Archive for the ‘BOOKS’ Category

REVIEWED BY MELISSA S. RAGAIN

FROM THE DECEMBER 2018 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

In 2000, the German artist Reinhard Reitzenstein suspended a tree from a pair of abandoned hydroelectric towers in La Gabelle Park in Quebec. Hung upside down, the 55-foot spruce tree contrasts tragicomically with the immense structures beside it, as though they had seized the tree and subjected it to this humiliating inversion. This arresting image flips (quite literally) our expectations of the landscape, even a human-altered landscape like the escarpment of a hydroelectric dam, and dramatizes the clear-cutting that makes such sublime industrial monuments possible. Reitzenstein relies on those expectations in order to subvert them. The cultural baggage of landscape, both pictures of the landscape and the land’s design as an aesthetic object, is the ground against which a work like Transformer appears. The urgency of climate change and mass extinction has made it necessary for anyone who works with natural materials or images to rethink the historical conventions that govern our perceptions of the natural world.

I was choosing a new survey text for my course Contemporary Art and Ecology when I was commissioned to review Mark Cheetham’s new book, Landscape into Eco Art. To judge by the title and the array of evocative illustrations, it looked like a viable candidate to replace my go-to anthology, Jeffrey Kastner’s Nature (The MIT Press, 2012). Though Kastner’s book offers an excellent selection of short primary documents perfect for an undergraduate seminar, it lacks what many art history textbooks offer: the lure of chronology, the analysis of individual artworks, and an authoritative narrative to help navigate the last 50 years of ecological art making. And yet, as I thumbed through Cheetham’s Landscape into Eco Art, I began to realize that it was not a survey text. Neither was it the kind of fine-grained history of a single object or movement we have come to expect in contemporary art history. Other texts in the genre take the standard contemporary art historical model of diving deep into a subject only to pop back out of it again with a new perspective on the long history of contemporary practices. For instance, James Nisbet’s Ecologies, Environments, and Energy Systems in Art of the 1960s and 1970s (The MIT Press, 2014) tells a history of land art and systems thinking by tethering it to a lengthy analysis of Walter De Maria’s The Lightning Field (1977). Similarly, Suzaan Boettger’s Earthworks: Art and the Landscape of the Sixties (University of California Press, 2003) takes a wide-angle lens to land art in a chronological survey of the era’s greatest moments to shed light on the complex network of artists, gallerists, and collectors who motivated land art’s monumental minimalism.

Instead, Landscape into Eco Art might be more readily compared to work in environmental aesthetics, a subfield of (more…)

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BY ZACH MORTICE

The lago at Roberto Burle Marx’s Sítio, which he composed by eye from truckloads of species collected during his botanical expeditions. Image courtesy Julian Raxworthy.

It’s time for landscape architects to re-embrace what makes them fundamentally different.

 

Since its inception, it’s been hard to find much agreement in landscape architecture over the profession’s purpose and how it should work. For some contemporary designers, landscape architecture, in theory if a bit less in practice, is most visible when ecological systems are designed and deployed to remediate the earth, water, air, and biomes, often at an infrastructural scale. And yet, a profession wholly obsessed with infrastructure would seem to miss the trees for the forest.

The Australian landscape architect Julian Raxworthy posits a way forward in his new book, Overgrown: Practices Between Landscape Architecture and Gardening, published by The MIT Press. Landscape architects, he notes, have retreated from the defining element of their corner of the spatial world: the development and management of planting design. Plants, he argues, are defined by their growth over time and the maintenance used to train them. Gardeners (whose ranks Raxworthy once populated) haven’t lost track of this fact. Growth is landscape architecture’s fundamental currency. From there, he launches into a populist call to tear down the blue collar/white collar divide between gardeners and landscape architects. Raxworthy (who is headed to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, after living in Cape Town, South Africa, for five years, teaching at the University of Cape Town) seems to admire messiness and rebellion against the bespoke and delicate. That preference is not surprising if you chat him up about his days as a music writer in the 1980s in Sydney, attending shows by Public Enemy and Dead Kennedys. Of one of his case study projects (created by a designer who never studied landscape architecture), he writes: “As a gardener rather than a landscape architect, the only plans Korte produced for the project were to satisfy the authorities. All other decisions arose organically through spending four years on site with a gang of four young German laborers who had returned from Brazil and smoked marijuana constantly. He looked back on this way of working with some nostalgia, saying that this time on site was the height of his career.” (more…)

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REVIEWED BY KOFI BOONE, ASLA

FROM THE OCTOBER 2018 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

With more than 15 million views, the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie’s groundbreaking TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story” is likely the most viewed treatise on the consequences of making one story the story of the African continent. With surgical precision, Adichie reveals the lasting consequences of perpetuating Africa and Africans as only victims suffering from famine and war, or only the exotic backdrop for experiencing “charismatic nature.” But in the end, her most devastating criticism of the single story is embodied in her quote of the Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti, “If you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story and to start with ‘secondly.’” Illustrating her point, Adichie asks facetiously what we would think if the story began with a “failed” African state instead of with European colonialism.

The issue of starting with “secondly” is present in cultural landscape study of the continent of Africa. The spirit of Adichie’s and Barghouti’s arguments resonates in the pages of Cultural Landscape Heritage in Sub-Saharan Africa, edited by John Beardsley. The volume collects essays delivered at a symposium held at Dumbarton Oaks in 2013 and reflects an important first step in laying the foundation for future exploration. Through a wide array of disciplinary lenses, geographic locations, and time periods, Beardsley’s work eschews deriving a single conclusion about what is “African” and instead reveals the wealth of issues and opportunities with engaging the many cultures of a continent. The avoidance of narrowing and bridging the divergent voices contained within the book is challenging and perhaps belies the fact that this is one of the first mainstream publications on this topic. Given the lack of similar texts, there could be a tendency to attempt to be singular and definitive. However, borrowing from one of the book’s many themes, the result is a contribution to the “continuity” of a conversation about the lives and practices that have shaped meaningful place in Africa, a continent still invisible to the profession of landscape architecture. (more…)

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ON BRAZIL’S BEHALF

BY CATHERINE SEAVITT NORDENSON, ASLA

Araucárias, Paraná, ca. 1884. Photo by Marc Ferrez/Gilberto Ferrez Collection/Instituto Moreira Salles.

 FROM THE OCTOBER 2018 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

Speaking out against the military dictatorship of Brazil during the late 1960s and early 1970s had definite risks. Politicians, human rights advocates, artists, and intellectuals who publicly opposed the right-wing government’s programs of hyperdevelopment did so under threat of arrest, imprisonment, torture, and death. Many fled into exile. Roberto Burle Marx, the Brazilian landscape architect (1909–1994), had been a public figure for decades when, three years after the 1964 coup, he was appointed by the dictatorship’s first president, Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco, to a 24-member national cultural council. For Burle Marx, the decision to join the council was ethically freighted. He accepted with one clear objective: to save the Brazilian landscape.

In a new book, Depositions: Roberto Burle Marx and Public Landscapes Under Dictatorship (University of Texas Press, 2018), Catherine Seavitt Nordenson, ASLA, brings forth a series of 18 frankly activist speeches, or depositions, that Burle Marx delivered as a member of the council. They target, among other things, the unchecked destruction of Brazil’s forests for raw materials and agriculture. He surveyed the progression of environmental tragedy with a deep knowledge of botany and ecology, an intricate alertness to policy, and always appealing to a Brazilian pride in its national landscape patrimony.

“The way I read his depositions, Burle Marx is positioning an argument that’s against the economic development theory of the regime,” Seavitt Nordenson told me recently. “Sometimes they listen to him and sometimes they don’t. But he’s on the inside and he’s arguing passionately, because he’s been working on the cultural project of the Brazilian landscape for so long.” Seavitt Nordenson notes that in these speeches of 50 years ago, Burle Marx touches on two huge problems of today, anthropogenic impacts affecting climate and the loss of biodiversity. “They’re very clear—they’re jocular speeches, often funny, and have so much spontaneity—and he manages to communicate a serious message to an audience that has significant political power.”

This excerpt of Depositions includes a brief introduction by Seavitt Nordenson to three depositions on forests, followed by her translations of the depositions themselves.

