All to often one encounters in landscape architectural projects a complete lack of grounding, a profound ignorance of, or indifference towards the characteristics of the site or sometimes even a denial of these characteristics. The last case may be preferable to indifference and ignorance as it means the designer has in any case recognized these characteristics but has chosen to react or counteract rather than accept, use, cultivate and go on with them.
Landscape architecture is a designing profession, and it surely needs good and sensitive design, but landscape architects are not primarily artists.
It’s an applied art. And applied means ‘in the service of’.
In the case of landscape architecture that means in the service of the site.
It means less ego and more surrendering.
Less design and more understanding.
Less intervention more restraint, more respect.
Let the site speak and let the landscape architect first of all, listen.
Let the landscape architect take the characteristics of the site as the starting point for the transformation of the site to whatever use is needed or desired. A sensitive, ‘to the point’ juxtaposition of the characteristics of the site and the demands of society is the essence of our profession.
‘What is, is the great guide as to what ought to be’ Joseph Spence, historian, 1751.
In a utterly urbanized and cultivated world the future is transformation.
Transformation does not mean starting all over again.
It means taking up the existing and changing it into its next phase of existence in which old and new merge into each other, into something where old and new are no longer distinguishable as such but become a whole that is more than the sum of old and new.
The new grows out of the old, is cultivated out of the existing.
In that way our environment becomes richer, more dense, ever more sophisticated.
In that process of transformation the existing plays a crucial part.
The existing may be naturally, culturally and/or spatially characterisized (in our present world predominantly all of them at once) but let us not forget also spiritually determined.
A scientific approach is essential. Analysing the site and societies demands on it, a must. But that is surely not all.
There is always that something called the ‘Genius of Place’. It can only be felt by being there.
Landscape architecture may be an applied art, but that doesn’t mean it lacks art. On the contrary.
A sensitive, respectful, poetic approach of the existing is just as much needed as the scientific approach. The in between, that what is not to be seen, is often somewhat more important than what there is to be seen.
And it is just this playful, with the emphasize on playful, interaction between knowledge and intuition, between analyzing and feeling, between masculine and feminine, between determining and letting go, between matter and void, between intervening and restraint, between order and disorder, between inert and living, between static and dynamic that makes this profession so complex and rich.
Letting yourself go in the process of designing is a wonderful experience, one to be repeated over and over again.
The thought, concept or underlying order of a plan is definitely the essence of the resulting project.
A new ‘Genius of the Place’ grown out of and rooted in the previous one. In that way a real transformation of old into new without loosing the values of what existed but transforming them into new values.
Michael van Gessel
Berkeley, June 25, 2014