LANDSCRIPT IS A PUBLICATION ON LANDSCAPE AESTHETICS INVITING AUTHORS FROM DIFFERENT DISCIPLINES TO INVEST SOME THOUGHT ON ESTABLISHED MODES OF PERCEIVING, REPRESENTING, AND CONCEIVING NATURE. STEERED BY AN EDITORIAL BOARD COMPRISED OF INTERNATIONAL EXPERTS FROM VARIOUS FIELDS OF VISUAL STUDIES, LANDSCAPE DESIGN RESEARCH, AS WELL AS SOCIOLOGY AND PHILOSOPHY, ITS GOAL IS TO ACT AS A REVELATOR OF CONVENTIONAL PERCEPTIONS OF LANDSCAPE AND TO CULTIVATE THE DEBATE ON LANDSCAPE AESTHETICS AT A SCHOLARLY LEVEL. THIS DISCUSSION PLATFORM AIMS AT REKINDLING A THEORETICAL DEBATE, IN THE HOPE OF FOSTERING A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF THE IMMANENCE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE IN OUR CULTURE, FOCUSING CRITICALL Y ON THE WAY WE THINK, LOOK, AND ACT UPON SITES AND NONSITES TODAY.
Professor Christophe Girot, Albert Kirchengast (Chief Editors)
Institute of Landscape Architecture ILA, D–ARCH, ETH Zurich
Annemarie Bucher, ZHdK Zurich
Elena Cogato Lanza, EPF Lausanne
Stanislaus Fung, UNSW Sydney
Dorothée Imbert, Washington University in St. Louis
Sébastien Marot, Ecole d’Architecture Marne-la-Vallee, Paris
Volker Pantenburg, Bauhaus-Universität Weimar
Alessandra Ponte, Université de Montréal
Christian Schmid, ETH Zurich
Ralph Ubl, eikones NFS Bildkritik Basel
Charles Waldheim, Harvard GSD
Kongjian Yu, Peking University
Manuscript proposals are welcome in fields appropriate for Landscript. Scholarly submissions should be formatted in accordance with The Chicago Manual of Style and the spelling should follow American convention. The full manuscript must be submitted as a Microsoft Word document, on a CD or disk, accompanied by a hard copy of the text. Accompanying images should be sent as TIFF files with a resolution of at least 300 dpi at 8 × 9-inch print size. Figures should be numbered clearly in the text. Image captions and credits must be included with submissions. It is the responsibility of the author to secure permissions for image use and pay any reproduction fees. A brief letter of inquiry and author biography must also accompany the text.
Acceptance or rejection of submissions is at the discretion of the editors. Please do not send original materials, as submissions will not be returned.
Please direct submissions to this address:
Chair of Professor Christophe Girot
Institute of Landscape Architecture ILA, ETH Zurich
Wolfgang-Pauli-Strasse 15, HIL H 54.2
8093 Zurich, Switzerland
Questions about submissions can be emailed to:
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CHRISTOPHE GIROT was born in Paris in 1957. He is Professor and Chair of the Institute of Landscape Architecture at the Architecture Department of the ETH in Zurich. His teaching and research interests span new topological methods in landscape design, landscape perception, and analysis through new media, and contemporary theory and history of landscape architecture. He cofounded the Landscape Visualizing and Modeling Laboratory (LVML) at the ETH in 2010. His professional practice focuses on large-scale landscape projects, using advanced 3D GIS techniques that contribute to the design of adaptive and sustainable landscape environments.
FRED TRUNIGER is a film scholar and curator. He studied Film and German Studies at the University of Zurich and the Freie Universität in Berlin and received his PhD from the ETH Zurich in Landscape Architecture. He is the head of the research focus “Visual Narrative” at the School of Art and Design of the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts.
Provisional Notes on Landscape Representation and Digital Media
Another Green World
Going to Measures—Cultivating and Appreciating the Contemporary Landscapes
Janike Kampevold Larsen
The Return of Proximity
Elena Cogato Lanza Translation: David Mason/Architran
Urban Cuttings: Sections and Crossings
Frédéric Pousin Translation: Céline Mansanti
Panoramique—Panning over Landscapes
Volker Pantenburg Translation: Ben Letzler
Christian Schmid Translation: Cecile Brouillaud
The Environmental Self and its Travels Through Imaginary Landscapes
Between Topic and Topography: The Landscapes of Eric Rohmer
This first issue of Landscript, entitled Landscape Vision Motion, brings together knowledge from different professions, influencing the evolution of landscape thinking—such as architecture, film, video, sociology, geography, and history. It is a collection of ideas about landscape, taking effect not only at the level of planning and design, but also of vision and image making.
The interaction between landscape and image has evolved over the course of history, with progress in visual thinking in many cases setting a conceptual precedent in anticipation of design. Landscape traditions have often relied on a combination of word and image to brand landscapes with deeper symbolic meaning. But the present medial condition does not reflect the immense impact of digital reality on our collective perception of landscape. A deep schism has arisen between established forms of pictorial convention in landscape, and the substantive dematerialization of our imagination through time-based media. Landscript is here just to remind us of the intricacies in our way of seeing, thinking, and projecting.
Landscape Vision Motion is an anthology opened by Charles Waldheim. In his text, he asserts that mapping and cartography have gradually reached the limits of their own success. He proposes that the use of video and a new form of landscape representation, which he calls “animation through sequential photography,” could yield a better sense of social and political relevance. In the second contribution to the book, Eelco Hooftman points to his practice’s visualization technique as a creative argument on the role of the visual and emotional in contemporary landscape representation. In doing so, he contributes a clear statement from the core of the discipline. Janike Kampevold Larsen urges for a more critical approach to the contemporary practice of landscape measuring. According to Larsen, the area pertaining to the present-day study of landscape is often some sort of “middle ground”—quoting a term David Leatherbarrow introduced to the theoretical debate. This middle ground is considered neither a design process, which tends to focus on smaller units, nor a total constructed vista of picturesque landscape based on perspective.
Elena Cogato Lanza looks at mapping and calls for a return to proximity as a factor of future town and landscape planning. She takes into consideration examples of the Grand Pari(s) de l’agglomération parisienne, the international consultation on the future of the Paris agglomeration, using an approach that she coins “design criticism.” In the text that follows, Frédéric Pousin argues for a reintroduction of crossings and sections. He pleads for a reconsideration of the urban transect because its basic relationship to space is about the route. Instead of totalizing the global vision of the map, the transect bears a clear directionality and often takes the form of a performative, experiential act—it evades any preconceived “territorial a priori” thus leaving the field open to new ideas and views about the urban landscape.
In his text Panoramique—Panning over Landscapes, Volker Pantenburg concentrates on a certain filmic technique to discuss a “taxonomy of the pan,” which is based on a deliberate choice of filmic examples, tracing its origins and potentials. Christian Schmid draws parallels from film akin to Henri Lefebvre’s famous theory of space in his La production de l’espace (1974) and corroborates with examples of Swiss film of the nineteen-seventies and nineteen-eighties, especially Reisender Krieger (Traveling Warrior) by Christian Schocher. This medium seems not only appropriate to depict the qualities of the “lived space,” as Lefebvre calls one of its three dimensions, but it represents—in Lefebvre’s own terms—what cannot be fully explained through any other analytical tool. Robin Curtis discusses two avant-garde films with an interpretation of the “self,” as laid out theoretically by Eric Neisser. She demonstrates how much potential film as medium offers its viewers in terms of representing the embodied self in a flow of images. Finally, Sébastien Marot presents the French filmmaker Eric Rohmer, who shows a rare filmic concern by taking a close look at how cities, towns, and landscapes are perceived and developed in the politics of design.
