognises that every event or form enfolds within it a multiplicity of forces and is the result of not one, but many ‘causes’. Catastrophe theory grants a certain reality to all virtual forces in a field; even those that have not been actualised, but remain enfolded until a singularity (or catastrophe) can draw them out.
catastrophe and landscape design
What is wonderful about such a notion for landscape designers is, for instance that unlike ecology, it is entirely form- and design- related. That is, in terms of what objectifies itself to you. Yet it is theoretically able to engage in such ‘invisibilities’ as ecology. Aesthetics, the valuing of what we see and how it effects us is central; and form and its qualities are privileged, but in a manner that suggests the various recurrent forces and systems. It not only suggests these virtual forces but invites an investigation and investigative attitude toward form that is particularly apt for landscape and landscape design. It asks the designer to explore what possible forces are at play in what appears as form, all the time asking us to refer back to what appeared to us, as aesthetic unity, as form. It invites a greater appreciation of what we experience as form and how it effects us, and what might determine or be relevant to that form. The notion of catastrophe suggests that catastrophe is qualitative and also value laden. It is catastrophic. Valuation and judgement are central to aesthetics. Our own judgement, experience and understanding is a unity. This unity as a catastrophe, is the central reference point from which to examine all possible forces, relationships and how design acts potentially interact with and actualise the catastrophically virtual forces of the site. As a designer however we are only interested in the forces that both are relatively determining of form and those that a designer has the ability to effect. The investigation of a catastrophe guides the designer in understanding the key determining forces of relevance to a designer.
Catastrophe resurrects sensibility from more passive Romanticism, as catastrophe knows no bounds of aesthetics and forces us to be open to the landscape, to whatever may be relevant to form. Catastrophe reconnects sensibility with judgement, analytic with intuition. Catastrophe goes against all forms of obsessive fetishism, whilst requiring a new investigative obsessiveness that has to accompany at the same time an investigative honesty, openness and ability to articulate in whatever way is relevant to an investigation. Catastrophe never finds nothing; an open system is always already connected widely everywhere. The traditional idea of form has contained within it the potential to find nothing, and it is not uncommon for students to not be able to say something or be totally indifferent when confronted by a design or a landscape. Or to base their design on an analysis of a site where they have identified as the defining characteristic of the site, a central lack. Banality, indifference and lack are, instead always the result of potential and latent design forces. Such nothingness is a symptom of the culture. ‘Sites’ or landscapes are always strong.
Catastrophe, unlike the comprehensivity and check-list aspect of traditional analysis-design, is inherently strategic and economic, only being interested in which forces and relations are relevant. It is therefore intervention-friendly, but in a manner where the intervention is seen as a catastrophe, and so according to the value-laden criterion of catastrophe theory, then we can judge whether the intervention is really an intervention, or what transformation of the system it engenders. Catastrophe provides the criteria, via catastrophic unity, for appreciating the efficacy of any transformation. It provides new modes of legitimation in terms of the form itself, and does not tend to defer to some standard-ish method. This legitimation is not from some origin, sufficient process or proof, but from some destination of catastrophe, and catastrophic effect. Effect, being a key aesthetic question here has to be a more open question than traditional design tends to limit itself to, though catastrophe welcomes whatever openness or closedness is relevant, and provides in-built criteria for relevance. Catastrophe has the potential to revisit and revalue many aspects of the world that seemed shunned by the contemporary twins, fascination and fetishism.
Catastrophe is totally about the pre-existing orders in such a way that invites exploration of what difference and newness can be drawn from what is latent within the existing orders. Catastrophe effectively asks how to practically and effectively make something catastrophic or more catastrophic. Catastrophe theory presents the relevant orders and forces of the singularity in such a manner that invites speculation and experimentation with what uses of representation are most relevant to such catastrophe. Catastrophe is not obliged to be plan-representationally lead.
It also gets rid of the Western privilege to a certain model of intentions, by recasting the questions of the source of design, and facilitating more sophisticated intentions. Intentions need to become more attentive ‘to possible or real effects and the relevant forces.
Traditional landscape planning did not provide design friendly support to design because it tried to deal with the manifold of the world via comprehenslvity, atomisation, separation and segmentation: Design unity in modernist design implicitly involves a tendency to deferral from the unity of the catastrophic toward what constitutes the unity of modernist representation. What catastrophe theory suggests is that the only way to employ the wider and subtler forces of the landscape is through forms as an entry point. This requires analysis, judgement, taste, intention, sensibility, and the testing of all of the designer’s subjective and material arts and skills. Catastrophe Theory directly responds that the invisible and virtual are constitutive of the visible and that the invisible is potentially visible. Such a recognition is important in an era when design tends to be about superfluous addition at the same moment that not enough of the world is being employed. Catastrophe theory as a corrective is especially suited to landscape, a medium that resists objectification. It also levers open or invites consideration of what could be considered form. Catastrophe theory is both a critique of traditional notions of form and highly suggestive of the generation of form.
