Woven Landscapes
Benjamin Barney for LOFscapes
(1) The Architecture in Landscape: House of the “Sierra”of the El Paraíso hacienda, recalled in María de Jorge Isaacs © Sylvia Patiño for LOFscapes

Our guest columnist from Cali, Benjamin Benjamin Barney, continues this week with his reflection on that sometimes conflictive, but always necessary relationship between landscape and architecture, appealing in particular to the students of these disciplines. This column was originally published in El País, Cali, October 29, 2016.

All buildings are added to a landscape, considered as much for its artistic aspects as for its beauty, and the architecture modifies the landscape for better or for worse. And the courtyards, surrounded by architecture are also small landscapes with their vegetation and their infinite firmament. Architecture always occurs in topographies, different climates and around different vegetation that generates distinct landscapes. And one or the other changes daily throughout the year, either through the four seasons or no seasons at all as in the tropics. 

Trying to show architecture or landscape with only images is incomplete, not even photographs of Fallingwater in each season as Frank Lloyd Wright would know, are perceived with all the senses. And even worse with only exterior images that “architecture” magazines or the deceptive tourist propaganda tend to show. All buildings, cities, and landscapes have shapes, textures, colors and tones that identify them, and sounds, smells, flavors that characterize them.

It is necessary to narrate them while they are being shown. To say how they sound and resound, how they smell, how they feel when touched with our eyes or with our bodies, even without sticking out our tongues, to think what they know, and through all the arrivals and departures and all the different routes and passages of time and space. Like in a good novel, one by Leonardo Padura for example, who in Heretics: A Novel  (2013), walks us through landscapes of Havana and Amsterdam, from the 17th to the 21st century.

And students of architecture, instead of so many “projects” for new plans should do exercises in which they renovate buildings that can be visited in different landscapes, and thus be able to analyze on the site the fruits of their evident interrelation with that place. What can they possibly do closed up all the time in a classroom, usually ugly and hidden from all the possible landscapes by the blinds or the curtains so that they are not distracted? As if with their cellphones, that were not enough!

Then, we must return to an architecture of place, like the tradition in each region of the world, a regional architecture and one that is truly postmodern according to the different landscapes. This requires that we start with an analysis of the places to intervene: their topography, climate, vegetation, a description of the real panorama and what traditions it entails, helped by photos and descriptive texts of what one feels and later what one thinks about it.

In short, landscape always comes first before architecture, and in the cities it is simply added creating new contexts that must continue what already exists. We must avoid the false idea that everything is going to be renovated, which in many cities, as is the case of Cali, has led to modifying its landscapes for the worse.  This trend is towards making what is constructed obsolete, maybe not programmed, but at least desired by the predatory construction industry.

It is rather worrying that more and more architecture does not complement the landscape, but degrades and destroys its beauty or even its geology for the sake of the fashion show. What’s more, buildings are indirectly responsible for a large part of global warming through their consumption of water and energy for illumination and climate control, as Sophia and Stefan Behling pointed out in The Evolution of Sustainable Architecture (La Evolución de la Arquitectura Sostenible, 1996), along with many others.

Benjamin Barney Caldas is an Architect at the University of the Andes, holds a Master’s degree in History from the University del Valle. He is professor and researcher at the University of los Andes (Bogotá, Colombia), University del Valle (Cali, Colombia), Instituto Superior of Architecture and Design ISAD (Chihuahua, México), University of Gran Colombia (Armenia, Colombia), School of Architecture and Design of Latin America and the Caribbean (Isthmus, Panamá), and the University of San Buenaventura USB (Cali, Colombia). He has participated national and international competitions, both public and by invitation. His work has received national and international distinctions and has been published in books and magazines. He is the author of several books and research on urban heritage, and he is a columnist for the El País newspaper (Cali) and has worked independently in Cali since 1972.

(2) The Urban Landscape: Cartagena de Indias, Colombia © Sylvia Patiño for LOFscapes