THEORY | Landscape Urbanism, Landscape Oriented Development

Posted on 10/11/2010

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I’ve caught a brief preview of a presentation on Landscape Oriented Development by Architectus’ Caroline Stalker (an earlier post may provide some insight into how Architectus innovates in this practice-based space). In this presentation, she addresses issues of health and wellbeing, stating that we are producing ‘obese-cities’ in which our consumption habits outstrip our natural resources. Landscape Oriented Development, she argues, is an emerging framework through which urban design can reconnect an urban population to the landscape. In posing LOD, Stalker identifies the limitations of Transit Oriented Development, which, while connecting settlement, land use and public transit, has not addressed a breadth of environmental impacts or sufficiently enticed people to change their lifestyle aspirations and housing preferences. A LOD approach should more readily support health and wellbeing in a holistic and integrated way.

In this same week, I’ve become aware of a tension between landscape urbanism and new urbanism, reported via Planetizen. The shifting emphasis and awareness of landscape makes for some dynamicly articulated tensions between what exists and what we make. As a theory of urbanism, landscape urbanism argues that landscape, rather than architecture, is more capable of organising the city and enhancing the urban experience. In his essay Terra Fluxus (reproduced below), James Corner lays out some key elements of the landscape architecture in the Landscape Urbanism Reader. He states “The promise of landscape urbanism is the development of a space-time ecology that treats all forces and agents working in the urban field and considers them as continuous networks of inter-relationships.”

While there is much to commend Corner’s essay, what specifically interested me was his proposition that suburbia is our present urban reality and this IS the landscape with which we have to work. As Corner states “many theories of urbanism attempt to ignore this fact or retrofit it to new urbanism, landscape urbanism accepts it and tries to understand it.” As the arguments progress, it appears that the landscape urbanism approach ultimately reproduces this pattern of urban growth – seemingly a kind of valorisation – without much consideration of social, cultural, ecological and wellbeing dimensions. It doesn’t wholly address the proposition that underpins Stalker’s LOD idea which is that we need design practices that address our overconsumption of resources. Stalker’s proposition of LOD potentially offers a kind of middle ground which is focused on the transformation of our relationship with nature and landscape, catalysed by a different kind of design ethos. Some of the thinking in Ingersoll’s Sprawltown seems to cover similar territory, sensitive to sustainability and sociability, without necessarily exploding in virtiole about suburban excess. As someone who finds new urbanism hegemonic, formalistic, homogenous and deterministic, the assertion of landscape rather than built form is appealing because it can be interpreted as meaning transformation by ‘working with’ rather than ‘working on’; it can be interpreted as an engagement with complexity and process rather than structures and fixity. For artistic and design practices this can make for a dynamic kind of engagement where the role of the practitioner is negotiator, enabler, connector or facilitator. To use the language of my earlier posts, this seems like one possibility of ‘changescaping’ …

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