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BY PHILLIP FERNBERG, ASSOCIATE ASLA, AND BRENT CHAMBERLAIN

Advancements in Artificial Intelligence creativity should make us rethink the future of landscape architecture practice.

FROM THE AUGUST 2021 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

If you were to thumb through old issues of Science magazine, once you hit 1967 you would come across an obscure article coauthored by Allen Newell, an esteemed pioneer of artificial intelligence research, arguing for the validity of a new discipline called computer science. In the article, Newell and his colleagues Alan J. Perlis and Herbert A. Simon address some fundamental objections within academia to the idea that the study of computers was, in fact, a science or even a worthwhile pursuit. The questions are simple but fundamental: Is there such a thing as computer science? If so, what is it?

As you read the objections and their respective responses, you might begin to think as we did about the similar line of questioning that has been employed in landscape architecture. Substitute the computer speak with our own professional jargon and you have near carbon copies of themes from licensure advocacy meetings, ASLA conferences, or academic treatises on the state of the discipline. Computer science and landscape architecture have a surprising amount in common. They are both relatively new (at least in the official sense), they have both evolved in significant ways over the past century, and they both have been in an ongoing existential discussion about their position amid peer disciplines. This is nice to know but not revelatory.

Yet the intersection gets more interesting. One of the objections in the article states: “The term ‘computer’ is not well defined, and its meaning will change with new developments, hence computer science does not have a well-defined subject matter.” The authors’ reply is astute and resonant: “The phenomena of all sciences change over time; the process of understanding assures that this will be the case. Astronomy did not originally include the study of interstellar gases; physics did not include radioactivity; psychology did not include the study of animal behavior. Mathematics was once defined as the ‘science of quantity.’” So too is the phenomenon of landscape architecture; it just happens to work on an accelerated timeline. The field is ever shifting, retooling, and reassessing our place as our understanding of our medium and our instruments evolves. Before Olmsted, landscapes were gardens rather than systems; before Ian McHarg’s Design with Nature, those systems were not intertwined with ecology; before CAD, GIS, or Adobe, our only tools were pen and paper. (more…)

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