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Swaffield - Theory and Critique in Landscape Architecture PLACE


Wesener – Place, A Very Short Introduction, 2014 Harvey – From Space to Place and Back again, Reflections on the condition of post modernity, 1993 Norberg-Schulz – Place, 1976 Meyer – the Post-Earth Day Conundrum: translating Environmental Values into Landscape Design, 2000 TIME


Hebbert – The street As a Locus of Collective Memory, 2005 McCarther & Pallasmaa – The Space of Time, 2012 Stilgenbauer – Landschaftspark Duisburg Nord, 2005 EXPERIENCE


Degen & Rose – The Sesory Experiencing of Urban Design: the role of Walking and Perceptual Memory, 2012 Pallasmaa – An Architecture of Seven Senses, 2006[1994] A SENSE OF PLACE (GENIUS LOCI, CHARACTER, IDENTITY, AND MEANING) Treib – Must Landscapes mean?, 2005[1995] Watson & Bentley- intoroduction, 2007


Swaffield’s essay focuses on social construction and the way we, as landscape architects, should reevaluate and redevelop our concepts and methods of theory and critique. In order to fully understand design, we must learn to differentiate the two (Swaffield, 2006). In order to successfully do this, we must pick apart our original opinions and rebuild them twice over. It often takes a lot of work to decipher the difference from the two, but without doing so, we are less likely to connect the dots and look at the larger picture. In his essay, Swaffield also suggests that we use past events, personal experiences, and case studies to help develop our understanding and knowledge of landscape architecture. Essentially, he feels that everything should be pushed towards a more socially constructed environment, and that we as humans are the main reason an environment is the way it is (Swaffield, 2006). Not only that, but an environment is the way we see it because we attach the memories we’ve had there to that particular place. He proposes that we, as designers, to find a method of separating both theory and critique, and separating deeper meaning from the subjects actual physical existence. (Swaffield, 2006)


Swaffield In order to differentiate the two without further readings or much prior knowledge, I found comparing the ideas of a house and a home to be the most beneficial too better understand the subject of social constructivism. This was a topic we briefly went over in class, but it really resonated with me. For some reason, the two mean very different things. A house, to me, is the skeleton; the frame. However, a home is often seen as a living thing. Something that has heart, that grows with importance as memories are had there. When we speak of our homes, we subconsciously attach a deeper meaning to them. This meaning can be found in many different aspects of the places we are fond of, whether it be a park or an ally way. To one person, it may just be a plot of grass or a strip of concrete, but to others, these places take on entirely different meanings. There is a disconnection between what actually lies there, and the facades we have built over them because of our social processes. Finding connections is also quite difficult throughout the somewhat illegible article. Saying that “finding the singular connection between theory and critique was both illusive and elusive” (Swaffield, 2006) was right, but above all, it made me realize that the article in and of it self was extremely artfully written, yet extremely difficult to comprehend. It seems as if he critiques each and every method- yet leaves gives no final opinion, or rather, it is hard to understand his stance amongst all of the chaos. His main message is blurred between exhausting complex sentences, and cryptic conclusions. Does he truly make connections? As I see it, he leaves the reader with so many possible connections, ideas, theories, and critiques, that he leaves his audience with information overload, making it nearly impossible to find the intended connections. (Swaffield, 2006)


Wesner, Norberg-Schulz, Harvey, & Meyer Place is a theme which is hard to understand without separating all different aspects of this idea we call ‘place.’ Between the readings of Wesener, Norberg-Schulz, Harvey, and Meyer, this was made quite clear. Place is a difficult concept to grasp because not only is it vague, but each person who considers the term sees it from a different perspective, and each person and thing that moves throughout the site it self adds something to other over all construction of it. In a larger picture, places are simply a concept; one that is a melting pot of our own personal memories, our own experiences, and our own individual interpretations (Wesener, 2014), along with the materials (Meyer, 2000, p. 203) that shape the space. Each writer valued the ideals of place in a different matter. This, at first, made the readings a really overwhelming task to tackle. However after noticing, especially in Meyers work, that she focused mainly on the ecological landscape, it made it quite evident that the others focused on different aspects of social constructed landscapes. She felt that designs must “be subservient to the landscapes function” (2000, p. 189), and that the designs must be transparent with the landscape, even “focusing on the directionality of the wind and the erosive power of the water.” By considering the varied ecosystems (Meyer, 2000, p. 200) as key factors, landscape architecture can provide occasions within the place (Meyer, 2000, p. 203). In comparing this highly natural take on landscape, Harvey tended to focus on the political landscape and how money and politics have influenced the way cities have been formed (Harvey, 1993). Not only that, but he sees this multifaceted word “place” and an advantageous outlet to study “social, political, and spatial practices” (Harvey, 1993, p. 4). However different each of these authors stance was on the definition of place, one thing rang true throughout each writing; the importance of social constructions and how they play a large role in the building of a place. Depending on who uses the place, the outcomes are completely unique. When I read Norberg-Schulz’s statement about how places cannot be described by means of “analytic or scientific concepts,”(Norberg-Schulz, 1976, p. 228) something clicked. You cannot build a place in such a way that ensures successes; you can only hope that your design has paved way for it. Any given place is completely based on objective knowledge. It does not matter what the place was meant to be necessarily, it all depends on who is experiencing it and what their previous knowledge of that place is. Overall, I couldn’t imagine looking at a site now without noticing how socially constructed it truly is.


