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landscape urbanism

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Rahul Paul | Guest Editor

ontemporary social and environmental conditions pose significant challenges to normative design practices, stemming as they do from an increasing scarcity of resources and consequent shifts in economic, political and material processes. Landscape Urbanism sets out to develop new modes of practice that originate from the understanding that the processes of urbanization – capital accumulation, deregulation, migration, globalization ,environmental protection and such dynamic forces are much more significant for the shaping of urban relationships than are spatial forms of urbanism in and of themselves.1 Landscape Urbanism, coined by Charles Waldheim in the mid 1990’s is one of the most literal manifestations of a continuing critical shift to consider open space and natural systems over built form and infrastructure as ways of organizing and plan-

ning the city . At its most basic level, it may defined as Waldheim states, “Landscape Urbanism describes a disciplinary realignment currently underway in which landscape replaces architecture as the basic building block of contemporary urbanism. For many, across a range of disciplines, landscape has become both the lens through which the contemporary city is represented and the medium through which it is constructed.” 2 It suggests a strategic approach to the formation of an urban scheme through the transformations of processes related to landscape. In Kelly Shannon’s article this approach is however challenged to be not a ‘new’ discipline of urbanism, but a traditional concept of urbanism ‘borne of necessity’. Water systems; ecological corridors and patches; bio diversity; the consideration of orientation and aspect; the introduction of urban agriculture; and the multiple uses of urban infrastructure corridors have always been key elements in

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LEFT Landscape as Urbanism – AA Landscape Urbanism studio work 2011 [Source: AALU Blogspot] FACING PAGE Landscape as Temporal Process – Fresh Kills Master Plan, Field Operations [Source: www.nyc.gov]

ancient civilizations, but with the advent of Landscape Urbanism and demands of sustainable livinghood these agents have started to regain importance and priority in planning and design of cities. However, such a linear understanding of the discipline is limited and ignores the relevance of the term ‘landscape’ when contested with ‘urbanism.’ The term ‘landscape’ affords a range of imaginative and metaphorical associations to theorize sites, networks and large urban fields. In Gale Fultons article ‘Towards a Landscape Intelligence” this understanding of term ‘landscape’ is further analyzed and its implication towards the development of the field of landscape architecture is critically addressed to draw upon new analogies especially for landscape design. As it has also been recalled by Corner, Allen and others, ‘landscape’ is uniquely ca-

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pable of responding to temporal change, transformation, adaptation and succession. These qualities recommend ‘landscape’ as an analogy to contemporary processes of urbanization and as a medium suited to open-endedness, indeterminacy, and change demanded by contemporary urban conditions. As Stan Allen states, “landscape is not a formal model of urbanism today, but perhaps more importantly, a model of process.” 3 Comprehending Landscape Urbanism, as a discipline that set out to form a hybrid between landscape architecture and urban design, may suggest to most a complete negation of architecture or the built within the realms of urbanism, but over the years of its evolvement a certain parallel idea within the discipline has been strengthened to produce specific architectural forms derived through landscape forces and processes.

Douglas Spencer, in his article defines this approach of Landscape Urbanism as ‘Groundworks’ that “provides an opportunity to generate artificial topographies with the formal capacity to structure relations between environmental, social, cultural and economic factors on a given site” – as an intervention of design as a practice of critical agency against neoliberal imperatives. This body of work, as an extension of the theories of Landscape Urbanism suggests the production of ‘continuous’ surfaces i.e. blurring the boundaries between landscape and architecture that eventually behaves as a programmed “urban surface” that is not merely the venue for formal experiments but the agent for evolving new forms of social life. As Linda Pollack states “these urban surfaces which could be variously clad, isolated and warped, inflated, delineated, and material to perform roles


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that are simultaneously natural and social, testifying to the possibility of the vital public space, one that does not settle differences but rather allows them to exist.” 4 Such has been the complexity surrounding the hybrid and compound term of Landscape Urbanism that straightforward definition is often misleading. To some it may appear to be a new discipline, a hybrid form of landscape or architecture and / or a lens through which to simply analyse and understand the contemporary city. For others it is simply an evolvement of the traditional landscape architecture; a neccesary update for the contemporary city while for a section it is a form of operation to visualize new architectural forms derived through a new force i.e. landscape. 5

No matter what the divergence may be thinking through the notion of Landscape Urbanism, there are of course some common grounding methodologies that can be noted for each of these approaches: Synthetic – integrating knowledge and techniques from a range of disciplines such as environmental engineering, urban strategy, landscape ecology, and architecture; Processes over time – understanding concepts of temporality and designing spaces designing for change; Multi-scalarity – using processes rather than forms as the basis of design that allows ideas to translate from one scale to the next, and across disciplines; and, Local intelligence – drawings on a projects specific ecology (both environmental and social), cultural associations and its dynamic forces. Although Landscape Urbanism as a discipline, seems convincing and to an extent ideal in theory, through its rigorous aca-

