vendredi 1 mai 2015

Interconnected Metropolis.

Michael Najjar, Dow Jones 80_09, 2008-2010.

In a classical sense it is virtually impossible to romance the city as a collective work of art. Rather, the contemporary, globally interconnected metropolis is a rapacious, denatured tangle of infrastructure problems and planning issues increasingly subject to base motivations. And yet, even if we are to instrumentally evolve the city in accord with its environmental limitations and social crises, it would remain merely mechanistic, without art. 

To conflate art and instrumentality, two terms generally thought so distant as to not relate, I am purposefully returning to landscape architecture’s idealism and definition of a holistic enterprise, something that is at best both art and science. Aware that there is much in art and science that landscape architecture will never be, and that landscape architecture seems relatively ineffectual in reshaping the world, this positioning of the discipline seems nonetheless theoretically correct and worthy of aspiration. 

Landscape architecture’s relative impotence in leading any reshaping of the world to date cannot just be blamed on the evil genius of capitalism and the traditional hegemony of engineering and architecture. Landscape architecture’s scope and influence, whilst in all likelihood increasing, is still weakened by its own inability to conceptually and practically synthesize landscape planning and landscape design, terms which stereotypically signify science and art, respectively. In common parlance, planning concerns infrastructure (both mechanical systems and land-use designation) which, while essential to everything else the city comprises, bears a low semantic load in and of itself. On the other hand, design is perceived and practiced as the rarefied production of highly wrought objects or specific sites that bear a high semantic load. For its focus on intentional meaning, design sacrifices the scale and instrumentality of its agency, whereas that which planning gains in scale and efficacy it inversely loses in artful intent. Although this is not always the case, and perhaps too diagrammatic, this axiom of landscape architecture’s bilateral crisis is the crux of the problem. This is hardly a new observation, and therefore this essay (with its tangential subtext of associated montages) doesn’t claim to identify new problems exactly – rather, it explores some new ways of getting at the old. 

These new ways can be gathered under the rubric of landscape urbanism. Although still a fuzzy cluster of rhetorical positioning and largely unsubstantiated by work on the ground, landscape urbanism warrants serious discussion because it alone seems theoretically prepared and practically capable of collapsing the divide between planning and design. This also entails a compression of divisions between architecture and landscape, between fields and objects, between instrumentality and art. Significantly, landscape urbanism is emerging as a cross disciplinary sensibility, not to say a movement which positions landscape as the datum from which to critically negotiate the denatured field conditions of the contemporary metropolis. 


What is meant by landscape cannot be considered unless one works through what can be meant by ecology, and it is perhaps there that we find a new conceptual imaging of landscape, one which landscape urbanist sensibilities apprehend as a hybridization of natural and cultural systems on a globally interconnected scale. Such an apprehension, it will be argued, necessarily interweaves the untenable polarizations of design and planning stereotypes. 

The science of ecology and its popular manifestation as environmentalism has practical and philosophical implications for landscape architecture and society at large. The conceptual shift brought about by ecology (and more generally, the physics and biology of the twentieth century) is that the world is one of interconnection and co-dependency between organisms and environments, between objects and fields. Although translating into a victimized “nature” in the popular imagination, ecology is increasingly synonymous with new and more sophisticated models of universal (dis)order such as chaos and complexity theory, kaleidoscopes through which both romantics and scientists find previously unrecognizable order unfolding over time in spite of entropy. Ecology is profoundly important not only because be progressing science from the measurement of mechanical objects to the mapping of non-linear systems it moves science closer to life, but also because it places cultural systems within the epic narrative of evolution. In this sense ecology is not only a meta-science measuring that which was previously beyond measurement, but also a discourse which implicitly leads to questions of meaning and value, questions of art. 

Much recent thinking on ecology and urbanism is inspired by the creative potential of contemporary scientific metaphors. Terms such as diversification, flows, complexity, instability, indeterminacy, and self-organisation become influential design generators, shaping the way we consider and construct places. Writing on ecology in 1996, James Corner says “similarities between ecology and creative transmutation are indicative of an alternative kind of landscape architecture, one in which calcified conventions of how people live and relate to land, nature, and place are challenged and the multivariate wonders of life are once again released through invention”. He urges landscape architecture to develop a creative relationship with ecology in order to exploit a “potential that might inform more meaningful and imaginative cultural practices than the merely ameliorative, compensatory, aesthetic, or commodity oriented”. Pertinently, he identifies the problem that creativity in landscape architecture has all too frequently been reduced to dimensions of environmental problem solving and aesthetic appearance”. The association of ecology with creativity, and in turn creativity with degrees of instrumentality is long overdue. 

