Structuring the soft network of tomorrow
We were asked to write about the greenshift and how we envision the future of landscape architecture in Norway for the Norwegian association of landscape architects publication "five stories on landscape".
The text reads as some what of a hybridised conversation and essay, that we would like to think of as an ongoing conversation in the office that will continue to evolve over time. Have 5 mins? take a read below.
Structuring the soft network of tomorrow
On the 12th of December 2016, 195 states signed the Paris agreement, making it a milestone in responding to climate change. On October 2018, experts from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change) released a special report outlining the effects of climate change on our planet if the Paris agreement was to be respected, exposing irreversible effects on human and living species. Human influence has become a principal agent of change on the planet, shifting the world out of the relatively stable Holocene period and into a new geological era, often termed the Anthropocene.
Anthropocene | ˈanθrəpəˌsiːn | adjective relating to or denoting the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment. • (as noun the anthropocene) the anthropocene period.
Today’s greenshift consists of reducing our impact through technological improvements; more sober cars, climate-friendly materials, smart technologies, etc. As if we were acknowledging that the solution lies in keeping a business as usual approach, but less bad. The greenshift is the ersatz of a solution for a sustainable planet. Shouldn’t we be shifting how we envision our environment and how we inhabit it?
Designers and planners outlast the professional life span of the politicians and therefore have the responsibility, opportunity, and pleasure to design, plan and build diverse communities of living systems – this is our passion and we must stand for creating a better world than the one we inherit. The greenshift can and should be a global approach to understanding and planning urban and rural environments as ecosystems. Understanding the impact, positive or negative, one project can have across scales is a must in the era of the anthropocene.
What role should landscape architects play over the next 20 years? And how can we use our tools and understanding of the world in the uncharted territory of the anthropocene?
Whether we like it or not climate change interacts with our daily lives. The North is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. The IPCC has stated that by 2030 the earth’s temperature will have risen above 1.5 degrees Celsius, causing catastrophic change – extreme drought, sea level rise, eutrophication, acidification of the oceans, shifting of plant hardiness zones, wildfires, floods, thawing of permafrost, desertification, tropification, and shortages for millions of people. This means that greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut by 45% from 2010 levels and reach net zero by 2050.
Is it not our responsibility to address this crisis, or better yet should this not be our mission?
The collective ignorance towards the limits to growth that has been accepted for the past half century not only causes devastating loss of natural habitats and biodiversity, but also damages our own living environment: cities. For the past century, architects, engineers and bureaucrats have dominated the field of urban planning. Our cities are now monochrome, dominated by consumerism, cars, and infrastructure, and little thought has been put into articulating cities to be a part of the natural landscapes and ecological communities they are superimposed upon. There seems to be a severe lack of understanding of landscape. Though every condescending architect wants to ‘make (cities) green (again)’; a cosmetic cure magically solving all environmental problems, participating in the current murder of cities.
To avoid “apocalypse fatigue”, landscape architects can be the positive voices that flip problems into opportunities for making healthy cities in an era of climate change. Landscape architects have a unique understanding of territories, systems, climate, and the global processes that form landscapes that are a critical to the programming of urban surfaces, rural environments and the voids that lie between.
How will landscape architecture perform in a new era that mankind has only just begun to live in?
2030: MISSION IMPOSSIBLE
There is an urgent need for exploring and developing tools and languages to understand how to live without losing nature and the natural systems that sustain us all. Our mission as designers is to edit our habitat into a better, more meaningful and more sustainable environment.
We have identified five climate change topics related to our field as the most challenging:
• Impacts and diminishing resources
• Climate change risks
Why is landscape urbanism important?
Eric: We think Landscape architects have a unique position due to our understanding of living systems, and as designers of space. Landscape urbanism emerged just over 20 years ago, and although we can and should be critical of its over-academic and philosophical rhetoric, it is possibly the most significant work with regards to the discipline of landscape architecture since the late 19th century. With regards to the aforementioned topics of climate change, landscape urbanism (or ecological urbanism) is a theory of urban planning arguing that the best way to organise cities is through the design of the city’s landscape, rather than the design of its buildings. You can check out the ten characteristics of landscape urbanism from Tom Turner for an easy understanding of LU.
Gauthier: It is liberating for us, as designers, to be able to have an approach that is addressing all scales and topics and bringing down borders. What aspects are most relevant in the current (Nordic) context?
Eric: We need to fix the mistakes of modernism; and transform and retrofit the infrastructures it fostered. We need to design a new urban landscape that focuses on creating living communities (including fauna and flora). This means that aspects of sharing, environment, and wellbeing that are deeply part of the Nordic culture will be prioritised. We don’t need “make it green”, we need to make habitats that co-exist and benefit one another.
Gauthier: We are too often asked to work on projects without any territorial understanding. There is little consideration for regional and territorial landscapes in the current model of planning. This is not to say that there are not a lot of studies and knowledge regarding regions, there is. It is the fact that there are no guiding plans or visions for territorial landscapes. How can you ensure a comprehensive vision in that case? Norway’s landscape is what makes it unique, this should be considered an integral aspect of urban and territorial planning. For example, many cities in Norway are geographically positioned in valleys. The focus should not simply be within the limits of the city, but on a vision for “the valley” that can guide the planning process, structure new developments, and add unique qualities to each and every valley.
How is it integrated into practice?
Gauthier: We believe it’s important to question the site. Beyond a given ‘program’, find what the site is about, what paradigms are we dealing with? This is the logic that will guide the project.
Eric: It can be integrated into practice by breaking down the barriers between disciplines and understanding landscape as a cultural manifestation. It is also about reading the territory, dissecting its DNA, and finding relationships between existing natural and manmade elements and proposing multi-scalar, spatial organisations of communities. Landscape architecture can be seen more as a project than a discipline, consisting of many different design professions. Landscape urbanism is an approach that can be used by all of them.
Imagine the field in the future (20+ years). What does it look like?
Gauthier: I fear that the climate phenomena will be addressed with more and more technical solutions. For us the answer lies in how we design public spaces, parks and cities. The profession will also have to address more challenges in relation to how we live in cities. Taking in consideration the whole system behind ‘urban living’ and including for example how to power, how to feed, etc. the city as part of the loop and the urban debate. To expand upon this or clarify, the farm is just as urban as the city in the food system, both are part of an interconnected biological and economic system – so the question is what is urban?
Eric: If the discipline of landscape architecture is the designing of left-over open space so projects meet regulation requirements, then the profession is dead. Alternatively, if the discipline’s focus reorients itself towards urbanism and spatially organising settlements (cities) as landscapes, landscape architecture will thrive, and this is exactly what we need in a new era of unprecedented change. We must be as resilient as the landscapes we imagine and create.
Eric: What is urban? Or rural? For centuries people have designed landscapes with precision; transporting water in incredible ways to cultivate and provide necessities to cities. In such cases, landscape can most definitely be infrastructure as infrastructure can be landscape:
infrastructure | ˈɪnfrəstrʌktʃə | noun the basic physical and organisational structures and facilities (e.g. buildings, roads, power supplies) needed for the operation of a society or enterprise: the social and economic infrastructure of a country.
Infrastructure and landscape become somewhat interchangeable terms with regards to urbanism. What is urbanism without infrastructure? Or without landscape? We should begin to think of landscape as a basic physical organisation of structures needed for the operation of a society. In this context, rural and urban landscapes are blurred. This is in fact what the 21st century city of the anthropocene can be.