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Thread: Does anyone really understand landscape urbanism?

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Does anyone really understand landscape urbanism?

    I may be revealing some lack of intelligence or comprehension with this post, but does anyone else find the concept of landscape urbanism to be ... well, obtuse, indulgent and inaccessible? Published articles about the subject read like postmodern essays, and associated illustrations tend to be comprised of superimposed fractals and diamond cut-like shapes superimposed on a larger landscape, with no hint at any kind of human scale. There are also no hints given as to how landscape urbanism can be implemented, except for an implied "fire all the planners, and let landscape architects take care of it."

    A quote from Wikipedia:

    James Corner, in an essay entitled "Terra Fluxus," describes the main qualities of Landscape Urbanism:

    Process in time: urbanization is a dynamic process characterized more by terms like fluidity, spontaneous feedback, and non-linearity, than stability, predictability, or rationality. Ecology and systems theory are concepts inherent to the city.

    Surface, not form: horizontality and decentralization in places like Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston, San Jose, and the suburban and exurban fringes of most American cites is the supermajority of the American urban condition. As many theories of urbanism attempt to ignore this fact or retrofit it to new urbanism, Landscape Urbanism intelligently tries to understand it and find solutions for it. Landscape Urbanism uses 'territories' and 'potential' as well as 'program' to define strategies; it finds thinking in terms of adaptable 'systems' instead of rigid 'structures' as a better way to organize physical improvements.

    Form: the traditional character of the city; formlessness characterizes nature, that which has been untouched by human intent. This city/nature duality is critical to most theories of urbanism. Landscape urbanists argue that this is duality is naive and argue for a conflation of landscape and building.
    Try explaining that to your planning commissioners or city council.

    My simple working planner mind has a much harder time comprehending the meaning behind this ...







    As opposed to this.



    What concept do you think the public is more likely to understand?

    I also noticed that the majority of landscape urbanism proponents are European. European architecture and planning academics tend to focus more on the theoretical application of a principle -- the "poetry" of planning -- rather than practical application.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  2. #2
    Cyburbian HomerJ's avatar
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    I think it's a lot like certain architecture styles. Very artistic and ideologic, but very difficult to put into rational terms that everyone can understand and that become more difficult to put into a real scenario. What I like about their notion is it seems to place emphasis on the context of the landscape (although LU does not seem to acknowledge social contexts, or maybe I missed that). The problem I see is the same as NU, they think they have the answer to everything.

    I think it would be pretty cool if developers took an approach more like Landscape Urbanism and it would be our job as planners to say, "Ok, what is this and how is it going to work with our comp plan?" That might make for some pretty interesting projects. Just a thought.
    Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    I was part of as reading group after I graduated and we read and discussed some articles on this topic. Oh. My. God. I was really at a loss for how to apply this to the real world or how, even in the more concrete examples that were given, it was really different from what a lot of architects, planners and landscape architects were already saying. Except that now you can't understand what anyone is talking about.

    But if you want to have someone break it down for you, go here.

    You'll learn how to:
    • evolve invasive laminar flows
    • amplify visionary morphologies
    • enhance site-specific gradients
    • exurbanize vertical constituencies
    Gah!
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    I was part of as reading group after I graduated and we read and discussed some articles on this topic. Oh. My. God. I was really at a loss for how to apply this to the real world or how, even in the more concrete examples that were given, it was really different from what a lot of architects, planners and landscape architects were already saying. Except that now you can't understand what anyone is talking about.

    But if you want to have someone break it down for you, go here.

    You'll learn how to:
    • evolve invasive laminar flows
    • amplify visionary morphologies
    • enhance site-specific gradients
    • exurbanize vertical constituencies
    Gah!
    Are "vertical constituencies" birds, squirrels or people living in high rises?