In preparation to this book, the Landscape-Video Conference Blicklandschaften, organized by the Chair of Professor Christophe Girot, was held at the Semper Aula of the ETH Zurich May 14–15, 2010. International experts from various professional backgrounds discussed contemporary visual theory in reference to landscape.
This conference was designed as a place not only to discuss, but also to experience visual representations of landscape. An exhibition shared the student work from the Chair’s Media Lab and offered an exceptional experiential event in the form of a giant Camera Obscura booth. Thanks to this installation, visitors to the Polyterrasse of ETH Zurich had the rare chance to catch a glimpse into the past of human perception. The booth had been assembled at the edge of this vast public terrace, overlooking the city from an elevated point of view. The image produced by the Camera Obscura moved slowly around, panning over the city, the entire terrace, and the main building of the ETH. Upon entering the dark box of the Camera Obscura, visitors witnessed a live reflection of the city projected on a large convex shaped disk, and could also hear a live transmission of sounds from Zurich: the box operated a rotating turret on top of the chamber enhanced by a large lens and an acoustic ear.
This ancient mode of looking at the landscape was coupled in motion with another optical canon inherited from the history of landscape vision: the filmic pan(orama). Even though the image reflected on the disk showed nothing but the immediate surroundings, this archaic visual act—always in motion—called into question the manner in which we actually perceive and pay attention to our environment. This unusual piece of world viewing facilitated by an elaborate technical installation served as a reminder, both historical and aesthetic, of a long tradition in landscape visualization. If ways of seeing the world change and evolve with each period of history, what is there left to learn about a contemporary art of looking at landscape in the digital age?
The goal of Landscript is to reflect critically on how visual thinking can operate when the single painterly image defining a landscape can no longer play the cardinal role it used to. Digital media, far from being fixed, is evanescent and allows for countless electronic images and messages to stream and collide in a constant flux of impressions without a specific point of reference. Such an absence of perspective provokes a spatial dislocation of the landscape image we carry in us. This de-nucleation of the landscape image through media, has significantly weakened the foundations of a long pictorial heritage. The challenge in the advent of digital media and film—and its widespread diffusion in society—is not so much to comment on these changes in terms of visual parameters; but rather to understand what effect it will have on the particular attention we grant to landscapes and their making. This only partly explains why a broad disinterest in landscape aesthetics has gripped our society. What landscape actually lacks now is a clear symbolic order, in light of all the priorities we have piled onto it—namely energy, food supply, transport, and ecology to mention but a few. Because of the generalized medial shift in a global visual culture, the field of landscape design and aesthetics is in dire need of a new and stronger qualitative definition. With Landscape Vision Motion, an open scholarly series of publications is being launched, which will critically discuss the significance of landscape aesthetics through an established intellectual tradition ranging from philosophy and history, to design theory and film science. It will address the spatial realm we live in—with its distortion, divergence, and relativity resulting from the duplicity of transport and motion— and its impact on landscape perception.
This book would not have been possible without support from the Swiss Cooperation Programme in Architecture (SCPA). I think particularly of Professor Dr. Pierro Martinoli, who headed the SCPA project, Professor Dr. Ralf Eichler President of the ETH Zurich, who was part of the Governing Board, Professor Dr. Luca Orteli, director of the Institute of Architecture at the EPFL, and Dr. Elena Cogato Lanza for her great collaborative effort on this project.
For the Blicklandschaften event staged at the ETH in 2010, I wish to acknowledge the team from the Media Lab: Dr. Fred Truniger for the organization of the conference; Dr. Sabine Wolf and Susanne Hofer for the organization of the exhibition and the publication of Cadrages II with its DVD; and Nadine Schütz, who led the Camera Obscura audio visual installation in collaboration with the Chair of Quantum Optics of the ETH and the ICST Institute of Contemporary Sound at the HGK Z. My gratitude also to all the other members of the Chair who made the final installation of this exhibition possible despite horrendous climate conditions in Zurich during the month of May 2010.
© President and Fellows of Harvard College (the legal entity).