Hebbert, McCarther and Pallasmaa , & Stilgenbauer Time can be evaluated in many different aspects. Time, as measured in the readings, is the largely the concept of scale. Do we understand time in a vague sense, gauged by reversed and exchanged time and space in a curious way that we now refer to distance as “light years” or “time zones”(McCarter & Pallasmaa, 2012, p. 46)? Or do we understand time as perceived by our own “triptych memories of past, present, and future(Hebbert, 2005, p. 588)? It is a mysterious dimension that although usually taken for granted, is deeply analyzed in these two readings. One thing quiet evident in the readings is Hebbert’s perspective on time as seen through the figure ground of a city(2005, p. 588). He really focused on collective memory and its evolutionary cycles, “celebrating the street, spurning it, to end of the century postmodernism that seeks to repair it” (Hebbert, 2005, p. 583) and how it has played a huge part in the construction of a city. The war and political unrest that originally is concealed, is then exposed and recovered. It is as if we can only truly appreciate it something once it is gone. More recently, the rejuvenation of brownfields and industrial sites, which have been called a “milestone in landscape design”(Stilgenbauer, 2005, p. 6), have taken this idea of exposing and recovering, maybe not to appreciate what once was, but to use the existing physical marks and corruptions as a catalyst for creative ideas rather than a “nuisance that should be erased” (Stilgenbauer, 2005, p. 7). The ideas of palimpsest have successfully brought site back to life(Stilgenbauer, 2005, p. 6). It proves that recovering the collective memory (Hebbert, 2005, p. 587) rather than just forgetting, is preserving the sites history, and preserving the site itself. I tend to agree more with Hebbert’s essay because he applauds the idea of uncovering the past and altering it so it better suits our wants and desires where as McCarter and Pallasmaa, no matter how beautifully written, seem to challenge this method. This is largely influenced by my appreciation for historical restoration. But even still, they seem to think that being inspired by past historical influence is simply building an “illusion”(2012, p. 49), and is kitsch. “A kind of historical, theatrical make-believe is becoming increasingly popular” giving us the opportunity to go and “purge ourselves of historical guilt”(2012, p. 5). But, if done tastefully, like Landschaftspark, what is the problem with this? Are we not making our own history and learning that our choices we make effect the environment for years to come? Or that war has outlasting effects on the city streets and the people who live there(Hebbert, 2005, p. 586)? Perhaps McCarther and Pallasmaa are too close minded and have trapped themselves into thinking that by use of palimpsest, we are making places historically inaccurate, and can not get over the fact that using the memories of the past present of future is in of it self an art, just as much as the paintings of Lascaux(McCarter & Pallasmaa, 2012, p. 51).


Degan and Rose & Pallasmaa These two essays instantly brought me back to a huge moment of realization. Within my first week of landscape courses, a professor brought us outside and had us explain how we felt walking up and down the entrance of a new campus building. After haphazardly saying that the stairwell just “felt awkward,” we quickly discovered that we were exactly right. The rise and run of the stair tread in combination with the large, harsh angled stairwell came together to create an uninviting entrance, not at all ergonomic for the human needs or wants. These slight details played such a key role in how our bodies moved, and yet it is something we take for granted unless it feels uncomfortable. These two essays focus on how much our senses have been put on the backburner for the sake of aesthetics and modern design, making our cities work as a machine. Our cities, the places that we dwell in, have become grouped by “types “ (Degen & Gillian, 2012, p. 3284), rather than standing out. It is our task as future designers stop neglecting the multisensory by just focusing on the one dimensional visual aspects that seem to freeze and isolate the spaces (Pallasmaa, 2006, p. 29). By going over each sense and giving beautifully written descriptions, Pallasmaa let us into his multisensory world and how sees places. It was actually inspiring. It was clear that by evoking our senses, a place could truly stand on it’s own, and do so in a way that is not just seen with eye, but with the entire body. It also reminded me of Pallasmaa’s past work where he explored the “collapse or implosion the time horizon altogether on the flat screen”(McCarter & Pallasmaa, 2012, p. 46). Here again, he explored this idea of collapsing all of our senses into one compact visual experience, rather than experiencing it with the whole self. On the contrary, Degan and Rose did less inspiring, but more presenting facts. This was beneficial to have read after Pallasmaas, because I went into it and could instantly see why the cities did not work. There was a lack of spirit in them; instead they were shopping strips, built to run errands in. The historical value in these cities were masked by traffic, chain stores, (Degen & Gillian, 2012, p. 3279)and pretty much the façade of a functioning city. It was basically a direct contrast to everything the ideal multisensory city was not. However, in gathering this evidence about the cities of Bedford and Milton Keynes, I feel as if Degen and Rose did a poor job in their methods of interviewing people in the neighborhoods. If they wanted to prove that built environments depend on the senses activated in the space and claimed to have used “empirical analysis,”(Degen & Gillian, 2012, p. 1) couldn’t they have asked better questions than “why are you here today?” and “do you come here often?” (Degen & Gillian, 2012, p. 3275) and asked more of participants than just taking photos of things that struck them as important. I understand this was a starting point in their gathering of data, but questions as simple as “how do you feel as you move through this space, does anything stand out as significant, or uncomfortable?” would’ve helped the participants really delve into their overall feelings of the places they inhabit.