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demic programs and key publications it has yet to gather a strong note and attention in its built projects. Even, if there have been, barring a few projects that have been explored at the city scale, most of them remain confined to the urban scale. One of the notable projects, that would prove, key to later developing theories of Landscape urbanism, was the winning entry by Bernard Tschumi for the Parc De la Villete competition that has been cited to “orchestrate urban program as landscape processes”. 6 The entry by OMA/Rem Koolhaas also for the same competition adopted landscape as a medium by which to justify and order programmes that were indeterminate and subject to political change. In recent years, projects such as Fresh Kills Park by Corner, entries by Field Operations and OMA for the Downsview Park, Toronto, Longgang Master Plan and Xian Expo Master Plan by Plasma Studio and studio

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projects by STOSS LU and WEST 8, to name a few, have explored to push limits and explore the possibilities of the subject. Apart from working within the disciplinary methodologies, these projects offer a striking and consistent working condition that demand professional expertise at the intersections of ecology and engineering, social policy and political processes, and architecture and landscape. Landscape Urbanism, as a discipline is now over a decade old, but as a subject confronted with contemporary conditions, it is still an evolving body of work. While most of its initial work and conception has been in America and Europe, the attention towards its exploration and possible implementation seems to be slowly gaining importance and relevance in the Third World countries especially in the Asian continent. In the Indian context, where compounding issues of shifting population, investment, water scarcity,

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food security and ecological disturbances have become the grounding contexts for urban responses, Landscape Urbanism, in this regard may play an important role in theorizing and conceiving the character and morphology of its future development. Understanding the relevance and contextualization of Landscape Urbanism in India, here becomes of great importance, primarily because of two reasons. Firstly, the context of de-industrialization to which Landscape Urbanism evolved in America does not currently hold true in our given context and secondly, the existing landscape system and relations in the Indian context are borne out of stronger livinghood necessities that demand a more careful articulation within ‘urban visions.’ Geeta Wahi Dua, in her article particularly emphasises on this contextualization of Landscape Urbanism and reconfigures its relevance for application in the Indian Context.

Briefly, in the Indian urban scenario, it could assume different roles based on its scale of operation. At the planning scale, it can offer significant importance to traditional ecosystems as primary planning agents - to deduce policies and malleable strategies that could equate and conserve the rural landscapes with the growing metropolis in a sustainable manner. On the design scale, at the urban level – it may offer a contextual articulation of intrinsic urban environments by contesting social tendencies and ecological responses – which presently in the Indian scenario is generally an oversimplified and unidimensional approach. Either designed to evoke a nostalgic urban consumption or a scenario where visionary architectural forms create a more ‘capitalistic’ space of accumulation to serve an urban environment as an empty abstraction in appearance only.


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FACING PAGE Artificial Topographies – Flowing Gardens, Xian Expo Greenhouse [Source: Plasma Studio + GroundLab, UK] LEFT Parc De LaVillete Competition Project – Bernard Tschumi [Source: Event Cities 2]

Landscape Urbanism, equipped with sense of shifting, changing urban morphologies and recognition to landscape forces may be the new terms to liberate the hopeless disciplines of urban planning and design that has suffered from only solving binary oppositions such as inside – out, past and present and town and country. 7 The discipline strengthened with notions of multi-disciplinary actions, scalar forces and programmed urban surfaces presents itself as a disciplinary framework to reconceive the contemporary city as layered, non – hierarchical, flexible, time based, ecologically balanced and most importantly strategic. Landscape Urbanism, positions itself as a response to the compounding effects of globalization, which does not strive towards global homogeneity by resolving conflicts, but reconfigures the conditions from which new urban negotiations might emerge.

References 1. Corner, James, Terra Fluxus, in Waldheim, Charles ed., The Landscape Urbanism Reader, pg 28, 2006, New York: Princeton Architectural Press

4. Pollack, Linda, Constructed Ground , in Waldheim, Charles ed., The Landscape Urbanism Reader, pg 138, 2006, New York: Princeton Architectural Press

2. Waldheim, Charles, Introduction: A Reference Manifesto, in Waldheim, Charles ed., The Landscape Urbanism, pg 15, Reader, 2006, New York: Princeton Architectural Press

5. Gray, Christopher, From emergence to divergence – modes of Landscape Urbanism, pg 23, 2006, School of Architecture, Edinburgh College of Art

3. Waldheim, Charles, Landscape as Urbanism, in Waldheim, Charles ed., The Landscape Urbanism, pg 39, Reader, 2006, New York: Princeton Architectural Press

6. Ibid, pg 12 7. Shane, Graham, The Emergence of Landscape Urbanism, in Waldheim, Charles ed., The Landscape Urbanism, pg 65, Reader, 2006, New York: Princeton Architectural Press

Guest Editor for the feature on Landscape Urbanism, Rahul Paul is an architect and landscape urbanist, currently working with INDE, Bangalore where he is involved in developing landscape infrastructural strategies for large scale urban projects and has contributed research chapters on landscape architecture and contemporary urbanism. A graduate from the Architectural Association, London, MA Landscape Urbanism programme 2009, Rahul can be contacted at labyrinth.arch@gmail.com

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