*Under Construction* This is a provisional definition intended to get at and define a landscape ontology. If architectural practice is the material realization of singularities, and engineering is the systematic resolution of a teleology, what is landscape practice? This effort is not one of invention- landscape practice is fundamental and has always existed, and is common throughout the history of landscape architecture, farming, engineering, architecture and other professions. It is not a desire to diminish the importance of architectural or engineering practice or to rope off the practice of landscape from other professionals (indeed, some of the best truly landscape projects have historically been executed by engineers and architects, and many landscape architects have approached their projects as “outside architecture”). Rather, it is an effort to grapple honestly with the ambiguities and vastness seemingly inherent to our profession. Below I offer the five lines of an authentically landscape practice.
Territorialization– The demarcation and control of a specific piece of the earth’s surface. This can be seen in both the history of landscape practice and by examining the etymology of the word itself. A simplified argument can be made with the Spanish words “pais” (country as in “nation”) and “paisaje” (landscape). The close etymological link between the ideas of “nation” and “landscape” is something we hope to explore further in future work, but suffice it to say that surveying, map making, notational systems, or otherwise “taking stock” as well as bounding, fencing, patrolling, policing, or otherwise controlling the land are fundamental to landscape-making.
Generative Capacity– defined by engagement with the medium of landscape itself through abstraction, experimentation, cultivation or otherwise. It is in this way that landscape practice differs significantly from engineering which I define as a systematic teleological solution, or architectural practice which I define as the material manifestation of singularities. Generative capacity is best understood as an engagement with the land (defined as a piece of the earth’s surface) as a medium, not merely something that can be deconstructed and quantified as assemblages of geologies, biologies, and social patterns. Denis Cosgrove and Donald Worster have done much work to clarify this perspective.
Landscape is a Medium– Denis Cosgrove argues persuasively that landscape is a cultural product, a definition which he uses to pick through and tease out the capacity of the landscape to act as both source and resource in a capitalist society. Like my reaction to much of the theory that lines up with this position, I am persuaded but left wanting; it seems as if something is missing. This seems obvious to me when I realize that while our society, and most contemporary societies, is a capitalist one it is not a full characterization of reality. Not everything is explainable using that philosophical stance. However, it remains difficult for me to articulate just what is missing, or how this definition is inadequate. For now, it seems to me that the work of Marshal McLuhan is most helpful here. By positing the landscape as a medium (which cultural product can be a subset of), I am finding a more useful and complete definition for understanding how landscape can be simultaneously ineffable and undeniable, simultaneously a cultural product and cultural producer.
Potentiality– Landscape practice is tricky and ambiguous because it is concerned not only with possibilities (accepted operations within the territory- people sitting on a park bench, daylilies spreading in a planted bed) but with potentiality which serves to open up routes of deterritorialization. In the process of translating potentiality into a “quality or local manifestation” landscape practice is concerned with the transgression of the boundaries and limitations set up by territorialization or the material qualities of the soil or flora in a particular place. The medium itself is loaded with the potential to inflect or define the conversation at a given time, always in a contingent and ephemeral way. And this potential cannot be exhausted by any particular relation or manifestation. In terms of landscape, potentiality is the capacity of the medium that exists outside of the act of territorialization- the land in service to humans. Concern with these potentials, the indeterminant and contingent nature of landscapes, are fundamental to landscape practice.
Respecting Difference– With an emphasis on de/territorialization (delineating boundaries and transgressing them), generative capacity, and potentiality, a landscape approach is one that creates differentiation and heterogeneous situations and places- not the bland, benign mixing. Respecting difference is therefore fundamental to an authentically landscape practice. This difference is meant in the Deleuzian sense of the word, defined by what something is becoming, instead of by what it is not. In this sense, landscape is a queer practice, it is a practice that valorizes the singular rather than pursuing normative models. It is in this way that landscape practice is an educational project, not a formal or spatial exercise.