For many, landscape urbanism is a realm of theoretical design thinking that they believed might never breach into their daily practice. Those unfamiliar with the movement might have once thought Landscape Urbanism was perhaps a new style of design and even might have written it off altogether after seeing the so called Landscape Urbanism Bullshit Generator a while back. I believe, as does Waldheim it seems, that these folks are in fact at the cusp of a evolution of the field and that the urban issues of today are actually often best addressed by the skill sets of those same landscape architects. And while it is very empowering to discuss the possibility that landscape architects may be the new leaders in urban design, development has not been without its doubters or naysayers either.
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With the first, enemy interaction was established on a post-militaristic basis; with the second; functionalism was enabled to re-connect to the world of perception; and with the third, phenomena of life and knowledge became more profoundly linked than ever before. Image courtesy of Jim Corner Field Operations. Their excavation of MERC origins asks how our construction of ecology and environment, as epistemological and material formations, can balance social intimacy, economic development, and a bio-political potential for annihilation.
Throughout this period, Charles Waldheim has been a strong advocate for landscape urbanism. A lot has happened—predatory real-estate and international high finance have mutually imploded, austerity has stalled and slowed the flow of resources and commodities, governments in general have been unable or unwilling to be the consumers of last resort Keynes , and so on.
How do you think the recession has refined the focus, alliances, and goals if there are goals for landscape urbanism and its relationship to capitalist development? Charles Waldheim: Embedded in the origins of landscape urbanism is this idea that it applies or has relevance in places that are growing rapidly, but also in places that are shrinking rapidly. I would argue that, in spite of the economic crisis, we still have the same global system—in a different phase.
Because landscape urbanism sought to deal with both shrinkage and growth, it aspires to offer a response to the economic dynamics of the last forty years and to the embedded or structural crises of advanced or late capitalism.
MS: From on, the bandwidth less lending, collapse of the credit market, and general poor conditions for speculation on top of the strain on public resources due to loss of tax-base and increased spending on unemployment, etc.
Can you think of particular projects or research initiatives that deal with that narrowing of bandwidth in general? Park building, and the idea of park building, as a centerpiece of urbanism is continuing as a centerpiece; its aspirations are maintained.
In the original manuscript of the Landscape Urbanism Reader, we proposed a section of the book that dealt with the informal city, but it was deemed too far ahead of our audience to be viable.
Today, we can say that the informal is clearly a topic that has grown in relevance and deserves further attention.
MS: Spain is a great example of stable economies showing their cracks. Spain was both a functional member of the EU that we understand now was surviving on debt much like Greece and has always had a very active informal, tiered economy.
CW: To the extent that landscape urbanism is a set of practices, then it is not connected to one particular culture or geography. It is available to various contexts and, if urbanism is the expression in space of relationships of capital or power, then any shift in the relationship of the structure of capital or power will impact urbanism. That said, I think that landscape urbanism continues to be of value because of its unique ability to reconcile contemporary economic systems with the underlying ecological conditions in which urbanism is situated.
MS: There are a lot of things that have been at the edge of the landscape urbanism research agenda. As someone involved in and supportive of this research, what sort of descriptor might you give these operational tactics, strategic strikes, or incidents in energy management?
CW: I think that one of the more interesting areas for research for landscape urbanism today is the question of energy, resource extraction, production, and flows in relationship to urbanism. From its origins, landscape urbanism aspires to build an understanding of urbanism in which the ecological forces and flows that support urbanism are considered as part of the city as opposed to external to it.
This offers a response to and critique of older models of urbanism in which the city is distinct from the countryside or the continent. Often, in those old models, energy, as well as water and food and other sustenance, are viewed as externalities to the city problem, which made the city vulnerable.
Our challenge is to find models in which both the questions of sustainability and the renewability of energy sources can be explored, while also looking to reform and improve the global systems of production and distribution. The prospect of finding renewable resources of energy and their impact on the city is one of the most interesting lines of work today.
I think the topic of renewability does a couple of interesting things: Unlike our current dependence on vast reserves of coal or our global system of oil production, refinement, and distribution, renewable energy sources have a series of local impacts, a very different logic at many levels in terms of their production and distribution.
For example, wind and solar and hydroelectric based energy production: While they can be thought of as large mono-functional engineering systems, they can be thought about instead as distributed, embedded, highly localized conditions where each house or each block or each urban system are essentially both producing and consuming and feeding a larger system of supply and demand—which is a very different logic than the logic of consumption at the heart of our cities today.