Watson and Bentley & Treib

Meaning is a difficult term to define in the design world because of its ever-flexible nature. However, one thing that both readings made clear was that those who visit the site construct it. “Meaning condenses at the intersection of people and place, not alone in the form the designer’s idea takes” (Treib, 2002, p. 100). It is as if people who visit the site are the designers, for they each see and experience the site differently and build their own interpretations. The designer’s task, in turn, is to give way for memories and experience, not force it upon the visitor (Treib, 2002, p. 100). Identity, which was more so explored in the Introduction of Identity by Design, is also a loose term and should be seen not as a weakness, rather a strength and is a “key reason why the term is so valuable” (Watson & Bentley, 2007, p. 3). The identity tied to a place completely depends on the person and their experiences within it and could even affect the very way they see themselves (Watson & Bentley, 2007). These two concepts, meaning and identity, are heavily influenced by one another, yet different in the same. In comparing the two, Treib seemed to focus more on critiquing methods of theory and exploring different meanings that could come about from being in the site where as Watson and Bentley tended to focus on historical places which had an identity because of their very nature and all that was imbedded in the sites heritage. It seemed as if, regionally speaking, places were designed out of pure necessity, “regionally distinctive built form no longer happened by default” (Watson & Bentley, 2007, p. 1). It was easier for patrons to find meaning in their landscapes because they were truly there own. They were not inspired by other places because they built what they knew, and they were very successful at it. However, with time, technology, and outside inspiration, the places that once stood on their own became less unique to those living there and the sense of place identity has been changed. Although Treib states something quite similar, “the communication channels are no longer so few, nor are the [elements] so simple” (Treib, 2002, p. 99), this was just a small point in his dense essay. Watson & Bentley really delved into cultural heritage, its influential meanings, and human factors that build landscapes from the ground, or rather, the memory, up. Rather than being shallowly constructed based on aesthetics, cultural landscape dig deep and find “the most state aspects to which our identities can relate” (Watson & Bentley, 2007, p. 9). Although it is difficult to say now that it is all said and done, I feel like reading Treib’s essay in the first week would have been really helpful in getting a nice overview of all of the different concepts. He did such a great job outlining all of the different theories in a highly critical way that really kept me on my toes. He even went as far as to critique designer’s writings, saying that they are not pleasurable to read (Treib, 2002, p. 100), which would have been almost a warning for future readings. Aside from that general outlook, I am now completely sold on the idea that places are social constructed and the visitors give places meaning, not the designers themselves. It seems so obvious, yet when working on plans and thinking of programming for the site, it is hard not to get wrapped up in your own imagination and forget that we truly don’t know how the client will react to the site, but we can only hope that we “instigate reactions” (Treib, 2002, p. 100).

REFERENCES Degen, M. M., & Gillian, R. (2012). The Sensory Experiencing of Urban Design: The Role of Walking and Perceptual Memory. Urban Studies , 3271-3287. Harvey, D. (1993). From Space to Place and Back Again: Reflections on the Condition of Postmodernity. Mapping the Futures: Local Cultures, Global Change , 3-29. Hebbert, M. (2005). The street as locus of collective memory. Environment and Planning Design: Society and Space , 581-596. McCarter, R., & Pallasmaa, J. (2012). The Space of Time. Understanding Archicture , 45-51. Meyer, E. K. (2000). The Post-Earth Day Conundrum: Translating Environmental Values into Landscape Design. Environmentalism in Landscape Architecture , 187-244. Norberg-Schulz, C. (1976). Place. The City Cultures Reader , 228-231. Pallasmaa, J. (2006). An Architecture of the Seven Senses. Questions of Perception: Phenomenology of Architecture , 26-37. Stilgenbauer, J. (2005). Landschaftspark Duisburg Nord—Duisburg. Places , 6-9. Swaffield, S. (2006). Theory and Critique in Landscape Architecture. Journal of Landscape Architecture , 22-29. Treib, M. (2002). Must Landscapes Mean? Watson, G., & Bentley, I. (2007). Introduction. Identity by Design , 1-15.

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