Among other things, the conditions of ecological crisis make that which was invisible radically apparent, and with this vision we see our true nature and transcend our preoccupations with urban morphology and the simplistic traditional aesthetic of objecthood. But this vision is not easy; for example, take a simple object like a house, unpack its constituent parts, and then trace them both back and forward in time – that is, from their sources to their entropic end(lessness). The result, insofar as it is even thinkable, is a complex four-dimensional mapping, and even then it is one which barely represents the true complexity of the materialisations and tangential processes involved. 

If not to “save the world” and simplistically fit culture into nature, landscape architecture is right to ally itself with ecology. Landscape architecture – insofar as it is implicitly concerned with materials and processes subject to obvious change – seems well placed to give form to an ecological aesthetic. Landscape architecture is not frozen music. The axiom of ecology, and something now confirmed by the butterfly effect of chaos theory, is that all things are interconnected. Therefore every act, every design, is significant. Add to this the fact that every surface of the earth is not a given, but rather a landscape manipulated by human agency, then clearly landscape architecture can only blame itself if it does not become more powerful. 

Landscape architecture’s potential power is vested in the grand narrative of reconciling modernity to place; but the contemporary city is no longer bounded, and therefore landscape architecture must track it to the ends of the earth. Landscape urbanism is therefore not just about high-density urban areas and civic spaces, it is about the entire landscape off which the contemporary global metropolis feeds and into which it has ravenously sent its rhizomatic roots, a growth framed in the aerial photo or the satellite image. In the frame of the aerial image, landscape architecture finds its grand narrative of reconciling modernity to place. 

But aerial images are contradictory (Faustian) representations because, while they hold out the prospect of directing that which is below, they are also images that invite hubris. Aerial images lay everything bare, and yet by their reduction of things to a marvellous pattern they smooth out the complexity and contradiction of being in a body; they conceal the real socio-political and ecological relations of the working landscape. 


Emerging from a Koolhaasian sensibility, a new generation of designers are moving away from the dialectics and the romantics of design as a tension between form and function, idea and reality. Whilst to an extent ever-present, such romantic dialectics now seem cumbersome and inappropriate to getting on in a culture of too much data. There, the design process becomes a question of computation, not semiotics, a question of negotiating statistical limits, not hermeneutic intrigues. Such work is being gathered under the rubric of “datascapes”, which Bart Lootsma explains as simply “visual representations of all the measurable forces that may influence the work of the architect or even steer or regulate it”. Such work is part of the oeuvre of landscape urbanists. 

Not unlike landscape architecture’s recourse to site analysis to justify its outcomes, datascapes are thought to have great persuasive, commercial, and bureaucratic force because the subjectivities of the designer can be embedded in seemingly objective data. Whereas more romantic conceptions of the design process see the autonomous designer pained by the collision between ideal form and world, the datascapist does the inverse and begins with the outer limits of a project. They accept that a project is always already a site of negotiation. Deferring a preconceived design outcome, datascaping actively embraces restrictions and regulations. For example, Lootsma tells us that some of the most important threads running through West 8’s landscape design work are “such apparently uninteresting thing such as traffic laws and the civil code – things often seen as annoying obstacles by designers who put their own creativity first”. Lootsma goes on to claim that for a designer, setting aside subjectivity and following the bureaucratic rules of a given place needn’t mean neo-functionalism nor constitute mindless robotics (although there is always that risk), but rather, that the designer “commits a genuinely public act in which everyone can participate and perhaps even subvert”. Exactly how this is so, or where it has been tested and proven, remains unclear. 

Richard Weller, An Art of Instrumentality: Thinking through Landscape Urbanism in The Landscape Urbanism Reader, Princeton Architectural Press, 2006, p.71-75 & 80-81.

Merci à M.J.

Aucun commentaire:

Enregistrer un commentaire