Carl Sussman. For example, if we have more localized energy production, what types of formal echoes might appear in other consumption trends and values? The model many are looking at in terms of both energy and food production is one in which renewability and sustainability are the goal.
Your reference to MacKaye and Geddes is apt and has relevance for landscape urbanism: Landscape urbanism is both a continuation of and dependent on the legacy of regionally informed planning practice, but it is distinct from the genealogy in a couple of ways. The genealogy of Geddes, MacKaye, and even McHarg, and other Anglo-Scottish, regionally-informed planning practitioners, produced a world view that has been quite important to the formation of landscape architecture, landscape planning, and landscape urbanism.
Where we differ is that they tended to be too invested in geological determinism; that is, either through empirical observation or by way of an evangelical zeal, urbanism was meant to be an expression of geological determinants, in the moralizing sense of McHarg used it.
I think those lines of regional planning overstated the centrality of production and distribution of material resources, and they missed entirely the rise of consumption. MS: They also take production to be consumption, shortening transit to the closest available market and expecting stable production cycles. That or they take them as a negative.
CW: I find much of the cultural disposition of landscape architecture, in its western origins, in Europe and North America; presume geological determinism as a default condition or as a desirable condition.
I have enormous respect for the work of Geddes, MacKaye, and especially McHarg, particularly his desire to articulate ecology in service of planning. But unlike McHarg, our condition today is that while we have an abundance of ecological and scientific knowledge to inform planning, we seem to lack the political and economic models to plan our cities with that knowledge. McHarg and many of his modernist colleagues missed the rise of consumer markets, the political backlash against top-down planning, and the decentralization of decisions about urbanization.
Streamlines by Stoss LU. MS: Well, let me weave back a bit to the German context. How do you see that model transferring to the privatized Anglo-American context? CW: Landscape urbanism in America was stimulated in part by interest in brownfield sites, declines in industry, abandoned territory, and, in my own work, in places like Detroit and trying to come up with a model that could account for its de-development.
We were really pleased that the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, in Chicago, funded that research on Detroit, but it was a tiny privately financed philanthropic undertaking. It was only when the German federal government and Cultural Ministry funded Shrinking Cities from a very high level that it began to have more traction as a research topic and a potential site of praxis.
The topic was always there, but the availability of this information, its dissemination, and the perception of its utility was changed dramatically by this funding and sponsorship.
I think that one of the reasons the Germans took it up so explicitly was its applicability to issues and relevant challenges they were facing East German de-densification. You can court anyone, anywhere, as long as they can understand the conceptual contributions made by these various lines of research and researchers? CW: Well, there is a distinction to be made between research, the production of knowledge, and the making of projects.
And so when you look at the exemplars of abandonment and decay—cities like Detroit—what you see are a series of private decisions being made that aggregate spatially. In that space, the public sectors and the universities have an important role to play. Having said that, I think private capital and private housing are likely to continue to be the dominant forces in growing cities.
Look at the recent landscape urbanist projects in New York and Toronto for example. They tend to depend on robust population growth and demand for housing and upon fairly well developed capital markets; and they tend to be a combination of private development, brownfield remediation, and some form of political leadership.
MS: So how do you see landscape urbanism working in something like a Chinese context [of centralized governance and massive state funding for development], as opposed to the aggregate and distributed agency found within growing US and European contexts? CW: I would say that much of the North American work has been at the scale of the remediation project—not quite a district scale—and this gives a certain size and scale to the typology. But I think outside Shenzhen, across China there are many interesting examples of attempts to develop a model of urbanism in which ecological function and health can be embedded in or more integrated within the shape of the city, in spite of the enormous environmental, human rights, and political challenges that they continue to face.
Are there scales, particular materialities, or particular quantities or qualities you see each of these disciplines addressing?
CW: Over the long view, most innovations or paradigm shifts within urbanism tend to address a set of questions, a set of scales, a set of tools or methods particular to the place that they are responding to and, as a result, often end up working at very different scales. So the origins of landscape urbanism, in landscape planning in the s—coming out of regional planning, coming out of landscape architecture—led to questioning which scale is operative.
Look at planning today as it operates in the context of China, at the particular scale where it seeks to be broadly synthetic and more inclusive. Urban design, as opposed to planning, as it emerged in the s and s here at Harvard, emerged to deal with the large project or the singular institution and its growth in the context of urban fabric.
The European city under post-war reconstruction was one of its central topics, and so urban design and planning are different scales. Landscape urbanism starts with a formal analysis that is informed by the regional history of ecological planning, analyzing the scale of the watershed, and the particular scale of the ecological system.
