Implications for landscape architectural design

Material Information

Implications for landscape architectural design can the concept of ecological expressionism and post-structuralist theory be integrated to inform designs for the future?
Owen-Bergland, Cynthia
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
121 leaves : illustrations ; 28 cm

Thesis/Dissertation Information

Master's ( Master of Arts)
Degree Grantor:
University of Colorado Denver
Degree Divisions:
College of Architecture and Planning, CU Denver
Degree Disciplines:
Landscape architecture


Subjects / Keywords:
Landscape architecture ( lcsh )
Poststructuralism ( lcsh )
Landscape architecture ( fast )
Poststructuralism ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references (leaves 38-39).
General Note:
Department of Landscape Architecture
Statement of Responsibility:
by Cynthia Owen-Bergland.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
41206045 ( OCLC )
LD1190.A77 1996 .O93 ( lcc )

Full Text
University of Colorado at Denver
School of Architecture and Planning
Cynthia Owen-Bergland
Master's Degree Landscape Architecture
Advisor: Peter Schneider
"Implications for Landscape Architectural Design: Can
the Concept of Ecological Expressionism and
Post-Structuralist Theory Be Integrated To Inform
Designs for the Future?"
May 10, 1996

The present study of design will require a greatly expanded
process in order to continue the development of the man-made
world in a way that is meaningful. As a starting point, there is a
need to understand the impact of the dramatic social, political
and technical changes of our time on design. In light of this
information, examining and studying new concepts and
methodologies become of extreme importance if we are to move
into a new era of design. The theory of Deconstruction/ Post
Structuralism will first be examined, followed by a brief
discussion of the implication of Post-Structuralist theory on
recent Post-Modernist thought and design methods and their
ability to adequately express the Post-Modern condition.
Current landscape theory and the concept of ecological
expressionism will then be investigated.
This proposal will attempt to demonstrate how these two
concepts could be integrated as a kind of unpredictable
conversation, studied not as a fixed track to a fixed destination
but as a conversation about everything that could be made to
happen in-between. The language of this conversation can start
to bridge the gap between the past and future without limiting
the variety of those possible futures.

Aim and Rationale:
It seems there is much heated debate concerning the "right way" to design.
What is appropriate and relevant to landscape/architectural intervention?
Is there a landscape/architectural aesthetic given the myriad of
sociological, cultural, ecological, political, and economic considerations? I s
it appropriate to revert to historical precedent because we simply no
longer understand our world and long to return to some utopian ideal of
the past?
It is perhaps beyond comprehension or ability to integrate all of these
ideas in a meaningful way, but an attempt will be made to at least look
partially at these questions with the intent of informing future design. 11
therefore becomes significant to look carefully at current theories and
attempt to discern which may have significance for the future and why.
The aim of this research will be an attempt to integrate two of the most
provocative theoretical concepts of our time in order to facilitate the
creation of designs that are pertinent and meaningful to the world in
which we live now.
Specifically, this study will examine ecological expressionism and
deconstructionist/post-stucturalist theory, with the idea that there is
potential to impact landscape design, as well as design theory in general.
Based on the concept that both of these theories have particular relevance
to current society, and that there is a need to examine the impact of

current sociological issues on design in order to use that understanding to
inform alternative designs, the theories suggested in this paper will be
explored as a tool for moving design forward.
As previously stated, we must examine what the dramatic social, political
and technological changes of our time are in order to understand better the
time in which we live. We all know that life has changed dramatically in
the 20th century, but most of us are unable to articulate exactly what
those changes are and how they affect us.
First, it is necessary to acknowledge that we now live in a post-industrial
society and that it is fast becoming a post-humanist society. Previously,
humanism organized the world to human capacities: humans were the
center and determining aspect of life. We were all the same because we
believed in the same guidelines. This was the universal manual- an idea
of the metaphysical as a set of rules separate from people but to which we
all adhered. Who we are now is not driven by the universal manual, in
part because politics, economy, culture, values and morals are no longer
consistent with or adhere to that metaphysical ideal. We no longer believe
in, or even believe that there is, a universal concept of being or system of
thought. The world is no longer anthropomorphic, singular and distinct,
but fragmented. The result is that we feel centerless, and we perceive that
there is no greater unity or order. Boundaries delineating a previously
coherent and homogeneous whole no longer exist.

Why is this so? Crucial to understanding how we now exist is the
examination of the primary shift that has taken place in science. Science
now has quite different concepts of how matter is actually structured
(Quantum Theory), and society at large is directly exposed to the
consequences of these structural shifts, particularly through the impact of
microelectronics. However, deeper questionings of the nature of cognition
and intelligence have also been affected, and these shifts on the frontier of
knowledge are often not mediated conceptually to people. Without
understanding, society is at the mercy of the world and, further, it resists
the unknown of which it is already an actual but involuntary and non-
cogniscient participant. Quantum theory has changed the universe forever
in that you never end up with things, you always deal with
interconnections. Nature appears as a complicated web of relations
between various parts of a unified whole. The new physics necessitated
profound changes in concepts of space, time, matter, object, cause and
effect- and because these concepts are so fundamental to our way of
experiencing the world, their transformation came as a great shock.
Whereas in classical mechanics the properties and behavior of the parts
determine those of the whole, the situation is reversed in quantum
mechanics: it is the whole that determines the behavior of its parts. This
premise will become acute in understanding post-structuralist theory.1
So, due to this basic change in thought, we are now living in the Age of
Information Technology where space is measured by time. Given that the
relationship of these two concepts has been altered, our internal
perceptions of space and time have been irrevocably changed. This shift

