250 Things a Landscape Architect Should Know (+1)

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There are two ways of reading a book, which vary according to the volume chosen. The first, the classic one, is to read them linearly, following a reasoning that starts from the basics and gradually unravels up to a final thesis. The second concerns those books that do not have a unique path, but prefer a diagonal reading, or rather in leaps, passing from one topic to another, depending on the momentary inspiration. 250 Things a Landscape Architect Should Know effectively lends itself to both reading modes. We can read it as a great story with several voices, a narration of the contemporary landscape, or as a compendium of reflections, many pieces of a larger mosaic to be composed at will.

As with various topics of human knowledge, there are no dogmas in the field of landscape architecture, and with this perspective B. Cannon Ivers, editor of the volume, faces the challenge of combining many different approaches in a single work, bringing to light what is perhaps the only truth of this discipline: landscape architecture is multifaceted and complex and, with good will, in its complexity we can find the stimulus for constant improvement.

Who is this book for? I think it can be easily appreciated by both established professionals and students. There are no limits to the knowledge contained here, because the landscape is a subject in constant evolution and draws on every field of knowledge.

Landscape is history, both of art and of man. Knowing the evolution of styles, the names that have marked the great projects over the centuries reflects the well-established thinking that, to design the future, it is necessary to know the past. In this regard, Peter Latz in point 120 offers a small taste of what it means to know a place, that is to know its history. The primary need for a landscape architect is to be aware of the stratifications and changes that have affected a site. Accepting in harmony what has come before us allows us to truly understand what could be the best possible design.

Landscape is relationship. Relations between living beings of the same type (between plant and plant, animal and animal, man and man), as well as between different living beings. But also relationships between beings and systems, between systems and other systems, between urban and natural spaces. The reports obviously involve incidences of various kinds, and related reactions. The agreement or disagreement of these links involves a discussion about landscape’s scaling (Michel Desvigne talks about it in “Interlocking scales”), or about the margins that connect / divide (“Edges matter” by Kongjian Yu).

Meishe River Greenway, Haikou, China, 2019

However, relationships can also occur on cultural level. Different peoples, communities and individual beings relate to different thought patterns. Landscape design cannot ignore knowing these aspects and the influence they have on the perception of a place. Marcial Jesus, for example, talks to us in “Play is not only for the Children: the city of the future will have playgrounds for adults” about the most innovative aspects regarding direct interaction with space, while Martin Rein-Cano proposes a analysis on how the creation of a conflict, normally perceived with a negative meaning, can be an effective means of creating interest in the field of landscape architecture. Charles A. Birnbaum explains the fundamental importance of cultural influence in design in point 35 “You cannot design with nature without designing with culture”.

Pixeland, Mianyang, China, 2018

The landscape passes through the lens of the most varied scientific disciplines, disentangling itself between the study of soil, climate, biology, botany, physics and many others. The soil as a support, plants, animals (including man) as elements, the climate above and all around. The narration of biological exchanges, or of information, is one of the topics most present in the book, starting with the intervention of Stig L. Andersson (The new nature is new), to that of Petra Blaisse (Life as we know it begins and ends in the underground), passing through those of Johanna Gibbons (Soil biodiversity is critical infrastructure) and Dirk Sijmons (Take a Holiday from being human), and we could go on.

Underground symbiosis

In addition to science, the landscape relies on various humanistic subjects, such as the arts (including in this very generic term every aspect of artistic creative expression), literature, philosophy, and ramifications of knowledge that study in depth the human being and the systems he creates; sociology and politics. This step is extremely important in our day, where practically everything is political. Sara Zewde at point 244 summarizes the concept in a few very effective lines: “Land itself is a means of production and a demonstration of power. To design a landscape is to project a vision for how a place ought to be. Some designs seek to reify the way things are; other are projections of change. Either way, designs themselves are campaigns for one or the other, and landscape architecture is an inherently political act “. Also of this caliber are the interventions by Kirsten Bauer (Landscape architecture is a political and cultural act), Yaek Bar-Maor (Planting is political), Aniket Bhagwat (Gardens are the last political spaces on the planet).

Midtown Activation, Seattle, USA, 2017

The landscape is and remains above all an exchange of knowledge, ideas, points of view. The book in question is a prime example of this. The landscape architects who intervene, form an international audience and, as already seen, the topics covered are the most varied. To be honest, only by reading the titles of the 250 points it’s possible to learn valuable lessons, such as a list of adages that condense fundamental arguments and current perspectives into the fewest number of words.

250 Things a Landscape Architect Should Know is not an atlas, a technical manual or an instruction booklet, but we can see it as a choral compendium, a path of discovery (or re-discovery), which shows the true face of the landscape, without veils, its most sincere essence: the landscape has no limits of form, it has no physical or knowledge boundaries. It transforms itself, in constant change, never crystallized, never static. It is the holistic object par excellence, where the sum of its parts will always be less than the whole. It is time, space, dynamics and life.

For this reason, we can always add one more to the 250 lessons in the book. In this regard, Mary Bowman, in the 23rd point, underlines that “Architects do not know everything”. Landscape architects collect the heavy legacy of ranging in every area of ​​human knowledge, through a “much broader vision of the impact of development on the natural world“.