A surface interpolated with SYMAP 3. Source: Red Book 1966, page I3, Harvard University Graduate School of Design.
In much of the most interesting practices of contemporary landscape representation, the two dominant historic paradigms of landscape representation in the West—the synoptic model and the scenario-based sequence of views—intersect in new hybrid forms. The idea of geo-referenced data and photography interpolated from crowd sourcing is an interesting new development on what has been a half-century of digital development in complex mimetic models of natural and cultural landscapes. On the other hand, there has of course been a very strong tradition—some would say origin—of landscape in the West based on the painting or view. Both of those models of landscape representation, the synoptic that aspires to model the world and the scenario-based that seeks to construct a narrative in it, predate contemporary interests in digital media. Both models have also benefitted from decades of development through explicitly digital computational platforms. Both of these dominant representational paradigms are going through their own internal transitions, and there is much interest in the potential for overlaps and intersections between the two.
The synoptic paradigm of modeling is increasingly moving from a history of government controlled, highly militarized, centralized top-down modeling toward an increasingly open sourced promiscuity of reference. At the same moment, the scenario-based landscape representations that have become so familiar over the last twenty years is growing fatigued, some would say clichéd through imprecise usage and overexposure. In place of these two exhausted paradigms, there is increasing interest in video or animation work as time-based media capable of reconciling the historic demands of landscape representation with contemporary visual culture and digital media or computational platforms in architecture.
Antoine Picon’s new book Digital Culture in Architecture offers a timely and provocative reading of these questions and explores the potential import of digital media for contemporary architecture. Picon argues that the impact of digital media and culture on architecture may be as significant an epistemological shift as the development of linear perspective in the renaissance. While it is true that landscape architecture has its own distinct history and disciplinary autonomy, it would be equally true to say that landscape representation has historically been bound up in, if not bounded by, architectural culture and representation.
It has long been established that landscape as a cultural form emerged at the same moment in two of the most urban, densely settled, and economically developed regions in Western Europe. It is equally well established that landscape emerged in the West as a genre of painting and theatrical arts, well before it was adopted as a way of seeing or mode of subjectivity; and long before it happened to be concerned with physical intervention in built or natural environments. Landscape has always been a product of urbanity and has always been mediated. Media have constructed landscape, and there can be no landscape as such that elides mediation. This suggests that landscape is not synonymous with garden, and that landscape is a culturally constructed form of vision. Landscape is not universal; it is endemic to the species, nor ahistorical. Landscape as a form in the West is fundamentally bound up in the recording and reception of pictures; the production and consumption of those pictures and the human subjectivity they imply has always been mediated. If landscape has been constructed as a mode of vision and representation at various historical moments, what does it mean to think about landscape representation today in contexts of digital media?
Beginning in the nineteen-fifties and -sixties, there were a very small number of institutions that were beginning to look at digital media vis-à-vis landscape architecture. One of the first was the Laboratory for Computer Graphics founded in the mid-nineteen-sixties at Harvard. The Laboratory or “Lab” as it came to be known, was founded at Harvard with funding from the Ford Foundation to explore the role of digital applications and computer graphics for the social, spatial, and urban problems of the American City. Harvard had one supercomputer in 1965 and users assembled punch cards and got in line to have them processed. While this work was still quite crude by contemporary standards, the Lab developed software and hardware to represent the challenges of the American City. Beginning in 1967, video was used at the Lab as a means to record and disseminate animations generated from the SYMAP program that the Harvard Laboratory ran in the late nineteen-sixties. In one of its first applications, a video was made illustrating the growth of Lansing, Michigan. Those early attempts to use video to develop digital modeling techniques tended to focus on social, environmental, and urban challenges. They also very quickly began to identify the potential role that video might play in discussions of landscape architecture. In the third edition of the Lab newsletter Context, under a heading called “audio-visual,” members of the laboratory described potential uses of video in landscape and urban design circa 1972: “…videotape recording (VTR) is a relatively new development in communication technology, and although it is being used for business purposes in university communities, its potential as an educational, operational, or planning tool has not yet been comprehensively explored and tested by the design professions.”