“Music does not come from me, it comes through me”Anonymous musician
Landscape architectural newness seems to be different to that of architecture, being so much more reliant on the appropriation and transformation of the latent forces of the landscape to be able to do design. Traditional techniques, also, tend to deny, despite the rhetoric, the potential of the pre-existing forces of the landscape. This paper attempted to make a number of connections around the idea of how to conceive of technique that would make better use of the potential already ‘within’ the landscape. This writing comes from experience with many designers and their designs. Other writing about actual examples would be able to communicate much that this could about the relationship between the visible and invisible.
It can be said however, that what we experience as form, as ‘visible’, is largely constituted by invisible forces, which experience and representation tend to both deny. Catastrophe, as a device, allows us to conceive of form in a way where a designer, recognises, and is obliged to investigate, the latent and ‘wider’ forces of such form, and where the significance of the investigation can be understood by relation to aesthetic unity, or catastrophe. The wider forces are most practically available to a designer through the ‘connectivity’ of design. To fully explore such availability or actualisation also requires an attentiveness to how a design moment actualises further connectivity.
‘Analysis’ in this sense makes available certain connectivity. In comparison, the relative productivity of designing, as a mode of investigation, is partly due to design already being in the form of design, and, hence, also facilitating the exploration and crystallisation of a connectivity, and a newness, which is very unavailable to analysis. Architecture is far less reliant on the pre-existing dimensions and forces, via ‘analysis’, of the world to be able to design. Architecture can, within limits, temporarily ‘put the world on hold’, and design ‘from the beginning’, in the abstract space of representation. Landscape design in contrast is obliged to appropriate the pre-existing as the stuff of design. In this sense, ‘analysis’ is about the creation of the very form to transform. So, analysis is much more important in landscape design than in architecture. Traditional analysis in landscape design tends to standardise actualisation in a manner that the potential, of the latent forces, and of each situation, is reduced. Contemporary landscape design techniques, as they are often uncritically appropriated from architecture, tend to privilege what is imported or created in abstract space over ‘what it is that is already there’, thereby diminishing the value of such techniques.
The notion of the bricoleur facilitates a practicality about which technique most productively actualises connectivity. Connections lead to other connections. Lines lead to other lines. The significance of a design or of a designing is explored through experiencing or re-experiencing the particular navigation of connections, from ‘line’ to line’, connection to connection, in relation to the relevant landscape unity.
This all leads to new forms of ‘legitimation’ (which deny the notion of legitimation) based on ‘productivity’. These are forms of legitimation which arise from ‘what is at hand’ in the landscape. Productivity involves making connections, exploring connectivity. This is a process of discovering the relevant issues and opportunities which arise in the process of design. Such discoveries, at the level of connections, not only open up other strategic connections between means and forces, they also clarify the criteria for understanding the significance of any action. Such criteria receiving their significance in relation to overall aesthetic unity. Designing in the land-scape, in this sense, is largely about the creation of actualising machines, being part designer-part-whatever-else-is-at-hand where the desire of a designer engages in the setting up of the conditions and actions that facilitate the actualising of the latent forces of the landscape. Our way of speaking is not immediately suited to an understanding of such movement. In this new world nothing is essentially of itself, but comes about or is actualised through design. Above all an exploration of these notions invites a practicality and, also implicitly, a responsibility to whatever may be relevant in the creation of newness.
Dean of the Faculty of the Constructed Environment, RMIT ↩
While I sometimes refer to enrolled students when I use the term ‘students’, I could generally just as easily use the terms ‘landscape architects’ or ‘professionals’. My criticism is here, as always, a criticism of a culture of practice not individuals. ↩
See Kerb 3 ↩
The notion of ‘site’, itself deserving a whole study in this essay, should be read half ironically and against itself in this text. The notion of site is as commensurably powerful and productive as the distance from a site is in representations. The idea of ‘site’ is itself a fundamental abstraction of the modem world. The modem is replete with abstractions we take as concrete and real. ↩
The Writings of Robert Smithson, Edited by Nancy Holt. ↩
It should be said that what Freud identified as the ‘unheimlich’, the uncanny, exists in our most domesticated and comforting situations, within our very homes, for instance, where it has been argued that domestication is actually about keeping the unheimlich at bay. ↩
It may be half relevant for the particular conference that this paper was originally delivered at, that the whiteness of the metaphorical and actual page has resonances, relationships, and connections to the whiteness of other forms of colonisation. I now rewrite part of this on the National Day of Healing, a further reminder to the author that there is little distance between Terra nullius and Tabula rasa. The orders of colonisation of the page are generally historical products with relationships to wider orders of colonisation of the landscape, life worlds and culture/s. Many ‘things’ brought to the drawing, with the best intentions, are in the name of what is not white, yet the white way that brings them to the drawing, often denies not only cultural difference, but also how a designer could deal with culture. It is not just some past mapping or legislative nullity that is at issue here. Designs counter-intentionally become mirrors or projections of whiteness at the moment they aim to represent some other. The otheress of whiteness denies itself again. ↩
For instance Jean Francois-Lyotard. ↩
As Richard Weller of UWA says. ↩
Levi-Strauss, Claude, The Savage Mind ↩
It could be argued that Interior spaces have the same ‘difficult to represent’ aspects as landscape. I would suggest that they both share difficulty of representation, but that interiors are usually the product of the abstract space of representation much more than landscapes, and therefore more transformation amenable In to the abstract space of representation. ↩
Named after the philosopher Descartes. ↩