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Posts Tagged ‘landscape urbanism’

One of my favorite stories about discovering the profession of landscape architecture comes from the autobiography of Ian McHarg (A Quest For Life, 1996). I am reminded of this story when I read about some landscape urbanist proposals. First, the story, and, later, an explanation of what it might have in common with landscape urbanism.

For several years now, I have asked students in my classes if they have heard of McHarg. Routinely, in a class of 40 ro 50, one or two hands go up. For a quick introduction, I refer them to the classic book, Design With Nature, and often – even though I hate to use them – one of the obits written after his death in 2001, like this one from the NY Times. Wikipedia is always a choice too. McHarg was born in Scotland in 1920. At the age of 16, he spoke with a career counselor who suggested that he might try landscape architecture. It still amazes me that this happened in Scotland in 1936. McHarg tells the story (pp. 21-22):

Then he said, “Have you ever considered landscape architecture?” I had never heard of it. “I have a friend who is a landscape architect,” he said. “His name is Donald Wintersgill. I will arrange to have you meet him.” (more…)

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Ever since the Boston Globe published an article on the “smackdown” between Landscape Urbanism and New Urbanism in January, landscape urbanism and Harvard’s Landscape Architecture Chair, architect and urban theorist Charles Waldheim, have been the subject of a surprising amount of national news coverage. Nothing like a good fight, I suppose. The latest installment is Waldheim’s plenary address to the Congress for the New Urbanism meeting (CNU 19) earlier this month. Waldheim was interviewed by Duany at the end of his talk, and the video has just been released. Waldheim’s introduction is at the 27-minute mark, and he speaks for 50 minutes.

Where this takes landscape architecture is an open question. It is interesting to see how news organizations portray landscape architecture when they discuss landscape urbanism. Waldheim has been the Chair at Harvard since July of 2009, so landscape architecture does get mentioned in that context, but the emphasis is on architecture. I cringed when I read this paragraph in the now notorious Boston Globe article:

As the New Urbanism was growing in influence, another movement concerned with city-making was quietly beginning in an unlikely corner of the academy: landscape architecture. The field had spent most of the 20th century being seen as something of a backwater, an ornamental craft whose practitioners were responsible for making things pretty once the work of designing buildings was complete. But landscape architects had expertise in something that most planners and urban designers were not trained to think about: ecology. Starting at the University of Pennsylvania in the ’80s, landscape architects started to argue that their training meant they shouldn’t just be consigned to “putting parsley on the pig,” in the words of Australian landscape urbanist Richard Weller.

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Two dots, anyway. One dot concerns general workforce needs. 3 basic skills needed in a knowledge economy, according to Tony Wagner, Harvard education expert and author of The Global Achievement Gap, summarized in a NY Times column (Nov. 21, 2010) by Thomas Friedman: “the ability to do critical thinking and problem-solving; the ability to communicate effectively; and the ability to collaborate.” This is good news for landscape architecture because the studio model of instruction does this – or at least it has the potential to do this. Can the studio model be pushed further to do this better?

Another dot concerns present opportunities for landscape architects – opportunities that are perhaps unique to the present moment. An unusual source for this dot – a YouTube video from the Future of Design conference held at Taubman College, University of Michigan in late 2009. It’s unusual because conference organizers videotaped the tables of conference attendees during a small group discussion session and posted the videos online. And it is unusual because the attendees are architects talking about landscape architecture. I think it’s helpful to see how others view us, especially those in allied fields. (Presumably, the people speaking in the video are architecture faculty members – if you recognize them, let me know.)  Some lines that caught my attention: (more…)

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As described in a previous post, I sent messages to a variety of landscape architects and recent grads to get feedback on their experiences as influenced by the national economy. The most global (in more ways than one) response I received was from Nick Onody, MLA 2009, who is employed in a multidisciplinary firm in Toronto. The breadth of his comments suggests that I start with his take on professional trends and follow-up in later posts with other people’s stories of personal experience. I think each view can teach us something about what is happening now and how those both “in the field” (currently employed in the profession) and “on the fence” (seeking employment in the profession) see the world. Nick’s view is strongly influenced by landscape urbanism and its spinoffs.

Thank you for the message. I think this is quite an interesting endeavor on your part and timed perfectly at such a critical time in the design professions. The ‘Great Recession’ has led to a variety of trends and forces that have sent the profession in fundamentally different directions. Over the past decade, we have witnessed landscape come into vogue. Sustainability and the rise of LEED. Landscape as ‘scene’ to landscape as urbanism. Terrorism and natural disasters. The rise of megacities and the influx of city migrants globally. Population decline and suburban foreclosures locally. What does this all mean? What has changed and what is to come? (more…)

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