One of the goals of the Lab was to aggregate ecological, sociological, and demographic data and to spatialize that data. In this regard, the laboratory was a peer institution with a range of other institutions across North American and Europe trying to harness the capacity of computation to visualize data in service of better social policy and planning decisions.
Carl Steinitz was among the GSD faculty in landscape architecture working in the Lab, and he engaged in digital media in relation to landscape planning. He came to the Lab after his completion of a PhD at MIT, where he worked with Kevin Lynch. Steinitz took from his work with Lynch an interest in the structure of the city and its experience by human subjects. He offered design studios focusing on the potential of computation to inform ecological and social planning projects at the so-called large scale. This work was done on various platforms, and its earliest examples predate the effective use of large high-resolution monitors. In these early examples, it was most often printed in a crude output on paper.
Those early examples of digital media in landscape representation were almost exactly contemporaneous with the “No Stop City” project by Andrea Branzi and Archizoom. Branzi and his colleagues in Archizoom developed their drawings on typewriters in 1968 to evoke the early digital outputs they sought to emulate and parody. At more or less the same time in the late nineteen-sixties, the Italian neo-Marxian urbanist Branzi was using typewriter strokes on A4 paper to simulate a kind of digital media transcription that was itself being developed by Steinitz and his colleagues at the Lab. At the same moment, Ian McHarg—working at University of Pennsylvania—was developing analogue techniques of composite overlay analysis from ecological and sociological data.
While the Lab at Harvard did briefly examine video as a medium of landscape representation, the medium never made it beyond forth or fifth in the Lab’s overall strategic priorities, as evidenced by staffing decisions and research funding. Most of the intellectual energy of the Lab went into mapping and modeling that ultimately produced platforms such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS). One goal of the Lab’s digital mapping work was to model social, demographic, and population data. Another goal was to model environmental and ecological data. These tools were intended to inform urban and environmental planning practice through spatializing empirical knowledge.
By the mid-nineteen-seventies, the Lab—which had been at its peak about forty researchers and staff—had shrunk to a core group of about a dozen people. The Lab was generating revenue through licensing proprietary software for profit and it was focusing more of its energies on GIS. A number of the members of the laboratory went on to form private spin-off companies, and that technology transfer produced a demand for GIS and associated services within the public sector at federal, state, and regional scales.
The Lab persisted with its interests in abstraction and demographics through the nineteen-seventies. Much of the intellectual curiosity and practical energy of that work was focused on building more robust mimetic models of natural environments. It worked on studies for the US Forest Service in the late nineteen-seventies, in which they sought to model complex natural environments through the spatialization of empirical knowledge. This goal of this work was the construction of a mimetic model; the idea being that one could build a digital model that was sufficiently detailed and robust enough to stand in for the complexity, indeterminacy, and autonomous agency of the natural world itself. More contemporary versions of this mimetic modeling are available today with ubiquitously available off-the-shelf software and conventional commercial hardware replacing the Lab’s proprietary custom software, yet sharing the Lab’s focus on the mimesis of nature through digital environments.
© President and Fellows of Harvard College (the legal entity).
Three basic map types from the cover of the SYMAP manual: conformant, proximal, and contour. Source: SYMAP Manual, 1975, front cover: LAB_LOG 1978, Harvard University Graduate School of Design.
© President and Fellows of Harvard College (the legal entity).
US population in the given year. Source: Dutton 1979. American Graph Fleeting Documentation.