  5. #5
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Linda_D View post
    Are "vertical constituencies" birds, squirrels or people living in high rises?
    Gotta follow the link. All will be revealed...
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  6. #6
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    Gotta follow the link. All will be revealed...
    Yes, the truth is there for all to see

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    "Landscape Urbanism" is the academic and pseudo-environmentalist equivalent of the crowd listening to talk radio and watching Fox News while believing that bike lanes are a plot by the U.N. to destroy the American economy in order to establish the one-world government prophesied by the "Left Behind" series.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    Gotta follow the link. All will be revealed...
    I did and it was. I was just testing you.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    LU is popular academically.. but I haven't heard of it since school.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    It's almost "organic" in nature. I think Frank Lloyd Wright would be a proponent of such if it could come from the human mind rather than a computer program.

    Nice design, now if we could figure out the proper "in-fill."

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    Major eyeroll over here on the concept. When did I become so cynical?

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    I find this very interesting. Over the past year I've had to do some research on a project to understand how to place a city into its regional context, and what all of that means for the city's future given a globally competitive economy. One book in particular helped my thinking on this, "Who's Your City" by Richard Florida. Some of the graphs on megaregions and their "spikiness" opened my eyes quite a bit. Upon reflection, my research was "external" - it looked at this particular city and compared it to other global regions. By comparison, Landscape Urbanism appears to more "internal" - looking at the composition and function of a megaregion as a unit.

    Dan's attached graphs make me think of Boulder, CO. I visted there for the first time last summer. For many reasons, it is a wonderful place. But what exactly is "place" when considering Boulder? Is it the experience of shopping, eating, and people-watching on Pearl Street? Is it the viewshed experience of always being able to see the flatirons? Is it the experience of a day-long bike ride out of the city and sharing the roads with motorisits? Or is it all of the above? And if so, how are these discrete aspects inter-related? To me, it appears that Landscape Urbanism takes all of this into account, helping to expand one's view of what a region is and what it encompasses.

  13. #13
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    I think it is another academic trying to put a new spin on an old concept. Not sure why academics think that they must produce some new concept all the time. Not sure what the fuss is about on this one...
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Hink_Planner View post
    I think it is another academic trying to put a new spin on an old concept. Not sure why academics think that they must produce some new concept all the time. Not sure what the fuss is about on this one...
    It's the "publish or perish" syndrome in academia. Somebody who comes up with the idea or theory that's "the next big thing" and gets it published gets tenure.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    I tried reading some of it once. I think heavy drugs are necessary.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    I'm sure this qualifies me as a planning hack (as opposed to the professional that I am ), but I don't get it at all. The concept, the purpose, any of it.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    All I know about it that Duany often criticizes it. Well at little more, its considering the land/region as making the "place" instead of the built environment, I think. Suburban sprawl is product of LU he would probably argue. I was listening to a webinar recently where he explained it and his dislike of the concept.
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    The biggest problem with Landscape Urbanism is that it completely disregards all observations about the way human beings choose to walk from place to place. So, L.U. perpetuates suburban sprawl and automobile dependency, which may be the ulterior motive of the proponents who, evidently, seek to argue that development patterns friendly to the oil industry are, in reality, ecologically-sustainable.

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    Quote Originally posted by Pragmatic Idealist View post
    The biggest problem with Landscape Urbanism is that it completely disregards all observations about the way human beings choose to walk from place to place. So, L.U. perpetuates suburban sprawl and automobile dependency, which may be the ulterior motive of the proponents who, evidently, seek to argue that development patterns friendly to the oil industry are, in reality, ecologically-sustainable.
    I was just about to say that it sounded like some way to make exurban subdivisions look environmentally friendly.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian
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    Here's the latest, biggest, and worst monstrosity of Landscape Urbanism: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/...75759Q20110608

    This spaceship landing on the landscape includes four stories of subterranean parking.

    Apple might as well be a 1960's-style conglomerate.

    "That's rather odd, 12,000 people in a building, in one building. But we've seen these office parks with lots of buildings, and they get pretty boring pretty fast, so we'd like to do something better than that," [Steve Jobs] said.
    Oh, and Mr. Jobs is so in love with the historic site (where Hewlett Packard started) that he intends to demolish every historic building there. It'll be a monument to douchebaggery.
    Last edited by Pragmatic Idealist; 07 Jul 2011 at 10:59 PM.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian Tobinn's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    I may be revealing some lack of intelligence or comprehension with this post, but does anyone else find the concept of landscape urbanism to be ... well, obtuse, indulgent and inaccessible? Published articles about the subject read like postmodern essays, and associated illustrations tend to be comprised of superimposed fractals and diamond cut-like shapes superimposed on a larger landscape, with no hint at any kind of human scale. There are also no hints given as to how landscape urbanism can be implemented, except for an implied "fire all the planners, and let landscape architects take care of it."

