The New Wave Of Folk Is On Impulse!

In an ide­al world, mak­ing land­scape wouldn’t be a pro­fes­sion­al job. Every­one would make their own with what­ev­er land they had kick­ing around, feel­ing out spaces as they went, direct­ly speak­ing to each oth­ers’ desires, along a com­pass that knew what could be main­tained over time. 

When we say In an ide­al world…”, we usu­al­ly do it so as to piv­ot as quick­ly as pos­si­ble from the sight of an ide­al world – why be daz­zled by such a thing? This piv­ot is meant as a bad-faith proof that it is not pos­si­ble to glimpse the con­tours of a bet­ter world. But the bet­ter world must be artic­u­lat­ed as a goal; and to be a goal felt to be worth striv­ing for, it must be fig­ured. And so we must envi­sion a world that can­not and shall not come to pass under present conditions. 

A land­scape pro­fes­sion is an evo­lu­tion­ary step. I would not wish it to be eter­nal or immutable. Like Loudon or Down­ing, turn­ing out mag­a­zines and ency­clo­pe­dias, land­scape archi­tects should work to make them­selves irrel­e­vant in as many sit­u­a­tions as pos­si­ble; rather, that peo­ple can access their own tools and form their own com­mu­ni­ties for what does not require exper­tise or consultation. 

friedberg manual
Friedberg, well in advance of our current "handcrafted" mania.

In how it appor­tions atten­tion and val­ue, this pro­fes­sion has lost sight of two of the most help­ful things it can do for the cul­ture at large: mod­el a rela­tion­ship of care, and spread prac­tices that are health­ful and ful­fill­ing. While the pro­fes­sion shows indi­ca­tions of mov­ing back toward both, for the most part land­scape archi­tects still hop about installing things with­out see­ing how they turn out; they are for­ev­er propos­ing and not spend­ing enough time sit­ting with and eval­u­at­ing. The mod­el of the project seems, in cas­es of high com­plex­i­ty or pres­sure, a nec­es­sary mod­el, and here some­thing clos­est to the work of a land­scape archi­tect should con­tin­ue to be observed. It seems most­ly a per­ver­si­ty, how­ev­er, to insist that the for­mal stamp of the design­er must trav­el beyond one area, or that their indi­vid­ual pro­ce­dures are so impor­tant as to need to trans­plant­ed. I can’t see a com­pelling rea­son why we should not fol­low the mod­el of Olm­st­ed as super­in­ten­dent and sim­ply charge lands to design­ers as a local inter­est, which would tend to cut down on absurd amounts of air trav­el and remote con­fer­enc­ing. The design­er, mov­ing from post to post in a career, would be act­ing on an assump­tion of care, and would I hope be rather more care­ful in doc­u­ment­ing what is and is not impor­tant to pre­serve in what they have shep­herd­ed through. 

The inter­est toward the kit of parts seems to be bend­ing in the oth­er direc­tion, toward mobil­i­ty and away from the assump­tion of per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty. But for now it still seems ori­ent­ed toward an in-group audi­ence, point­ed toward a pro­pri­etary mod­el of pro­duc­tion cap­ture (as with the ele­ments of the Lawn on D). Pro­fes­sion­als in land­scape could inno­vate instead in cre­at­ing tru­ly mod­u­lar prac­tices and ele­ments that they 1. would not mind see­ing used in any con­text where they had now been proven to work in prac­tice, and 2. could be read­i­ly man­u­fac­tured autonomously. 

With that genet­ic mate­r­i­al float­ing out there in the world, new forms of land­scape would arise at a dis­tance, with no need of thought lead­ers to dic­tate terms and mark out fashions.

detroit lots
From Detroit Future City's how-to website for citizen groups looking to remake their landscapes.

(February 2019)