With the symposium Landscape as Urbanism in the Americas, Canadian architect Charles Waldheim, the main organizer of the event, began to close two decades of debate in urban, architectural circles regarding the role of the landscape project as a model and means for developing the contemporary city. Inevitably, then, at least from academic practice, we must ask: what now?
On March 18, 2016 the second stage of the symposium Landscape as Urbanism in the Americas was held at the School of Architecture of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, preceded by sessions in Medellín, Colombia and culminating in Brasilia, Brazil on March 21. As established on the project website, the objective of this activity was to gather a series of voices capable of discussing approaches and debating on the potentialities of the landscape project as a means of urban intervention in specific social, cultural, economic and ecological contexts of Latin American cities (1).
(1) See Landscape as Urbanism in the Americas (2016) <http://www.landscapeasurbanismamericas.net/>. See also the description of Luis Callejas’s course by the same name, at Harvard GSD <http://www.gsd.harvard.edu/#/academics/courses/des-03351-spring-2016.html>.
The possibility of understanding and positioning the landscape as a model and means for the development of the contemporary city is not a recent idea and, in fact, this activity could be considered the end of a cycle. It coincides, in fact, with the recent publication of the monograph Landscape as Urbanism: A General Theory (Princeton University Press, 2016) by Canadian architect Charles Waldheim, Irving Professor of Landscape Architecture at the Graduate School of Design of Harvard University and principal organizer of the meetings of the same name on our continent.
It can be affirmed that it was the set of essays published in 1999 by landscape architect James Corner Recovering Landscape (Princeton Architectural Press) that literally recovered the concept of landscape as a theory and disciplinary practice starting from an evaluation of its design mechanisms, construction possibilities and contemporary cultural assessments. However, it was Waldheim’s publication of The Landscape Urbanism Reader (Princeton Architectural Press, 2006) that constructed a specific conversation about the logic of the landscape project, the logic of urban processes, and the theoretical and practical bridges that must be built between both to be able to reposition the landscape as a fundamentally urban entity.
For those who, as in my case, teach theory and landscape history every week, this position is not at all minor on our continent and much less in our country. Here, the landscape has been frequently labeled and perceived as a patch of green able to improve deteriorated aspects of the urban condition, understood at the same time as a configuration of buildings and infrastructures. Immediately then, obvious questions arise: What role does the landscape play in the configuration of the city? Can the management and design of open spaces and natural systems exercise some type of influence on better development of urbanization processes and, therefore, of the places we inhabit?
Waldheim’s “definitive” monograph offers possible answers to these questions by showing that the origins of the discipline known as landscape architecture coincide with the development of the Industrial Revolution. This immediately makes the landscape an opportunity to join the formal design of the city with its ecological and social functions. In this context, or from this moment, the landscape project emerges as what is in charge of connecting the formal and ethical, pragmatic and utopian, aesthetic and ecological aspects of what could come to constitute an appropriate, healthy and “good” city (2).
At the end of the twentieth century, after decades of seeking to overcome an intensive association with gardening and/or horticulture, landscape architecture incorporated concepts such as environment and ecology. In doing so, it established the landscape project as a complex system capable of making visible the processes in the configuration of urban sites to structure territorial transformations and propose models of urbanization and reconversion of disused sites, while establishing epistemologically and technically a base structure capable of defining the logic of transformations of urban forms (2). Nevertheless, the landscape project typologies remain in what we continue to catalogue as traditional categories: squares, gardens, parks and boulevards. With a clearly defined role in the development of our cities, with new methodological approaches and innovative tools to represent relationships between established and future urban programs imagined at different scales, it is now necessary to discuss what are the typological possibilities of the so-called landscape project.
(2) These two paragraphs correspond to extracts from the mini-course “Ciudad y Paisaje III: Urbanismo desde el Paisaje,” (City and Landscape III: Urbanism from the Landscape) taught by the author at the School of Architecture of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.