in the way we think of and perceive space also alters our previously
conceived notions of boundaries.2 We now perceive that cities today have
no boundaries within the previously understood context. Technology has
replaced the boundaries- much of the city does not belong to the realm of
the visible anymore. Physical environments still exist, and even have an
appearance of permanence, but abstract systems constantly challenge this
reality (and our perception of it and its permanence), primarily because
distance can no longer be considered a time factor. Speed expands time
by contracting space; it negates the notion of physical dimension.3 Society
now favors a sensibility of the disappearance of unstable images: movies,
television, computer imagery. Transience, impermanence and temporality
characterize our society, and the computerization of society has progressed
to the point that it has now become our observable reality. The result is
an information-based society which uses systems analysis to redefine the
boundaries of everything it examines.4
Politically, now more than ever, the question of power also becomes the
question of knowledge by computer. The decision makers attempt to
allocate our lives for the growth of power. In matters of social justice and
of scientific truth alike, the legitimization of that power is based on
optimizing the systems performance through efficiency. It is the logic of
maximum performance. The application of this criterion to all our games
necessarily entails a certain level of terror: be operational or disappear
from the system. The role of knowledge in this is as an informational
commodity indispensable to productive power, and is already a major
player in that competition for power.

We now begin to understand just how these systems drive our lives.
Money systems, government and political systems, economic systems,
language systems, philosophical systems- it is literally endless. Humans
are wheels in the machine of their own invention. We feel ever more
acutely the loss of a definable center.
Uncertainty, alienation, terror, fragmentation, loss of boundaries, a
seemingly unbridgable gap between reality and the ideal, all of these have
become intrinsic to the Post-Modern condition of humankind. The very
absence of a universal order is perhaps the thread we can all recognize.
We realize the utopia of unity is non-existent, and the implication of this is
that we are now required to define ourselves subjectively. Meanings
become limitless and subject to individual interpretation.
One larger implication of this concept for design is that because we no
longer believe in a universal system of thought, we can no longer adhere to
a group aesthetic. Simply put, we are no longer a group people. We are
individuals first, then members of the group. But the group no longer
defines itself collectively, and therein lies one of the problems of current
design theory. People are interested in individual difference. Our social
bond has become the language game (language is not so linear) and
communication establishes rules and meanings, but those meanings too
are limited to and subject to individual interpretation.5
Post-Structuralist/Deconstructionist Theory

With this in mind, we are now ready to examine current Post-
Structuralist/ Deconstructionist theory. A generalized presentation of what
Deconstruction really is will be helpful to start, but the focus will be on its
impact on current design, how it relates to our post-modern condition (as
described), and why it may be important for helping us understand our
world as it exists now.
So what exactly is Deconstruction/Post-structuralism? Most
deconstructionists probably would not be able to provide a definition,
and would regard the request for one as a manifestation of that
logocentrism which it is one of the aims of deconstruction to
deconstruct. By logocentrism they mean roughly the concern with
truth, rationality, logic and the word. In On Deconstruction. Jonathan
Culler writes To deconstruct a discourse is to show how it undermines the
philosophy it asserts, or the hierarchical oppositions on which it relies, by
identifying the rhetorical operations that produce the supposed ground of
argument, concept or premise. So first the deconstructionist looks for any
of the traditional binary oppositions that mark the Western philosophical
tradition of metaphysics. For example, speech/writing, male/female,
literal/metaphorical, reality/appearance, form/content, theory/practice,
nature/culture, mind/body, etc. The second term is seen as a
complication, a negation, manifestation or disruption of the first.6 (These
oppositions lie at the very heart of logocentrism with its obsessiveness
concerning rationality, logic, and the search for truth.) A deconstructive
reading would then show how these terms are inscribed within a

systematic structure of hierarchical privilege by claiming that the first
term is given a superior status over the second term. The
Deconstructionist then wants to undermine these oppositions by reversing
the hierarchy- which gives interesting results. For example, speech would
really be a form of writing, understanding a form of misunderstanding,
and meaningful language just a free play of signifiers. But this is only the
first move of a two-step procedure- un double geste.7 The second move
is to undo or displace the entire system of values expressed by the
classical opposition. The aim is to demonstrate how the system is undone
from within: the second or subordinate term has an equal or perhaps prior
claim to be treated as a condition of possibility for the entire system.8 9
This would, in turn, make both speech and writing forms of archi-writing.
(arche meaning principal or primary)
Given these ideas, it is also important to realize that Deconstruction is
considered an activity, an open-ended practice, rather than a method
convinced of its own reasoning.10 Deconstruction really cannot be reduced
to a formula: Jacques Derrida states deconstruction is, in itself, a positive
response to an altereity which necessarily calls, summons or motivates it.
It is an openness towards the other. (But, he doesnt necessarily want us
to agree. We agree to disagree.) Derrida is always concerned with this
question of the otherness of the other. It offers an insight into, or partial
presentation of, a totality which as a totality is unpresentable. He
deconstructs existing systems and then makes new from those pieces. In
putting the pieces together differently, he shows us that the old ways do
not work. Derrida remarks, this gives great pleasure. But what sort of
pleasure? The answer is that of the sublime. Lyotard has attempted to

