Landscape instrumentalism understands technology as inseparable from human environments and behavior. There is no dividing line between of the organism and its technologies through which it mediates and metabolizes its surroundings. As a material practice, instrumentality- the intentional operation of these technologies- has long been cast aside and little understood by designers. The scaffolds, sump pumps, and dragnets are typically the concern of contractors, fishermen, and hobbyists. As a social practice, however, instrumentalism has a rich history in modern design practice.
As a social practice, however, a focus on instrumentality has a long and storied history in the design process. The use of tools and implements to move through space and mediate social exchanges has long been considered as a method for generating landscapes. Example range from the vernacular- the pop up tents at a local farmers market or the pickup truck and grill at a tailgate party- to the absolute pinnacle of professional landscape design the sinuous paths of Olmsted and Vaux’s Central Park designed for horse carts, and Lawrence Halmprin’s interest in the movement of bodies through space. In each of these case, the instrumental aspects of the technology and body of the organism actualizes the potentiality of a given environment. This actualized potential is the creation of landscape.
The development of sophisticated social-instrumental means have enabled the creation of enduring and appropriate modern landscape types, in particular those dedicated to leisure [recreation and commercial]. But continued development in this vein since Halprin has yielded proliferation of increasingly banal leisure-parks, with riverfronts and former industrial sites everywhere being papered over and populated with claritinmen- smiling yuppies flying kites and pushing bikes. It is the full realization of the commoditization of public space.
Meanwhile, one sub-current in the practice of landscape design seeks to grapple with infrastructural landscapes, while another intends to expand the agency of the inhabitant, enabling everyone to make their own place, if only for a moment. This will not be achieved with a continued fixation solely on the social-instrumental aspect of day to day interaction. A focus on instrumentality as a material practice might be the method that adds some steel to these well-intentioned impulses and enables the construction of new forms, programs, and landscape types.