Posts Tagged ‘Anthropocene’

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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BY STEVE AUSTIN, ASLA

Landscape architecture can mitigate carbon emissions, but it is also implicated among the causes.

FROM THE JUNE 2017 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

The Paris Agreement on climate change, created by the consensus of 197 nations, went into effect in November 2016 and has enormous implications for the practice of landscape architecture. If adhered to by its signatories, the agreement signals the end of the fossil fuel era by midcentury, well within the life spans of many landscape architects currently practicing. Though it may seem wonderfully “green,” this energy transition poses profound questions for the practice of landscape architecture at a time when the discipline is needed more than ever.

The Paris Agreement foretells a civilization powered nearly exclusively by renewably generated electricity, not fossil-fueled fire, like today. This will impose severe limits on landscape architecture’s materials, construction methods, and professional mobility. The agreement also portends a society with much less energy overall, as fossil fuels currently make up more than 80 percent of total energy consumed and cannot be easily replaced. These stark realities will challenge landscape architects to adapt to the impending zero-carbon future.

Last year set the record for the hottest year in measured history, breaking 2015’s record, which itself (more…)

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In Sic Erat Scriptum, landscape architect and filmmaker Evan Mather argues that the Interstate Highway System that has reshaped the nation through epochal public works is not the project of technocratic 20th century humanist ambition, but something far more ancient and out of our control. Through fictionalized Grand Junction Bible College landscape urbanism instructor Melvin McNally (portrayed by Mather), his short film makes the pop-science case that the interstate is really the result of “biomigratory ecology rooted in ancient habitats and dominions.” That is, these roads follow dinosaur trails.

The video’s grainy film quality gives it an air of archival mystique that contrasts with sharp overlay maps of transit corridors throughout the millennia. Accelerated footage of miles of highway whirring past give way to fictionalized newspaper pages filled with dummy text in Latin telling of “Devil Lizards” unearthed during road construction.

There’s the interstate, which was preceded by the early 20th century highway system, which followed railroad lines. These lined up with pioneer wagon trails, themselves mapped to Native American trails, whose only purpose was to follow large mammal migratory patterns.  And concentrations of fossils found in clusters along these paths indicate these creatures were lured by “ancient dinosaur watering holes,” McNally says. It sounds like the prologue to a dusty paperback science fiction novel from the late 1950s. But broken down step by step, it seems reasonable. Foregrounded in acknowledgment of the Anthropocene age (the period of history where human activity is the strongest force affecting planetary ecosystems and geology), it questions whether we’re really writing our own novel, or instead cribbing notes from a story told long, long ago.

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Courtesy Tim Cone/Environmental Film Festival.

Courtesy Tim Cone/Environmental Film Festival.

This year’s urban-themed Environmental Film Festival has an interesting angle for landscape architects. The Washington, D.C.-based festival, now in its 22nd year, will be showing 200 films on a program titled Our Cities, Our Planet that focuses on sustainable cities and the impact of urbanism on our environments. The festival is primarily documentaries, but it also includes experimental films, shorts, children’s films, archival gems (some with live orchestral accompaniment), and works in progress. Many of the screenings during the weeklong festival, which runs March 18–30, 2014,   are free, and include panel discussions with filmmakers and activists. Below is just a selection of the films that caught our eye (with the EFF program descriptions), and a full program and schedule can be seen here.

WATERMARK. From  Jennifer Baichwal and Nick de Pencier, and the photographer Edward Burtynsky, who collaborated on the 2006 film, Manufactured Landscapes, Watermark transports us all over the world, revealing the extent to which humanity has shaped water and how it has shaped us.

THE HUMAN SCALE. For 40 years, the Danish architect Jan Gehl has studied human behavior in cities, starting with what he calls “Life Between Buildings.” Gehl has documented how modern cities repel human interaction and argues that we can build cities in a way that takes human needs for inclusion and intimacy into account. In Copenhagen, Gehl has inspired the creation of pedestrian streets and bike paths and the organization of parks, squares, and other public spaces throughout the city.

RIVERS AND TIDES: ANDY GOLDSWORTHY WORKING WITH TIME. Acclaimed around the world for his site-specific earthworks, beautiful and ephemeral sculptures in the open air made of ice, mud, leaves, driftwood, stones, and twigs, Andy Goldsworthy thinks incessantly about “the veins that connect things.”

THE HUMAN TOUCH (clips). Ten years after making Rivers and Tides, Riedelsheimer and Goldsworthy started a new collaboration, exploring more aspects of Goldsworthy’s work and how it has changed  over the years.

SAND WARS. Sand seems quite insignificant, yet those grains of  silica surround and affect our lives. Every house, skyscraper, and glass building, every bridge, airport, and sidewalk depends on sand.What are the consequences of intensive beach sand mining for the environment and the neighboring populations?

(more…)

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