Woven Landscapes
Romy Hecht M. For Lofscapes
(1) Garden in Tebas, 18ava Egyptian Dynasty (c.1543-1292 AD) © / (2) Ernesto Charton, Valparaíso Visto desde el Cerro Alegre (Valparaiso seen from Cerro Alegre) 1859 © private collection

The notion of woven landscapes seems to be fashionable these days, which does not seem to be a bad thing if used correctly. The landscape is not something that is there, nor is it something that is found. On the contrary, it is something that is warped, weft, and intertwined; it is connected, considered, and above all made.

Although it seems a contradiction, intuitively the notion of woven landscapes seems logical to us. This column intends to establish the theoretical bases that this analogy implies, without falling prey to those theories little adjusted to the notion of contemporary landscape. As WOVEN LANDSCAPES, the title of this LOFscapes section, intends to suggest, landscape is not something that is there nor something that is found. On the contrary, it is something that is warped, weft, and intertwined; it is connected, considered, and made.

We must start by stipulating that the landscape − and the project that defines it − do not perch on nature. On the contrary, in the very essence that the concept of weaving implies, landscape is the result of that overriding need to join urban organization processes and natural systems because, although it is not the subject of this column, nature is an equally complex and compound entity. Raymond Williams has even established landscape as one of the most complex concepts of our language (1).

(1) See Williams, “Nature” in Keywords (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985 [1976]), p. 219.

Landscape architects and all those professionals who have intervened in the open spaces of our cities have traditionally established such transformations based on the physical qualities that places are expected to acquire. As a result, the idea of landscape as a construction − something artificial − in continuous transformation has been ignored and replaced, more often than not, by the idea of landscape as a scene stopped in time, specifically in the minute of its execution. This idea is deeply rooted in a country like Chile without an extensive tradition in recognizing landscape interventions at the level of those countries that have been pioneers in the subject of landscape, such as the United States or some other European countries. Slowly, yes, we have managed to approach the landscape as the result of the interrelation between physical geography and historical and socio-cultural processes, something particularly visible on three scales of approximation, and the consequent analysis of the problem:

  1. One scale defined by the organizational structure of the project, where large-scale spatial issues are distinguished (urban-territorial strategies) and relationships established between the parties, in a structure that remains open and dynamic, which assumes and anticipates the possibility of adapting the constituent forms before the possibility of making imagined urban futures concrete;
  2. Another scale defined by the organization of the project site, either in spatial, programmatic and/or material terms, where the interest lies in establishing how landscapes work; how they operate in urban, social and hydrological terms, among others; how they reinforce the structure of the city while creating new ones; and how they support a complementary and at times contradictory range of civic programs;
  3. And finally, one scale defined by the representation of the projects, where the understanding of the site’s circumstances forces the development of mapping and layout techniques to account for the apparently unmanageable and amorphous complexities of the site.

Both the current director of the Harvard Landscape Architecture Program, Anita Berrizbeitia (2), and the renowned landscape architect James Corner (3) have argued that, if we agree that from the disciplinary practice, physical configurations are supplied to urban settings, consequently the organization, program, scale and materiality are fundamental in the understanding of what is proposed. Strategic projects such as landscape projects involve the design of surface systems, a synchronization of materials, a logic of implementation, a re-zoning of soils and the definition of a territorial conversion over time. This has allowed the old paradigm of landscape as a bucolic and aesthetic scene to be exchanged for complex, performative, multifunctional and long-lasting systems.

(2) See Anita Berrizbeitia, “Re-Placing Process” in Julia Czerniak and George Hargreaves (eds.), Large Parks (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2007), p. 174-196
(3) See Corner and Alison Bick Hirsch (eds.), The Landscape Imagination: Collected Essays of James Corner 1990 – 2010 (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2014)

So, if it is true that the landscape cannot be captured in a single moment because it is always becoming something, gathering its processes of ideation, materialization, growth and decay, why do we seek to continue believing that it is a means of geographical sublimation that perches on the territory?

(3) Pietro de’ Crescenzi, Trattato dell agricoltora (15th century) ©
(4) Alex Wall and OMA, Axonometric front of layers of the proposed landscape Competition Parc de la Villette (1982) ©
(5) Alex Wall and OMA, Frontal axonometric detail of layers of the proposed landscape Competition Parc de La Villette (1982) ©
(6) 28 Days Later (2002) © Screenshot Romy Hecht M. for LOFscapes