link Post-Modernity with the experience of the sublime, which he defines
as the presentation of the unpresentable.11 Perhaps a more
understandable definition would be: If an object exceeds or threatens our
perceptual and imaginative capacities, through its totality of size or
complexity, or potentially destructive character, this can still cause us
pleasure, in so far as we are able to present it as excessive or threatening
through visual representation.12 This concept of the sublime will be
further discussed later as it applies to landscapes.
Deconstruction/Post-Structuralism In Relation to Architecture
To relate these ideas to architecture, we must first realize that the systems
of architecture are what limit it. No matter how precise the plans, sections
and axons may be, each implies a logical reduction of architectural
thought to the exclusion of other concerns.13 They are caught in the
system of architectural language, where the limits of that language are the
limits of that world. Attempts to go beyond these limits require the
questioning of these systems. It is then not difficult to understand the
architect Peter Eisenmans suggestion that the traditional opposition
between structure and decoration, abstraction and figuration, figure and
ground, form and function could be dissolved. Architecture could begin an
exploration of the between within these categories.14 Eisenman believes
these binary oppositions are deeply entrenched in architecture and that
deconstruction can operate by suspending the correspondence between the

two. We presuppose a reality already in existence, a reality waiting to be
deconstructed, and eventually transformed.
Deconstructionist architecture attempts to play with the deconstructed
fragments of that presupposed reality at the same time as the rational
structure of abstract concepts, while constantly questioning the nature of
architectural signs. Those fragments seized unavoidably introduce
ideological and cultural concerns, but do not constitute allusions to the
past. They are seen merely as part of the material of architecture. The role
is never merely to represent: representation is only remembered intuition.
The idea that Deconstruction is not mimetic becomes important to our later
discussion of ecological expressionism.
Russian Constructivism
The philosophical development and literary application of Deconstruction
was important to the theoretical development of current Post-Structuralist
theory within architecture. Also important was the development within
architecture that took place in Russia at the beginning of the century. 11
owes much to the Constructivists of that time and a considerable amount
of the present work stems from their earlier moves in this direction. Of
significance is the word from which the term Constructivism comes, which
is konstruktsia. This term has to do with the structure of ideas, with the
construction of arguments through assembling sequences of ideas.15 It is
a mode of thinking, an intellectual category, a certain ordering of the
processes of thought.

The Constructivists work belonged to a world in which mechanical
engineering was the basic logical paradigm of thinking- not todays
information-based world. This is important to remember. It is also
significant to note that the Constructivists understood that a shift was
coming and talked about its implications. Even though the kind of linear,
deterministic logic which the Constructivists saw as the essence of their
approach is no longer an appropriate paradigm for thinking about how to
design (we no longer see a building as having a one-to-one relationship, a
deterministic relationship to a particular function), the notion of
konstruktsia helps us to understand why deconstruction is a natural
phenomenon of our information-based society.16
The Constructivists already had an understanding of this cognitive
revolution as applied to mechanical communication, transportation, and
machine technology. They saw mechanical transport and communication
as permitting separation from centers: space now measured by time, and
that time being constantly shortened. They predicted Disurbanisation-
the process they defined as a centrifugal force and repulsion, which
reverses all former assumptions so that proximity is a function of
distance, and community a function of separateness. They predicted that
machine technology would disperse the services of the city, replacing the
needs of meeting which tied us in shared accommodations. How shall
we settle the urban populations and economic activities? Certainly not by
crowding, but by the principle of maximum freedom: ease of speed and
communication.17 Here is already an understanding of the Second

Machine Age as a spatial system. The implications of this shift are in part
what the post-structuralists are grappling with, and these implications
bring the discussion back to the question of space.
Post-Structuralist Architecture
These concepts of altered (perceptions of) space and time are presented
effectively by the work of post-structuralist architect Bernard Tschumi.
Tschumi asserts that humans have difficulty figuring out the difference
between conceived and perceived space. He wants to deal with human
beings in his work: to let space enter into the realm of our perception. If a
lack of definable boundaries and sense of permanence alters our
perception so that we perceive that we live in fractured spaces, this must
somehow relate to our man-made environment.
As designers, how do we do this? In the design process, architectural
theory has been about rules and standardization. Tschumi feels that we
will only be successful when we transgress the rules that determine
architecture. We must allow ourselves not to start with the rules and the
forms. We must start in the labyrinth of non-linear design, and to do this
we must start by experiencing the space- both sensually and intuitively.
So for Tschumi, transgressing the rules means connecting us with
eroticism, with the pleasure of the senses. It is a voluptuous architecture
that allows us to leave our brains behind and initiate thinking about our

sensual needs. This serves as a point of departure to begin thinking about
ourselves.18 19 It is logic Vs intuition, conscious Vs unconscious; it means
not describing facades but perceiving space and volume. It is using
experience to design, forgetting about mental images, designing for the
Tschumis work can provide insight into this process. The disjunctions of
the 20th century between man/object, objects/events, and events/spaces
confirm the lost unity between being and meaning. The Manhattan
Transcripts take as their starting point todays disjunction (separation,
disunion) between use, form, and social values. Three disjoined levels of
reality are presented simultaneously- the world of objects, the world of
movements, and the world of events. Tschumi asserts that only the
relationship between the three levels makes for the architectural
experience; and he attempts to maintain the contradictions between object,
man and event in a dynamic manner- in new reciprocity and conflict.
Remember, Tschumis work is concerned with the perception of space, so it
proceeds from subjective moves. Objective moves are given arbitrarily,
but articulation, implementation, and form depend on the person who
applies the move. It is not a simple cumulative process of logical
transformation for which instructions can be given to anyone. The element
of subjective arbitrariness enters into the selection of infinite images.
Spatial relationships and physical dimensions of objects that change with
each viewpoint make reality endlessly moldable. This allows emotive
attributes to change and unfold.20