However, the scale of intervention is different, and this is where landscape urbanism differs from regional landscape planning. So, while landscape urbanism studies the region or the valley section or the watershed, it takes that knowledge and applies it at the scale of the large building project—its sites of intervention.
These tend to be the sites that are available in economic and industrial transformation—which in the North American and European context tend to be sites that are smaller than the city, but at their largest can become a district. And our economic structure tends not to produce comprehensive planning.
All differences aside, this is a generalization—especially in North American and European contexts where urbanization tends to be planned and regulated to some level—but [landscape urbanism] is really project-driven, and therefore tends to occupy and develop sites that become available through an economic transition from industrial to post-industrial.
And that can be slightly confusing at times, given the heritage of regional planning and study of regional ecology—but intervening in the system need not occur at the scale of the entire system or the entire city.
MS: And how would you differentiate an infrastructural urbanism from landscape urbanism? Do you see them as parallel? CW: In the course of the last fifteen years, landscape urbanism has come to be relevant in a number of different contexts. I think it has become clear now that it is a body of practice, a set of strategies for doing work, and a way of thinking.
It would be fair to say that ecological urbanism aspires to a broader conceptual approach to a range of questions about the city from sustainability through architecture and design at various scales.
I think what we have now is emerging through the umbrella of ecological urbanism which extends from the olfactory sensations and sense of the city to an understanding of energy and ecological flows. Ecological urbanism is a logical extension of landscape urbanism; it is the same project, rendered through more precise terms. A part of what ecological urbanism does is expand the palette of precedents beyond landscape architecture to embrace the phenomenological and experiential sense of the city all the way to sustainability at the scale of architecture.
Meg Studer is a designer, researcher, and visualization dilettante see Siteations whose work focuses on two strains of infrastructural thought. A version of the is project is forthcoming on this site. She is currently an associate at Stoss Landscape Urbanism , where she co-leads animation, research, and production teams on projects as diverse as planning Detroit shrinkage to designing Flanders interpretive routes.
Charles Waldheim is the John E. His teaching and research examine the relationships between landscape and contemporary urbanism.
Read his complete bio here. Unlike our current dependence on vast reserves of coal or our global system of oil production, refinement, and distribution, renewable energy sources have a series of local impacts, a very different logic at many levels in terms of their production and distribution. Paul Rabinow.
New York: Random House, Charles Waldheim. New York: Princeton Arch. Press, Rania Ghosen. Stephen Ramos and Neyran Turan. Note 5: Charles Waldheim, ed. Share this: Click to share on Facebook Opens in new window Click to share on Twitter Opens in new window Click to email this to a friend Opens in new window Click to share on Reddit Opens in new window.
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An Interview With Charles Waldheim: Landscape Urbanism Now
With the first, enemy interaction was established on a post-militaristic basis; with the second; functionalism was enabled to re-connect to the world of perception; and with the third, phenomena of life and knowledge became more profoundly linked than ever before. Image courtesy of Jim Corner Field Operations. Their excavation of MERC origins asks how our construction of ecology and environment, as epistemological and material formations, can balance social intimacy, economic development, and a bio-political potential for annihilation. Throughout this period, Charles Waldheim has been a strong advocate for landscape urbanism. A lot has happened—predatory real-estate and international high finance have mutually imploded, austerity has stalled and slowed the flow of resources and commodities, governments in general have been unable or unwilling to be the consumers of last resort Keynes , and so on. How do you think the recession has refined the focus, alliances, and goals if there are goals for landscape urbanism and its relationship to capitalist development?
VIDEO | Charles Waldheim: Landscape as Urbanism
For decades, New Urbanism was the only acceptable form of urban planning in the United States. In the past 15 years, however, several challengers have appeared on the scene, none bolder than the landscape urbanism movement. I was led to believe that because of the way the history of the field played out. Where does it come from? The other dominant thread of the book is the economic structural analysis. There is an increased desire for urbanization among cities that are growing especially rapidly, that have a mix of economy around the creative class, that have fairly robust housing markets. It seems, then, that you inadvertently privilege architects in your account over landscape architects.
Charles Waldheim: Landscape Urbanism All Grown Up
As a graduate student in the late s and junior faculty member in the early s, Charles Waldheim noticed a clear divide among some of his peers in the field of architecture. His North American colleagues were studying European cities to better understand the form and history of the American city. Almost all of them—to a person—said that to understand the American city, you really had to understand landscape. But Waldheim found this building-first mindset to be no longer culturally relevant, and instead concluded that landscape considerations should be given more prominence in city-building.