uncovered flows


responding to:

Anita Berrizbeitia and Karen M’Closkey, “Criticality in Landscape Architecture: Origins in 19th Century American Practices,” 2015.

Diane Harris, “The Postmodernization of Landscape: A Critical Historiography,” in Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 58, no. 3 (1999): 434-443.

Rosalind Krauss, “Introduction” and “Sculpture in the Expanded Field” in The Originality of The Avant-garde and Other Modernist Myths by Rosalind Krauss (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1986): 1-6, 276-290.

Elizabeth Meyer, “The Expanded Field of Landscape Architecture,” in Ecological Design and Planning, eds. George F. Thompson and Frederick R. Steiner (New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1997): 45-79.

In “The Expanded Field of Landscape Architecture,” Elizabeth Meyer, a landscape architect, theorist, and historian, articulates a set of methods and strategies for the creation of landscape architectural theories, which she presently describes as lacking or misread due to its non-binary nature beyond the scope of historical modern art and architectural discourses.

Based in the context of the landscape architectural profession of 1997 in the United States, she claims that landscape architecture “is not a practice that can be adequately described as either this or that” and argues that

Landscape architecture must be allowed to speak a language that, first, avoids binaries and operates in the spaces between the boundaries of culture and nature, man and woman, architecture and landscape; and, second, allows us to questions the very premises upon which our knowledge of landscape architecture is based (51)

Meyer’s text assumes that the reader has an understanding of modern landscape architecture in the Western world, familiarity with Rosalind Krauss’s use of the Klein group diagram, and ideas of poststructuralism and postmodernism as a base to understanding the constraints of modern discourse, and new responses to or further development of postmodern theory. She sets a narrative and reflective tone to distribute her more direct, didactic ideas by posing rhetorical questions throughout, exposing the limits of binary thinking, and proposing new categories of thought through an unpacking of a Klein group diagram, which ironically appears to be a very geometric, confined, and one could say “modern,” diagram representing “the expanded field of landscape architecture” (52). Anita Berrizbeitia and Karen M’Closkey might say Meyer’s is both a projective and critical approach (“Criticality in Landscape Architecture,” 2015) to framing the field of landscape architecture in that it works within a set of established systems, “landscape-field” and “architecture-figure,” to develop new areas, “minimal garden,” and “figured ground,” for example (Meyer, 1997, 52).

Rosalind Krauss, in reference to critical writing, states that criticism is best understood “through the forms of its argument, through the way that its method, in the process of constituting the object of criticism, exposes to view those choices that precede and predetermine any act of judgement (Introduction to The Originality of the Avante-garde and Other Modernist Myths, 1986, 1). If we understand modern to be the historical, predominant theoretical framework which embodies strict, “logical” ideologies of binaries; postmodern to be “the broad range of theoretical developments that… stress the contextualization of texts; feminist and postcolonial theories that focus on recovering the voices of the oppressed,”; and understandings of landscape that have been repressed through modernist discourse; and poststructuralism as a philosophy which “works to unmask the pretended neutrality of physical space” then we can begin to comprehend and critique Meyer’s method of describing new categories of landscape architecture through the use of the Klein diagram and categorical descriptions (Diane Harris, “The Postmodernization of Landscape,” 1999, 434).

Looking specifically at the graphic representation of the Klein diagram and following categories of the “expanded field,” it appears that the professional field of landscape architecture takes on a constrained, ordered, territorial property, and while Meyer clearly mentions the possibility other categories and that she is focusing on breaking the binary relationship between architecture and landscape, I feel that through her re-categorization and re-presentation, she effectively ties landscape architecture down to another binary-like condition—one that is confined to the geometric territory of the Klein diagram. To be clear, I am not necessarily critiquing her ideas, as I tend to agree with the dismantling of binaries and restrictions imposed by modern discourse, but rather her method of representing the shift from binary to categorical and her use of the phrase “expanded field,” as I believe they limit the deconstruction of modern interpretations of landscape architecture theory.

I think it would be more useful to graphically describe the “nature of difference” in landscape architecture through a representation of flows or rhizomes that are not “expanded,” but uncovered gradually over time as people begin to better understand the natural, cultural landscape that is always changing and has always existed (Krauss, 5). Rather than thinking territorially through the “expansion” of a “field,” perhaps we should think adaptably and openly through the uncovering of flows—looking not to multiple distinct categories across a surface, but to the interconnected roots underneath, which ground our ways of thinking.

not belonging

In the settler mind, land was property, real estate, capital, or natural resources. But to our people, it was everything: identity, the connection to our ancestors, the home of our nonhuman kinfolk, our pharmacy, our library, the source of all that sustained us. Our lands were where our responsibility to the world was enacted, sacred ground. It belonged to itself; it was a gift, not a commodity so it could never be bought or sold.

– Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, 17

Connection to land is something I’ve rarely experienced. Born and raised in “the big city,” I’ve only visited the land as a guest: foreign camper and hiker surrounded by RVs and flush toilets. One day, I did some weeding in a garden on a 300-acre sheep farm. I was sunburned and my knees were red from kneeling, but there was satisfaction in knowing that the beans could now grow better. I keep a number of house plants but I imagine they are awfully lonely and cramped. If only there was at least a garden of sorts, or even a larger pot for them. These few instances seem like my only connections with the land. These and food. But food, among many other services, are trucked and packaged in such ways that render the land invisible – as mere “capital” or “natural resources” (17).

I try to imagine how a “green” or healthy city might actually exist, and although there are many proposals and ideas, I think we need to stop and first reject “the settler mind” (17). I think it starts with the question of how people might begin a healthy relationship with land – how we might actually start to recognize beings and land as not belonging to anyone but themselves.

Step 1: say “hello” and “thank you” to the land. Introduce yourself. Listen. It’s harder than it sounds. Even if there are patches of soil here and there, they seem outmatched by the miles of concrete, steel, and asphalt strewn across the land, forced into the ground, and raised to the sky. What if electricity and internet worked like fungal networks, through organic material? What if water flowed through streams and marshes, across mountains, and into homes? What if we stopped modeling cities based on how much they can take from the land and instead how much they could give back? We would be thanking and caring for the streams and the mushrooms, our fellow beings, instead of glass fiber and lead pipes.

Step 2: give gifts to the land. Pumps, siphons, pile drivers, and excavators are tools of extraction – of taking from and hurting the land – and our primary tools of construction. What would be tools or devices of giving? Of deconstruction? Is it a matter of the device itself or the way we use it? Maybe it begins with planting a seed, and the tools of gardening and care.

Step X: work together. Relationships are not necessarily step by step, linear processes. Working together requires multiple interactions, unified movement, and nuanced organization. We learn this from ecosystems. There’s constant feedback, and as Robin Wall Kimmerer mentions, reciprocity.

impressions of optimization

If you read the professional literature, you quickly get the impression that the well-being of the forest is only of interest insofar as it is necessary for optimizing the lumber industry.

– Peter Wohllenben, Introduction in The Hidden Life of Trees, xiii

If you read the professional literature of any kind, if you observe the scenes around us, you not only get the impression of interest in optimization, but also the pervasiveness of global neoliberal market economies in our daily lives and common practices…