Some of the foregoing ideas have been further developed by Tschumi in
the development of the Parc de la Villette site in Paris. Here the
communally functional and creative aspects of Post-Structuralism (or Neo-
Constuctivism) are no longer confined to theory but are given expression.
The work of Bernard Tschumi, Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas, and Zaha Hadid
are classified by Charles Jencks into an identifiable aesthetic that he calls
the Neo-Constructivist Aesthetic.)21
The park competition program was deconstructed, since Tschumi refutes
the modern understanding of social responsibility as functional program.
The current concern for context is at least partially rejected; contextualism
is seen as an excuse for mediocrity, a form of servility to the familiar.
Deconstruction seeks the unfamiliar within the familiar and displaces the
context rather than acquiesce to it. Intertextuality and anticontextuality
replace any directed meaning. The intent is for each observer and user to
add to the never-fixed meaning of the whole. The project manipulates
numerous elements, which reciprocate by structuring the whole. Its
varied layout and visible discontinuity are designed flexibly to exploit
disjunctions and dissociation. Revisions and combinations of the
elements, architecturally and socially, are not only possible but called for.
the main framework is designed to allow the differences of future
contributions to interact with its unstructured and uncentered principle. A
regular point grid, lines and surfaces make a fresh combination of previous
formula and are used to refuse precedence of program over architecture
and vice-versa. Classical rules of composition, hierarchy and order have
been disallowed. In some sense, it is an abstraction of social reality- the
follies can be viewed as elements which have no meaning in time and

space- perfect receptacles for an uprooted and confused mass culture. 11
attempts to make art from the heterogeneous fragmentations that
surround any modern city. It is about how things are now. What is
questioned is the notion of unity- the idea of order pushed to the edge.22
It is an attempt to make planning usefully unplanned, and can be
considered an example of a socio-creative philosophy of the future in
action, of art as open-ended social planning.23
Architecture is continuing to create works that are bringing experience and
sensuality back. Along with Bernard Tschumis Park de la Villette, Daniel
Libeskunds The Berlin City Edge, Frank Gehrys Vitra Design Museum, Zaha
Hadids Vitra Fire Station and Coop Himmelblaus Attic Conversion are all
works that allow for sensual, intuitive experience of space. Further
examination of these works is recommended to the interested reader.24
Implications for Post-Modernism
So, Post-structuralism is attempting to compensate for loss of center by
creating self-referential design. Is it possible to allow the meaning to be
left up to the user? Yes. Our creations are not sacred. The assertion is
that neither the architects meaning nor the user meaning is more
important. Perhaps we can now say that the meaning would not be in the
form but would come out through use, and the user applies the meaning
individually. This in turn relates to the concept of subjective definition of
self as a part of the Post-Modern condition. As designers, we need

flexibility not rules. We cannot lock ourselves into any specific principle-
(remember, deconstruction argues there is no ideal.)
Historically, society believed in architecture as an expression of itself, a
window into its soul. However, it was really an expression of the ideal
soul. This ideal soul commands and prohibits and becomes an expression
turned into the imperative. Therefore, architecture of the past, in and of
itself, implies a passive architecture that tells us what to think and feel:
the architectural imperative turned into the architectural authority.25 This
architecture of the past does not have relevance to us now as designers or
as a society because it represents the ideal we all used to believe in. This
leads to the conclusion that if there is no longer a normative rule, no longer
a cause and effect between form and function, architecture needs revision.
So-called Post-Modern Architecture avoids these intrinsic questions by
insisting on history, memory and tradition. If the concept of post-
structuralism is applied, and if architecture has traditionally been about
topos ( and the notion of topos is an idea of place), then cities today are
without place. They are examples of atopias. Peter Eisenman asserts
that we need to find the new topos by exploring the inescapable atopia of
the now.26
Can we deny the atopia of todays existence by restoring the topos of the
18th century? Some current trends in Architecture would have us believe
so. As we have seen, in other disciplines such as science and philosophy,
the method for producing meaning has undergone extreme changes. Very
little of this transformation of thought and conceptualization of man has

found its way into architecture. Architecture did not question its
foundations, but believed that the foundations for its Modernism lay in the
certainty and utopian vision of 19th century science and philosophy. But
now that vision cannot be sustained- all of the artistic disciplines have in
one way or another come to terms with the dissolution of foundations.
Modernisms self-proclaimed rupture from the Classical tradition was
illusory- despite the novelty of its imagery and the intentions of its social
program. The forms did look different, but the terms and manner by
which the forms gained significance, that is, how they represented their
intended meaning, were derived from the tradition of architecture.
Modernism attempted to deal with change but failed, although we perhaps
could benefit from a re-examination of Modernism to determine the extent
to which it relates to our current reality.27
What has been called Post-Modernism historicism in architecture has
failed even further in that it has avoided the task of reconceptualizing the
world completely. It is instead calling for an obvious nostalgia for the lost
aura of the authentic, the true and the original, which is often interpreted
as being the classical orders. This work has been called classical
revivalism, and the work of the architect Leon Krier can be considered a
leading example of this approach. Emphasis is placed on continuity,
wholeness and patching up the modern city. Krier asserts that he is
against architects who attempt to express the spirit of their age. He
argues that this is unnecessary because classicism is a language that
carries its own meaning. He believes that modern man is still the heir to
the luminous ideals of classical culture; it is where we belong. It is our
past28 Krier also believes classicism must be our future, stating Classical