For many, this work reached an epistemological dead end in at least two ways. First, in spite of the rapid growth of computing speed and capacity, the complexity of the natural world continues to elude modeling. Second, over the past decades, design culture has emerged as the framework much urban decision-making. Much of the impetus behind these models was based on the assumption that more accurate models of the natural world and greater ecological knowledge could improve social and environmental policy. This was based on the reasonable sense that if policy makers had access to environmental and demographic information, they might be led to make more socially just and environmentally healthful decisions about the built environment. Tragically, at the moment that digital media was allowing greater empirical data to be spatialized and visualized for planning practice, the political economy in the United States began to favor laissez-faire modes of deregulated urbanization. Over the past decades, North American urbanization has continued apace, largely driven by speculative capital and absent the most robust forms of digitally informed planning practice afforded by the research of the Lab at Harvard and its international peers.
Over the past two decades, various alternatives to the paradigm of digital modeling of empirical knowledge in service of planning practice have emerged in the context of postmodernism and landscape architecture. Among those critical of positivistic models for planning, James Corner has argued for the centrality of landscape representation to the eidetic operations and imaginative capacity of landscape as a medium of design. Corner was himself a student of McHarg at Penn, and was trained in McHarg’s overlay analysis as well as GIS. In his groundbreaking 1996 publication Taking Measures Across the American Landscape (co-authored with Alex MacLean), he advocated for the conflation of aerial photography, scientific knowledge, and cultural reference that would come to inform a postmodern sensibility of landscape representation. With Taking Measures and a decade of comparable journal articles and competition entries, Corner introduced a scenario-based alternative to the positivistic legacy of landscape planning through digital modeling.
In this project, his work was influenced by the work of architects and architectural theorists such as Bernard Tschumi and Rem Koolhaas. Among Corner’s first courses, which he taught as an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania in the late nineteen-eighties, was a course titled “Landscape and Representation.” Each week, students in the MLA Program at Penn were invited to examine an historic era of drawing production from architectural culture and to situate them in various critical historical perspectives. Not coincidentally, Tschumi was himself a member of the architectural neo-avant-garde who aspired to bring the filmic, scenographic, and programmatic back into architectural discourse. Among the projects available to Corner’s students was Tschumi’s Manhattan Transcripts and its narrative driven, scenario-based filmic approach to architectural discourse in the nineteen-seventies and -eighties.
Corner’s reading in the nineteen-eighties and -nineties of the architectural neo-avant-garde’s project of recuperating representational strategies of the historical avant-garde produced the most recent paradigm shift in landscape representation. It was a revolution that, ironically, was much less digitally informed than the work of the Lab at Harvard in the nineteen-sixties. His project, as it came to inform theories and practices of landscape representation internationally, is essentially collagic: it is based on media from the nineteenth century, rubber cement and magazines, cut and pasted.
Much of this capability happens to be reproducible now through off-the-shelf platforms such as Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Thus, we tend to associate it today with digital media, but it is fundamentally an analogue mode of work that has been automated through software. For many, this collagic strain of work that was at its inception so promising, has come to its own apotheosis, its own dead end. This has happened as the visual culture of landscape representation has come to be dominated by anemic collage reproduction, and most often appears exhausted. And this state of affairs persists today, as our two most dominant paradigms of landscape representation have reached their own unique points of exhaustion. One truly digital, yet constrained by its positivistic faith in reason; the other fundamentally analogue, yet leavened by virtue of its cultural relevance. Both exhausted by mindless repetition, imprecise usage, and overexposure.
Given this state of play, how might landscape architecture move forward in the space of digital media and representation? There are at least three tendencies in contemporary work that one could identify going forward today. The first, stems from a revision of the kind of mimetic modeling that was first authored at the Lab at Harvard in the nineteen-sixties. In this work being experimented with by Christophe Girot and his team at the ETH Zurich, the top-down, hierarchically structured modeling of complex urban and natural environments is informed by open-sourced or crowd-sourced information and hybridized with photographic and narrative contents. The promise of this approach includes a return to the empirical basis of scientific modeling, while leveraging the cultural significance and mass availability of open sourced information. If successful, this approach might accomplish the kind of broader social and political relevance that many of the more scientifically modeled paradigms have failed to achieve.