Transgressing edges and doing timeevolving new urban contexts

Raxworthy, Julian R. (2006) Transgressing edges and doing timeevolving new urban contexts. In Ludevid, Jordi & Sàrdà, Jordi (Eds.) Landscape : Product/Production. Association of Architects of Catalonia (COAC), Catalonia, pp. 282-293.

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Abstract

I have been asked to provide an outsiders perspective on an aspect of European landscape architectural production. That perspective is from the other side of the world, from Australia, where I am a landscape architect, academic and critic, and currently, a student. A useful place to start such an overview is right here, in Barcelona, the place where I first became interested in my current PhD topic, and the subject of this lecture – change in landscape architectural design. I came to Barcelona for the UIA Conference in 1996. I was very excited to be able to visit the urban projects that I had found in Quaderns. Somehow, here, architects were able to see things about the landscape that the professionals, the landscape architects, did not see. Visiting these projects, I was generally, however, faced with degradation. They were falling to bits as “designer” materials and details were proving unable to withstand the diverse and subversive use of the public they were designed for. They seemed to be provisional outcomes, to be tests. They were treating the city as a laboratory, an approach which I now believe is appropriate. I was disappointed however by the lack of a meaningful plant or horticulture component, to mediate a generally hot climate. In this architectural language of landscapes, vegetation assumed the role of architectural objects, to be strewn compositionally around, like a bin or a light. Expensive, over-detailed canopies rather than trees were used to moderate temperature. Areas of grass and garden beds of plants, when used, were poorly maintained. Overall, theses fledgling projects seemed older than their years – urban relics, designed terrain vague. There was one project that I was very excited to visit – the Valle de Hebron, by Eduard Bru. The design of the Valle de Hebron strictly utilised the topography of the landscape and infrastructure to structure a matrix of activity. Architecture became a device for negotiating the grade – making the whole valley a topographical megastructure. When I visited the project, many materials were failing, due to issues of maintenance. Unlike other projects, however, the vegetation at the Valle de Hebron was doing very well. Wide swale edges had been colonised by rushes and reeds. The design had created a form that allowed the conditions for such growth. This form had been able to engage the natural processes on the site and those processes were now producing new forms. To use an American jingoism, the vegetation was “value adding” to the design. The contrast between a degrading building and a growing producing approach was patently clear. Ironically, the kind of regeneration the Australians were after was not occurring in Australia, but was occurring as a by-product in Barcelona. During the UIA Conference delegates from European Colonial countries, of both Spain and English descent ended up socialising. While the conference had a focus (amongst many) of intervening in old and historic cities, for many delegates from colonial countries, this focus on oldness was at odds with the conditions and issues we were facing back home. These were to do with indigenous landscapes and vegetation, and with indigenous peoples and their historic cultures. We all wanted to develop some form of culturally and environmentally specific design language that spoke uniquely of our places, separate, but admired by the old world. Since the 1960’s in Australia, Bruce Mackenzie has been hailed as a uniquely Australian landscape architect. He created a language of landscape architecture for Australia that is as invisible as it is unique. It is pertinent to quickly discuss his work, since it goes a long way to explain my fascination with the reeds at Valle de Hebron and isolating a key difference in approach between Australia and Europe in the approaches to regeneration and design. In preparation for this talk I revisited one of Mackenzie’s biggest projects: a park and remediation effort on Botany Bay. Mackenzie recreated what he assumed was the original dune configuration, manipulating the topography with precision. Amongst this he planted indigenous species. The assumption was that they would simply regenerate themselves once they were taken “home” and the park would assume the position the dunes had once had in the estuarine ecology of Botany Bay. Revisiting the site twenty years later, the planting was reaching its end, and weeds rather than the indigenous species were regenerating. Botany Bay Park was growing on its own, but it was not growing like it was supposed to. It was turning into a mongrel beast. To my eyes, as a former native plant cult member, it looked all wrong. The weeds were winning. The Australian flora has developed to deal with very harsh conditions. The exact things that colonial development had sought to ameliorate were necessary for native plants to regenerate. It was ironic that they plants brought over for gardening do better than the plants that were here originally, and that the efforts of gardening now must be used to maintain the native plants. In Europe, however, on that trip to Barcelona, I was struck by the fact that the reeds that were growing at Valle de Hebron were probably weeds, but regardless of that, they were growing and contributing to the design. It struck me that Europe was a cosmopolitan place, a place where people and organisms had been moving for thousands of years. This seemed to lead to an attitude where growth itself, rather than a biologically arbitrary classification such as native/non-native , was valued as the central property of vegetation. I have now realised that humans can impose an ideology on nature, but it won’t respond with one. Its logic is strictly pragmatic and ecological. The physical does not care about ideas, although it will interact with them when they become physical. My argument is built almost entirely from reading European projects. My most basic interest in European landscape architecture projects that involve change and regeneration in their design form, is specifically because they are not Australian. These projects allow me to look at vegetation without getting stuck on whether the vegetation is indigenous or not. It liberates me to look at something I am unfamiliar with, and hopefully, this allows me to determine something of the key to the question. It is quite weird to speak to a room full of Europeans about their own productions, particularly when I have drawn most of my evidence and deductions from secondary sources, mostly journals, many of which are also published in languages I do not understand. Some of these projects I have visited, others I have not. Mostly, I have been reading images. Consequently, my arguments are speculative. I ask for your forbearance, as locals, for this reason, but trust that the argument itself, and the distinctions I am making within it, will be relevant to you.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 20351
Item Type: Book Chapter
Additional Information: Full text available on request from author
Additional URLs:
Keywords: European landscape architecture, Landscape construction, Change
ISBN: 9788496842335
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > BUILT ENVIRONMENT AND DESIGN (120000) > ARCHITECTURE (120100) > Landscape Architecture (120107)
Divisions: Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Built Environment and Engineering
Past > Schools > School of Design
Deposited On: 06 May 2009 05:15
Last Modified: 06 May 2009 05:15

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