architecture qualifies the totality of monumental architecture by
transcending questions of style, period and culture. As an art architecture
is concerned with imitating nature in its principles of beauty and
Krier refuses to accept the basic premises of the worlds current reality.
We have already established one of the primary conditions of Post-
Modernity is lack of permanence, in nature or anywhere else. His designs
are representative of mimetic, image-driven architecture, and have no
relevance. Kriers search for the authentic and true is in fact a repression
of the truth of instability and lack of universal meaning.
The result of this kind of architectural Post-modernism has been the mass-
production of objects which attempt to appear as though they are not
mass-produced. Post-Modernism destroys its own essence by the
aestheticisation of the banal.30 It doesn't help us understand ourselves:
there is no connection between the reality and the ideal, and the world
needs help in bridging that gap. We cannot pretend that post-modern
man can return to the ideals that Krier values: however, it is possible to
propose an architecture that embraces the instabilities and dislocations
that are todays truth.
As an example of this trend carried one step further, consider the idea of
the new suburbanism, perpetuated by architects I would categorize as
garden-variety historicists. Today's suburbanites long for "a sense of
community," but feel ambivalent about the ability of current design to
provide suburbs conducive to that. The sense is that the houses all look

the same, and the environment is sterile-an irrelevant mass-produced
group aesthetic. The catch-words of the latest design movements for
redesigning suburbia are "New Urbanism" and "Neotraditionalism." These
designers insist that the best solution to our modern woes is traditional
design. Their claim is "to replace charmless suburban sprawl with
civilized, familiar places that people love." 31 New Urbanism design
elements, such as front porches and picket fences, are only the outward
sign of deeper principles that do not reflect the post-modern condition,
much like Kriers capitals and columns. These designers are essentially
saying that we can "fix" suburbia by going back to "Grandmother's house."
However, it is merely a reaction to the mechanization of the contemporary
world. This architectural Post-Modernism is totally in line with the
mission of architecture according to history: invest a shelter with meaning.
It is still an architectural expression turned into the imperative: a passive
architecture that tells us what to think and feel. It attempts to impose the
meaning on us, and the message is still that this is the right way to live
and architecture is the representation of authoritarian power. Form still
follows function, instead of form becoming space and function becoming
So, the systematic application of standardization in architecture continues:
in the wake of scientific revolution, social upheaval and the application of
technological science to reality, this architecture would have us cling to
familiar orders without realizing that they are obsolete and worthless.
Again, the fact that those meanings are no longer relevant to current
society is the vital issue that is being ignored. In relation to reality,

function is no longer a universal rule, and tradition and style have no
meaning except to represent an interesting stage in the development of the
man-made environment. Attempts to restore the metaphysical ideals of
unity, meaning and tradition are negated by our current reality, (as
already described) Perhaps, however, the architectural response of the
Post-Modernists should not be a surprise. The magnitude of the events of
the 20th century have dealt a blow to our collective unconscious, leaving
our primordial associations unprotected.
Allow me now to return to the theory of post-structuralism as it attempts
to create self-referential design. It would have us turn our attention to the
existing, lived-in world: a world that is at once mediocre and sublime,
frustrating and exciting. The excitement of our world is precisely its state
of perpetual instability, including its constant and ever-changing storm of
images- temporary representations that force us constantly to reconsider
all of our previously held concepts of architectural figuration. Clearly,
however, in this multi-dimensional and fragmented world in which we
now live, we are in danger of ceasing to function as thinking beings:
inability to actively take part in the events that overtake us renders us
unable to involve ourselves mentally with the world. We are the victims
of mindless consumption: everything is consumed and nothing is
experienced. (It becomes more clear why Post-Modern architecture
literally runs for the past: as a society we do not want to face our
The challenge for design then is that it must constantly renew itself to
escape consumption, and make visible what has become invisible. It has

the power to invert a reality that seems senseless and make mediocrity
unusual. For now, an architecture with visual instability and no
methodology can escape consumption. It can echo and assert our time.32
Ecological Expressionism/Introduction
We are now at a point in this discussion where we are prepared to
examine landscape design with regard to the concept of ecological
expressionism, and then attempt to consider the theory of post-
structuralism in combination with ecological expressionism to determine
the potential implications for the future design of landscapes.
Ecological expressionism uses ecology in design not as representation but
as a transmitter of impressions and moods of a landscape. It not mimetic.
It is an abstraction or a reductive process where unarticulated physical
details and processes suggest the place. Inherent ecological qualities can
become expressional as a step towards understanding the relationship of
the natural world and the civilized world. The first step is to identify a
landscapes expressive qualities, reduce or abstract those qualities, and
begin to express it through design. Determining a landscape's expressive
qualities and giving expression to that inner experience through design can
reveal the essentials of that place. The expression and reflection of those
qualities can allow design to enter into the realm of a perceived and
experiential space, not a conceived space. This echoes the sentiments of

Post-Structuralist theory and its concept of self-referential design and
complements it, but the introduction of nature and landscapes introduces
an intriguing new element.
Nature by its very essence is an ecology of impermanence, and therefore
reveals through its infinite variations the concepts of time, instability,
motion and violence. Landscapes can reveal ephemeral abstract time and
now-time. (Looking at a particular moment as if it is occurring now, not
when it happened, and experiencing it as a now moment.) Seasonal and
daily changes show us human time. Continuously changing conditions such
as temperature, moisture, solar radiation, topography, erosion, and wind
give us the palette of color, light, texture and form that indicate change
and motion to us through sensual experience. The instability and violence
of nature is visible to us everywhere: through weather patterns, geological
eruptions and processes, vegetation, etc. Also, humankinds manipulations
(destructive and constructive) must also be included, for are we not of the
The classical concept of the beauty and permanence of nature now
becomes incomprehensible in view of the understanding that nature is the
embodiment of motion-flow: constant change and impermanence. We are
all in love with the idea of natures beauty. I would assert, however, that
it is not beauty as such that we are enamored with but the idea of
wilderness and its mystery. More accurately, it is that feeling of the
sublime that we are drawn to. The awesome place- it conjures up our very
beginnings and calls us to it.

