Monday, 3 January 2011

Book - Landscapes of Landscape Design


Two recent books published by Lars Mueller Publishers are focusing on Landscape Architecture and both involve the Guenther Vogt probably the currently best known international Swiss Landscape Architect. Both publications focus heavily on the context and background of landscape architecture and quite some effort is put in to explain landscape architecture or even reinvent it. In this context it mas sense to review these books together.

The two publications evolve from very different contexts. 'Tree Nurseries - Cultivating the Urban Jungle: Plant Production Worldwide' by Dominique Ghiggi is developed in the academic context of the ETH Zuerich at the Chair of Guenther Vogt in the Department of Architecture. It is an edited book with numerous individual contributions to the broad topic of the mobility of plants. These articles range from the history of plant species and how they traveled across the globe to where they commonly grow now to seed storage projects and the industrial process of large scale plant farming.

The book 'Distance and Engagement: Landscape Thinking - Model Making: Walking, Thinking and Making Landscape' by Alice Foxley on the other hand is about the practice of landscape architecture and the research undertaken at Vogt Landscape Architects. Alice Foxley is head of research at Vogt Landscape Architects and has sort of summarised and conextualise the research undertaken in the practice during the past few years. This context is this case are realised projects. The publication aims to justify the two areas as part of the practice and is quite successful in this matter.

Tree Nurseries
Image taken from Lars Mueller Publishers / Cover of the book 'Tree Nurseries - Cultivating the Urban Jungle: Plant Production Worldwide' by Dominique Ghiggi and published by Lars Mueller Publishers.

A tree is a tree is a tree, but it might has not always grown and lives where you just see it now. As the editor of 'Tree Nurseries' points out in the introduction the natural elements like trees in our cities usually are perceived as the last artefacts of nature and evoke a certain sense of place since greens don't move, are immobile.

Reading through the book makes one quite quickly realise that this is not the case at all trees do move and especially the ones you see in your city definitely have moved a couple of times probably more often than yourself.

For example in the article 'The History of Phalaenopsis SP.' the editor tracks the documents the modern production of the orchid that is one of the most bought flowers on the market. There is very little to the romantic view one has on how a plant grows from a seed. The modern industrial production of is massive and strictly organised. Plants are produced by means of plant tissue culture in the laboratory, grow in trais and are watered and feed by machines, sorted and packed on the conveyor belt.

In another article by Brigitta Amman the history of plant migration in 'Tree Migration' is explored in more detail over millions of years, as a sort of tree archeology. This research is mainly based on pollen in soil samples.

How the movement and traveling of individual trees is tied to landscape design and how trees travel halve way around the globe is documented in the article "Tree Journeys' by Guenther Vogt. For a project for the Zuerich Zoo a copy of the Masoala Rain Forest was created in a purpose built new building. The required plants are sourced from around the world and the design team traveled for Bamboo to Madagascar, to Thailand for Fiscus Altissima and Artocarpus lakoocha, to Florida for Ficus benjamania "exotica" or to Malaysia for Ravenala madagascariensis. Of course they came back with quite some luggage.

One of the really fascinating articles is 'The Svalbard Global Seed Vault' by Christoph Seidel. In the remoteness north of the arctic circle at a latitude of seventy eight degrees, thirteen minute north on Spitzbergen a building stores a plant seed bank in the permafrost. This project of the Seed Vault is run by the Global Crop Diversity Trut and is sort of a "safety net, an insurance policy, a modern Noahs Ark". The building socks currently 526'000 samples of plants from around the world. It is however designed to host a lot more, about six times as much. An interesting project to store all these seed in such a location, where they couldn't even grow, or at least not now.

Distance&Engagement
Image taken from Lars Mueller Publishers / Cover of the book 'Distance and Engagement: Landscape Thinking - Model Making: Walking, Thinking and Making Landscape' by Alice Foxley and published by Lars Mueller Publishers.

Research in the context of a practice however a presented by Alice Foxley in 'Distance and Engagement' is different and at first the strange feeling about it can not be described. In a competitive environment as todays design practices are finding themselves, the 'luxury' of research as research is hardly something many do. The focus is on producing a project working along a tight schedule coordinating different phases and finalize on time and by making some profit. Of course analysis and background research is part of this an integrated at each step of the projects. This builds up a stock of practice based knowledge the employees share as a collective experience and ideally this would develop the practice as an entity creatively.

This idea of researching and then embed this in upcoming projects is a different approach and rather unusual for a commercial deign practice. There are some examples Atelier Bow-Wow or ARU run by Florian Beigel and Philip Christou. Other examples might be the research focused office practice exhibition the well known architecture offices of Rem koolhas as well as Herzog and De Meuron toured around the large Galleries and museums a few years back.
However in these examples the research is usually also a project, as for example Made in Tokyo: Guide Book.

The research in 'Distance and Engagement' is very experiential and practical, both for the design team as well as in regards to further usage in a project. Some are excursions to experience and see a specific landscape, such as for examples into limestone landscapes in Yorkshire. Actually the location were some of the scenes of the most recent Harry Potter Films are shot.

On a second layer the publication also presents realised projects and brings them together with the research undertaken. In the case of the Yorkshire limestone the project is the landscape for the roof of the sub terrain auditorium at Novartis Campus in Basel Switzerland. This auditorium is adjacent to the headquarter of the same company designed by Frank Gehry architects.

The researched features of the limestone landscape were transformed into a design landscape in an artificial garden and it looks like a limestone landscape. The process of rastering an aerial image of a location in three steps in photoshop and pumping up the resolution is described in detail. That the result is a limestone landscape is rather surprising, but formally the similarities are obvious.

Further projects described are the Novartis Park where the research focused on the local landscape around Basel establishing some isolated connections to other locations in Switzerland or two projects in London, one for the newly redeveloped Tate Modern and the other one for Parliament Square.

Both these projects' research focuses on the practice of walking and experiencing the surrounding at the speed of walking. This shapes very much in the style of Richard Long with walks on Dartmoor in Devon UK or different random walks in London.

Both publications argue that there is more to landscape design and that this context need exploring. In some sense maybe even aims at establishing an identity, a sort of history or knowledge of landscape architecture / landscape design.

And yes, probably this is truly needed for a profession that all of a sudden finds itself in the middle of a sustainability war, were geen is green and planting 1500 trees for the world exhibition can make the difference and a new urbanism.

Both publications are were nicely presented as beautiful books with a clear design, well they are Lars Mueller Publications. One is large and bold in colour rather like a magazine, only five times the number of pages, the other one is small, framed and formal, more like a document. Together they probably show the current state of landscape architecture research and practice.


Vogt, G. & Foxley, A., 2010. Distance and Engagement: Landscape Thinking - Model Making: Walking, Thinking and Making Landscape, Lars Muller Publishers.

Ghiggi, D., 2010. Tree Nurseries - Cultivating the Urban Jungle: Plant Production Worldwide, Lars Muller Publishers.

No comments: