A Call for Broadened Communications and Craft
June 11, 2016
Landscape Designer, OLIN
This presentation was part of the Landscape Architecture Foundation’s The New Landscape Declaration: A Summit on Landscape Architecture and the Future held in Philadelphia on June 10-11, 2016. Emerging leaders from LAF’s Olmsted Scholars Program were asked to write a 1,000-word “Declaration” of leadership and ideas for how landscape architecture can make its vital contribution in response to the challenges of our time and the next 50 years. Select Declarations were then presented at the Summit during the Emerging Leaders panel.
A Call for Broadened Communications and Craft
The Declaration of Concern of 1966 was aimed at shaping the next generation of practitioners. In reaction to this manifesto 50 years later, the discipline stands to reevaluate its position and value in contemporary society. The way we as landscape architects communicate our skills and design intent will ultimately dictate our work done in practice.
The Declaration asserts, “there is no ‘single solution’ but groups of solutions carefully related one to another.” This call for “collaborative solutions” is the key for the future of landscape architecture. Poised between science and art, we are trained to synthesize information and coordinate between many different competing interests. However, the first step towards using these skills, even before the design process begins, is to make sure we have a seat at the decision-making table. The perceived value and understanding of our work is something that is still being defined by the relatively young profession and presents itself as an opportunity to work in a meaningful way in the future.
Landscape architects cannot be expected to solve the socio-environmental crisis of the 21st century single handedly — we thrive through working with collaborators who share our values. Further, we must still enjoy and explore playfully with our craft, through a range of mediums and expressions. Experimentation and creation are at the core of our practice and distinguish landscape architects from environmentalists and policy makers. And finally, if not foremost, we must establish an economic independency that will allow us to pursue projects and other endeavours proactively, as opposed to being trapped at a receiving end of client demands. Our training positions us to lead large scale urban projects and initiatives with landscape intelligence, which is why being involved at the start of, or before, design is crucial.
While the potential of landscape architecture is great, we as practitioners need to have a willing public, a captive audience. Furthermore, the pleasure and craft of our work need not oppose our role as advocates.
”Does our pain for the world, our knowledge of apocalypses to come require us forego pleasure altogether?…So there we landscape architects stand, perched on a wobbly crate in the town square, delivering our lugubrious sermon to an indifferent world as it rushes past to the Apple Store.”[i]
Although a comedic hyperbole, this encourages us to rethink our strategy of creating public awareness. The technologic advances made in the past 50 years should not be shunned or ignored, but rather embraced as a powerful toolkit that we can deploy, not conform to, in both communication and practice. Whether in 3D modeling or time-based media (film and animation), the way we begin to represent landscapes can more accurately describe the dynamic environments of proposed designs.
Further, accessibility, as opposed to efficiency, is the real power of today’s new methods of work. For instance, the general public may not understand a technical section or plan, but a short film can quickly be understood by all, convey emotion, and even help spark new ideas. People value what they can see and understand. In turn, this social value translates into cultural and economic agency for the practice of landscape architecture. A poignant piece of writing, graphics, or time-based media could help to change public perception more than an oversimplified “greening” project that presents a false sense of security about the state of the environment. We need to be honest about both the way we represent and ultimately build our future landscapes.
There is opportunity for landscape architecture to take on representation beyond the static image. Rather than an afterthought to design, contemporary media can help shape our design and research processes, and create better links to the place that the built environment holds in the minds of the public today.
“The influence of contemporary film and communications media on landscape appreciation has yet to be fully studied… it is immense, especially in American popular culture. These effects go both ways, of course, for the building of new landscapes and their subsequent representation in art can also affect the evolution, value, and meaning of larger landscape ideas as well as other cultural practices…The reciprocal interactions between the built and the imaginary lies at the center of landscape architecture’s creativity.”[ii]
Hence, a better understanding of the relationship between the built environment and media can augment the framework in which we as landscape architects work, as well as enforce our role as ecological stewards in the public realm. The permanence and legacy of our public projects is as much determined by societal value as the actual durability of materials. By instilling a sense of stewardship in the people whom these public spaces serve, we can help preserve urban landscapes that already exist, as well as help to promote the creation of new ones.
In order to be leaders in the coming decades, we need to leverage both our skills and our projects in the public realm, changing the way we work and the way we are perceived. This shift in the status-quo paradigm is crucial if we hope to implement meaningful projects in this age of environmental crisis.[iii]
The final point in the program put forth by the Declaration of Concern calls for “a nationwide system for communicating the results of research, example and good practice.” In order to build off this, we must spread this information beyond the walls of our discipline, beyond the context of this Summit, in a creative and effective manner. Hence, as landscape architects we need to find a way to operate from both ends — working on shifting the public will towards a true change in response to environmental pressure, as well as continuing to create and construct meaningful places that add social and ecological value.
[i] Lickwar, Phoebe, and Thoams Oles. “Why so Serious, Landscape Architect?” LA+ Interdisciplinary Journal of Landscape Architecture - Pleasure 02 (2015): 82-83. Print.
[ii] Corner, James. “Introduction: Recovering Landscape as Critical Cultural Practice.” Recovering Landscape: Essays in Contemporary Landscape Architecture. New York: Princeton Architectural, 1999. 9-10. Print.
[iii] Meadows, Donella H., and Diana Wright. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Pub., 2008. Print. Meadows’ book outlines a series of methods and “leverage points” by which to enact change in a system. One of the most powerful tools she lists is to change the current paradigm of society.