 —Bradford McKee

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REVIEWED BY KELLY COMRAS, FASLA

FROM THE JULY 2018 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

Victor D. Gruen (1903–1980) was one of the most influential architects of the 20th century, a powerful visionary who combined social criticism, persuasive charm, ambition, and talent. Known as the father of the shopping mall, he envisioned a cure for the banality of postwar American suburbia and neglected city centers that profoundly altered the landscape of postwar city development. He suggested “shopping towns,” new community centers that would contain a rich mix of civic and commercial spaces and activities, and the introduction of pedestrian zones within the core of older city centers. Later in life, he criticized that his ideas had been co-opted by developers, commercialized by economic, political, and cultural forces beyond his control, which thereby emerged on the postwar landscape as an unintended archetype: the enclosed, inward-facing, single-purpose, multilevel, two-anchor-department-store shopping center.

Gruen has left us with an impressive number of writings about his work (including the well-known The Heart of Our Cities), and two pertinent books have tackled appraisals of his work—Alex Wall’s Victor Gruen: From Urban Shop to New City (2005) and M. Jeffrey Hardwick’s Mall Maker: Victor Gruen, Architect of an American Dream (2004). But Anette Baldauf’s new translation from German of Gruen’s dictated memoirs, Shopping Town, presents us with (more…)

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It’s the first, which means June’s issue of LAM is here! You’ll find these stories inside:

FOREGROUND

Sudden Impact (Office)
Principals from three firms discuss how internships can offer a learning experience
for everyone involved.

The Better Underbelly (Transit)
Bowen Place Crossing by Spackman Mossop Michaels is more than just a shady underpass.

Processing Through Play (Play)
A study gives credence to intuitive ideas about designing playgrounds for kids
who have sensory processing disorder.

FEATURES

Knock It Off
Design professionals are saying #MeToo, too. Do sexual harassment policies
in the workplace go far enough?

Copenhagen Cool
The firm COBE gives two public spaces in the Danish capital a new look and renewed
purpose as transportation infrastructure.

The Dream Seller
Mexico City is a place with significant water challenges. Mario Schjetnan, FASLA, designs
places to meet them.

The Major Scale
Oehme, van Sweden’s design for the wide open spaces of Tippet Rise prove that Montana
is a great place for art.

All this plus the regular Now and Goods columns. The full table of contents for June can be found here.

As always, you can buy this issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine at more than 700 bookstores, including many university stores and independents, as well as at Barnes & Noble. You can also buy single digital issues for only $5.25 at Zinio or order single copies of the print issue from ASLA. Annual subscriptions for LAM are a thrifty $59 for print and $44.25 for digital. Our subscription page has more information on subscription options.

Keep an eye out here on the blog, on the LAM Facebook page, and on our Twitter feed (@landarchmag), as we’ll be posting June articles as the month rolls out.

Credits: “The Major Scale,” Beartooth Portal by Ensamble Studio, photo by Iwan Baan; “Copenhagen Cool,” Rasmus Hjortshøj; “The Dream Seller,” Adam Wiseman; “Sudden Impact,” C&I Studios; “Processing Through Play,” Courtesy STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder; “The Better Underbelly,” Ian Marshall.

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BY ZACH MORTICE

Homes along old Highway A1A in Summer Haven, Florida. Photo courtesy St. Johns Public Works.

The McHarg Center—a new research initiative that will study the intersection of urbanism and ecology—is dedicated to studying how “urban growth and all of its related infrastructure can relate better and be better tuned to ecosystems,” says Richard Weller, ASLA, chair of the landscape architecture department at the University of Pennsylvania. The center is awaiting its formal launch next year with an exhibition, book, and conference timed to the 50th anniversary of Ian McHarg’s seminal book Design with Nature. In the meantime, the center, housed within PennDesign, has invited Jeff Goodell, the author of The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World (Little, Brown, and Company, 2017), to visit for an inaugural lecture on March 29, at 6:00 p.m. in the lower gallery of Meyerson Hall.

In the spirit of McHarg’s research, Weller envisions the McHarg Center as an intensely multidisciplinary place. “When he completely overhauled the curriculum at Penn, he stacked the building with scientists,” Weller says. Likewise, Penn’s McHarg Center will invite scientists, designers, engineers, and public policy experts into an (more…)

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