Yet the realization must now be that nature exists within the larger context
of man- not vice-versa. We can no longer deny that we are the caretakers
of the earth. Still we know that nature continues to be a force, that it will
compel us and humble us, and that ultimately, it may prove vaster than
our technologies and larger than our egos. It remains that it is not as
simple as saying that overcoming nature is no longer a significant problem.
Contemporary Landscapes: Expressions/Influences on Ecological
Man historically has grappled with his relationship to the environment and
has defined place as the mark of his struggle to overcome nature, and as a
result mans relationship to the landscape became a significant expression
of culture.33 Historical landscape works say something about their time
and culture much as architecture did, and examples proliferate:
Stonehenge, whose purpose we imagine to be a pagan decoding of
terrestrial and astronomical mysteries; Vaux-le-Vicomte and Versailles
expressed the bravura of an age that believed that in simple geometric
shapes lay the key to the intelligible order of the universe; and in 18th
century Britain we saw the formation of gardens such as Stowe and
Stourhead and other vast landscaped parks that conformed to the Arcadian
ideal and the recreation of a prelapsarian paradise.

In todays world technology is overwhelming nature and mans marking of
his conquest of nature is no longer of the same previous significance, but
expressions of general culture and existence are relevant- we want to
express what the world is about now. The human imagination is no less
powerful or vivid than in previous eras but methods and motives are
better understood and less romanticized. The purpose of certain
contemporary landscape work in some ways is similar to its antecedents:
to reveal the world to us and to combine symbolic form with the landscape
in the creation of differentiated and evocative places. Some of these works
assert a nonanthropocentric view of the world: at worst they are merely
examples of mans continual attempts to reconcile humans with the natural
environment, and at their best are physical environments designed for
sensuous experience and apprehension (in this case, of form.)34
Contemporary landscapes fall essentially into these categories: those that
attempt to reinforce historicism through Neoclassicism/Post Modernism,
(or now NeoTraditionalism), Modernism and those that seek contemporary
expressions. In the last category, there seems to be a distinct lack of
landscape works that can be considered in the same light as Tschumis Parc
de la Villette, although there are a few as we shall see. We have already
discussed the inappropriate and irrelevant use of classicism in
architecture, and further discussions of its current use in the landscape
would lead us to similar conclusions. It is significant to note that in
regards to both design fields, irrelevant geometry and formalism
discourages designers from approaching a project with the openness of
their own perceptions and experiences. To a dedicated formalist in

landscape design, nature presents no claim and a tree is a building
material, nothing more. Landscape art, however, has some possibilities
beyond architecture: it can offer architecture, or it can offer architecture
and nature.35
Although many designers played with Modernism, it was not until a group
of young designers studying together at The Harvard Graduate School of
Design began to apply Modernist design theory that it became more widely
practiced. They were Garrett Eckbo, Dan Kiley and James Rose. James Rose
considered the design of landscape itself to be a form of sculpture, and
this led naturally to an interest in the use of sculpture in the landscape.36
In more recent years, this concept of art in the landscape has blurred- it is
no longer just sculpture. There are those who choose to enter the
landscape itself, often to use its materials as well as work with its salient
features, not representing the landscape but engaging it. These works are
bound to their site, and take as a large part of their content a relationship
with the specific characteristics of their particular surroundings. This is
intended to provide an inimitable experience of a certain place for the
artist and the viewer.
This type of landscape art has influenced the theory of ecological
expressionism through its early work. Therefore it is important to
examine significant works in this category, the first of which is Robert
Smithsons Spiral Jetty, completed in 1970 on an industrial mining site.
Smithson writes,
About one mile north of the oil seeps I selected my site.
Irregular beds of limestone dip gently eastward, massive deposits

of black basalt are broken over the peninsula, giving the region
a shattered appearance. It is one of the few places on the lake
where the water comes right up to the mainland. Under shallow
pinkish water is a network of mud cracks supporting the jigsaw
puzzle that composes the salt flats. As I looked at the site, it
reverberated out to the horizons only to suggest an immobile
cyclone while flickering light made the entire landscape appear
to quake. A dormant earthquake spread into the fluttering
stillness, into a spinning sensation without movement. This site
was a rotary that enclosed itself in an immense roundness. From
that space emerged the possibility of the Spiral Jetty .37
This description is important because Smithson uses the reading of the
local topography, and the fact that the salt crystals that coat the rocks at
the waters edge form in the shape of a spiral to inform and express his
design of the jetty. To Smithson, the jetty also reflected his preoccupation
with the idea of entropy. The spiral as open, irreversible, coming from
nowhere and going nowhere. At the jetty, the gyre is not widening but
falling inward; it is matter collapsing into the lake mirrored in the shape
of a spiral.38
Soon after Spiral Jetty, Robert Morris designed The Observatory in 1971.
This work takes us a step further in that what interested Morris was not
simply revealing the world to the observer. He manipulated the perception
of the user. With a nod in the direction of the phenomenology of the
French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Morris aimed at creating a
place in which the perceiving self might take measure of certain aspects of
its own physical existence. By creating an artwork that was too large or
too complex to be viewed in an instant, that required the viewer to walk
through and around it, Morris provided an experience of an interaction

