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Could landscape architecture save us from climate disaster?


The question in the title of this post is posed by Mariana Mogilevich, an architectural historian who teaches at the Pratt Institute School of Architecture, in her review of four recent scholarly books on landscape architecture: Landscape as Urbanism: A General Theory by Charles Waldheim; Toward an Urban Ecology by Kate Orff; Thanks for the View, Mr. Mies, edited by Danielle Aubert, Lana Cavar, and Natasha Chandani; and Critical Landscapes: Art, Space, Politics, edited by Emily Eliza Scott and Kristin Swenson. Underlying this question is the idea that landscape architecture, with its careful attention to the connections between the natural environment and the built environment, can help reshape urban landscapes in a sustainable fashion. Particularly promising, writes Mogilevich, are approaches to landscape architecture that draw inspiration from an eco-feminist perspective. Check out an excerpt of the review below:

While the previous cohort did not save us from environmental cataclysm, a newer generation of landscape architects has developed a powerful new hold on our ideas about the future of cities. Over the last 20 to 30 years, a wave of new urban landscapes from Seattle to Madrid, Shenzhen to Brooklyn, have garnered widespread attention and praise. One reason for the ascendance of landscape in our urban imagination is that new parks compare favorably against the developments in contemporary architecture. Today’s money-laundering tower, misguided museum, and unwarranted stadium mostly serve to remind us of the depressing parameters of our contemporary existence. Meanwhile, the proliferation of imitation High Lines is simply a sign of the enthusiasm—from city governments and private funders—for brownfields turned into pleasure gardens and, with any luck, into generators of economic activity.

"Landscape urbanism,” as the practice has become known, is a label attached to work like that of James Corner, the designer behind New York’s High Line and Freshkills Park. These two projects—along with earlier, theoretical proposals, as well as current work underway for the Toronto waterfront and elsewhere—share a number of characteristics that unite the new field. Sited on obsolete infrastructure such as landfills, decommissioned airfields, and postindustrial waterfronts, the designs of landscape urbanists ostensibly eschew aesthetics in favor of “program” (design-speak for what people actually do in a place). Plans for these spaces are long-term and open-ended. By highlighting the evolution of the space over time, such projects often put the designer’s authorship in question: Is the adding of new plants the work of the original landscape architect, or of the seeds the birds choose to distribute over the site? Wind, water, and ecological systems seem to take control.

An image of the proposed archipelago that would support oysters and filter-feeding shellfish, 2016. Via Public Books.