    A quote from Wikipedia:
    Try explaining that to your planning commissioners or city council.
    My simple working planner mind has a much harder time comprehending the meaning behind this ...
    I read the Wikipedia entry and I have no idea what the hell it means, I have no idea what the hell those chart-graphy things mean. Forget trying to 'splain to a council member - 'splain it to me!

    As far as the fire all planners thing goes. I went to college and got myself shiny B.A. in LA. You def. do not want LAs playing planner. You also do not want Planners playing at being LAs. From my standpoint, planners and LAs should be the best of friends. LAs (should) have a terrific understanding as to how the "real" world works, how people [I]use[I] their environment. Planners should, too. The difference is that Planners know how to write it all down and LAs know how to get it in the ground. Very simplistic, I know, and plenty of exceptions. Other than that, Planners and LAs have a ton of overlap - speaking from first hand experience having moved through both curriculums in college. But we need both.

    I may have gone off topic, sorry.

    Back to Landscape Urbanism - seriously, planning ain't physics. And we need less gobbledygook-speak not more.
    At times like this, you have to ask yourself, "WWJDD?"
    (What Would Jimmy Durante Do?)

  22. #22
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Pragmatic Idealist View post
    Here's the latest, biggest, and worst monstrosity of Landscape

    I like it. Not every program requires "urbanism".. an R&D campus or a national lab or Apple Computer's hq, may require a contemplative building set in a green field, where workers are buffered behind many tress. Not everybody shares your architectural sensibilities. There is no "right" answer to these things. Legislating a "right" answer to aesthetics is tyranny IMO. it is fair to legislate against problems (garish signs, for example) or in favor of the preservation of historical character, but neither is the case here. It is not fair to legislate a particular urban form unless there is a functional reason to do so, within a legitimate application of the constitutitionally-sanctioned police power that is zoning and land-use.

    And why do you think that a cheap tilt up office building built by HP within my own (still youngish) lifespan could possibly be worth preserving, from a historical perspective? I'll take the saucer, thank you.

    btw, I see no application of the theory of landscape urbanism in the Apple building. It's just a modernist building in a garden, doing homage to the best (or depending on your perspective, worst) aspects of the historical legacy of Robert Wilson's (in my opinion, inspired) work (Union Carbide HQ, Vicks Building, etc) from mid-century through the 1960s. In many respects, it's the antithesis of landscape urbanism. If you want examples of landscape urbanism, check out the California Academy of Sciences building, the Shell Oil building in Monteuil France, or even traditional Southern California adobe buildings where half the ground floor is inset into hill sod, with courtyards over that gruond floor at entry level (not sure if there's a proper name for that building type, but you see a lot of them around Old Town San Diego or National City, San Diego) .. an urban form that dates back to the Spanish era, I believe.
    Last edited by Cismontane; 13 Jul 2011 at 5:30 PM.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian
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    Dan: I too find it to be "obtuse, indulgent and inaccessible." And hearing Charles Waldheim's explanation at CNU19 shed no light, added no clarity.

    I'm attending this event in two weeks and will report back after.

    http://spur.org/events/calendar/what-landscape-urbanism

    Cheers.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    Off-topic:

    Quote Originally posted by Kevin Colin View post
    ...CNU19 shed no light, added no clarity...

    I'm such a rascal. Carry on.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Cismontane View post
    ... may require a contemplative building set in a green field, where workers are buffered behind many tress.
    How do you get 12,000 people to and from this spaceship every day? Do they beam there with some sort of green technology not yet invented?

    While Apple's progressive peers are returning to the city, Steve Jobs wants to encapsulate his people in this antiquated, Pentagon-inspired pod with an internalized design because, apparently, his workers need to be "buffered." The whole prospect is laughable.

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