between the perceiving body and the world. The terms of this interaction
are temporal as well as spatial, and fully recognize that existence is
process. The art itself is a form of behavior and in the case of The
Observatory, this behavior leads to an awareness of how information is
absorbed by the senses and combined to produce a coherent mental image
of something that is impossible to comprehend instantaneously. It leads
to an awareness of the different measures in time. There is the viewers
time, the amount required to move around and comprehend the piece, and
contrasted with this are times of two vastly different sorts: the far longer
time of human history, implicit in the reference to Neolithic monuments,
and the virtually imponderable measure of astronomical time revealed
through the use of solar sight lines. This requires us to experience and
acknowledge the subjectivity of our own sense of time by juxtaposing it
with two more awesome, sublime and enduring measures.
Following these early works, came such works as Lord, Marquez, and
Michels Cadillac Ranch in 1974. It can be seen as a requiem for the golden
age of the American automobile, a sort of a modern Stonehenge in that it
represents and expresses our culture through landscape. In 1976, came
Christos Running Fence. Christo also sought a closer interaction between
his art and its broader cultural context. Christos art was a new form in
that it was temporary, theatrical, and involved large numbers of people.
Also in 1976, Nancy Holt completed Sun Tunnels. A dignified yet humanly
scaled setting in which to experience the grand awfulness of the natural
surroundings of the desert of northwestern Utah.39 About that same time
James Turrels Roden Crater Project attempts to deal with the red and

black cinder cone of a long-extinct volcano near Flagstaff, Arizona. Seven
spaces are to be fashioned in which to experience the changing qualities of
sun and moonlight. Both of these works represent attempts to create ever-
changing perceptual environments.
Most of the works exampled here are monumental in scale yet subtle in
form, expressing the characteristics of the surrounding landscape (its
contours, materials, and ambient light) no less than its symbolic and
emotional qualities.
The significance of the correspondence of these works to prehistoric art,
(earthworking as a form of artistic activity, removing their work to distant
locations) however, implies a refutation of modem culture. The artists are
really rejecting modern consumption, conformity to fashion, and
attempting to develop an accord with the natural world we assume to be
characteristic of earlier, more primitive peoples. These reductive, abstract
works are felt by many to be more capable of conveying to the viewer
universal, basic, and eternal sensations. Abstraction enables man to break
the finite barrier and enter into the actuality of infinity. wrote Arshile
Gorky. In the use of reductive forms to express content, the work of these
land artists could also be considered as a contemporary expression of the
sublime, which will now be discussed further.40
Edmund Burkes Philosophical Inquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of the
Sublime and Beautiful published in 1757, differentiated between two
principal classes of objects: the beautiful and the sublime. Attributes that
induced terror by a suggestion of solitude, vastness, or power were
perceived as sublime. In the 18th century, Kant destabilized the classic

concept of beauty in which beauty is conceptualized as a singular condition
of goodness and truth, and the sublime is its dialectical opposite. Immanuel
Kants theory suggested that the sublime is within the beautiful and the
beautiful within the sublime: It is the difference between opposition and
being within. Kants ideas also suggest that the sublime has within it a
condition which the conventionally beautiful represses: a condition of the
uncertain, the unspeakable and the unnatural. These taken together
constitute a condition of terror, which, to reiterate, we have identified as a
condition of the Post-Humanist condition.41
The art historian Christopher Hussey attributes seven characteristics to the
sublime, the condition of terror: obscurity (physical and intellectual);
power; privations (darkness, solitude, silence); vastness (vertical or
horizontal- both of which diminish the relative scale of the observer/user);
infinity (literal or induced by the two final characteristics); succession and
These concepts of the sublime have recurring relevance to the concept of
our present society. Lyotards exhibition at the Pompidou Centre, Le
Immateriaux, shows that the availability of techno-scientific equipment
and data is so pervasive in contemporary life that reality itself is
deconstructed into an overwhelming network of macro and microscopic
processes and relations, which are customarily concealed, but which make
reality as we know it possible. This suggests that sublimicism may be a
definitive feature of Post-Modern culture, as such A complexity, the
totality of which is ungraspable, overwhelms our sensibility. In
deconstructing the concealment of landscape/art/architecture we are
transformed: this transition to the sublime, warrants the term

sublimicist. The pain of that which transcends us gives way to the
pleasure of some measure of understanding.
In summary, land art is about the landscape but space itself is the material
to be manipulated, and the experiential qualities it evokes have sounded a
chord in contemporary culture. One representative work is that of Maya
Lin as seen in The Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Its abstract, reductive
character, stark horizontality, spatial clarity, and use of color to symbolize
sorrow and death all combine to create a place of wrenching sorrowful
recognition and catharsis, while allowing for a subjective experiential
interpretation of death. It expresses our culture yet reminds us that the
earth functions as the receiver of our dead.
Landscape works that can be considered as specifically recognizing the
Post-Modern condition seem conspicuously lacking to this author.
However, there are some exceptional examples. Walter De Mariess 1977
work, the Lightning Field, is a prescription for the sublime manifested in
the landscape. Into the desert valley of New Mexico, De Maria inserted a
regular grid of four hundred stainless steel rods, spaced two hundred
twenty feet apart and varied in height to bring their pointed tops into
alignment above the terrain. These made parts of the artwork interact
with the ephemeral natural processes of lightning to produce an
experiential design that is profoundly moving, even without the lightning.
Carlo Scarpas work at Brion-Vega Cemetery is intriguing as it celebrates
the union of the dialectical opposites of man/woman, life/death,
fullness/emptiness. It plays on our uncertainties, our present-day
commonality of ambiguity. Christos Surrounded Islands, 1983, is a
(properly) temporary statement that attempted to make an experiential

communication and open a window into the cosmos.42 These works have
and will significantly influence the fusion that must necessarily come in
the wake of artistic experimentation such as theirs. Of final mention of a
work that secedes these is the Rem Koolhaas OMA entry into the Parc de la
Villette competition, in 1983.43
Integration: Ecological Expressionism and Post-Structuralism
In the previous discussion of ecological expressionism, it was described as
determining a landscapes expressive qualities, reducing or abstracting
those qualities through design, then through that process allowing the
design to enter the realm of perceived and experiential space. We have
seen this concept produce works such as The Lightning Field and others.
To carry this idea forward, I would propose that post-structuralism can be
integrated into this concept to expand greatly the design process. If we
accept the premise that the present is our feeling point of existence, our
experiential reality, and abstract knowledge about a place can be acquired
quickly, then intense experiences of short duration can alter our lives.
Further, if art can make images of feeling, feelings become accessible and
available for subjective interpretation. It can then become subjective
experiential reality, a way to experience how we exist now. If we are
allowed to react in sensual ways, it lets us leave our brains behind and lose
our expectations from the past, break the continuum. We can learn

something about ourselves through this kind of sensual experience; it
attracts us physically.
Deconstructing, abstracting and reducing the landscape and putting it back
together in new ways can allow expression of our multi-dimensional world
whose totality is ungraspable. Projects can be driven by an abstraction
of forces and events that have occurred in that place and continue to occur
there over time.
If we can attempt to include not only the spatial elements but the
dimension of time as well, and to convey the process of perception itself,
the space itself is no longer homogenous. The user is drawn into the
process of perception through the designers intervention. Since the
elements on which our perceptions actually focus are recognized, the users
recognition becomes an essential part of the project itself. This concept is
integral to the post-structuralist ideas we have already discussed: space
must enter into the realm of our individual perception.
The experience is to each person, and we share only the uncertainty of
infinite possibility. We see that reality is infinitely subjective and
moldable. Landscapes as distilled essence, as expressive, sensual art can
inform us, provide us with that subjective experiential reality that helps us
bridge the gap of the past and the future, between the congruent and the
This also allows us to comprehend that the possibilities are infinite when it
comes to design processes, and as we have seen, the exploration of
betweeness comes into play when attempting to deconstruct a reality,

with the intention of transforming it to allow an altered subjective
interpretation and perception. Realizing that the other of design is that
betweeness, we as designers can envision that it is slightly blurred-
something that is not quite this or that. We know that clarity is behind us,
or perhaps in front of us, but not quite ours at this point in time. It is the
displacing experience of the uncertainty of partial knowing.
In summary, the concept of utilizing these ideas to create landscape design
is one that needs and deserves more exploration. Some of these concepts
can be articulated, however. This theoretical landscape is a space/place
that is allowed to work on us through our own physical experience. If we
can become aware of our animal nature, it allows us to reconnect with
our bodies- to become aware of ourselves as body, just existing- if only for
a moment. This serves as a place to begin to know who we are. We start
thinking about ourselves sensually as a point of departure.
The user should remain within the material structure of the place because
only through experience and sensation will the user come to find meaning.
It is a place where external form and content are both important- the
forms allow an experience that is both sensuous and intuitive; it should
incite the user to explore and experience the place in a dynamic way. 11
would be a "labyrinthine" experience that lets you become aware of how
you feel physically at that moment. If the forms affect perception and
provide a vehicle for dynamic experience, previous knowledge of the place
is not necessary. If we treat the place as a phenomenal ruin, we infuse
our own meaning, which then propels us to a starting place for using
ourselves as both the master of study and the object of study.

We can have a biological approach to architecture- if there is no ideal, and
we all behave differently- architecture/design can become human. Design
expression itself no longer becomes the imperative and the didactic intent
of a design is no more important than the user meaning. The
deconstructed and transformed landscape has its own reading of the world,
but it does not impose it. The experiential quality of the place prevents
the intent from being imposed. It then becomes multi-dimensional- there
is didactic intent, but there is also the idea that it is a place for subjective
emotion, experience and interpretation. It is not a "pyramid" in the sense
that it is about ephemeral meaning as well as structure. If we build the
ruin, people will fill it with their own meanings. Nobody necessarily has
the "last word"- if we are all partners in a conversation we as designers
may have a point, (didactic meaning) but there is a point of negotiation
The landscape design process as described can to be understood as a way
of expressing a re-interpretation of the world. There is an uncharted
wealth of forms, contents and images which is hidden in the brain- the
descent into that labyrinth can serve to develop our capacity for inventive
thinking and for working with content and meaning to create designs
pertinent to the world of our current reality. The production of such work
will force the viewer into creative work, too, engaging his imagination and
confronting him with ideas and meanings. Also, the labyrinthine process
will facilitate the depicting of our creations in their most diverse forms. (X
importance also is the breakdown of the traditional forms of place through
the acknowledgment that place (topos) has always contained no place

The knowledge of history does not necessarily contaminate the
experiential understanding of design. However, the constructive
principals, materials and rule systems derived from historical periods are
as ancient as man's creative abilities. We have, perhaps unconsciously,
operated within these principles merely as more sophisticated
differentiations as culture developed. To that extent, history unconsciously
partially contaminates the labyrinth, exerting itself as memory. This
reinforces the idea that there is no "immaculate conception of conception."
Finally, if everything comes from pieces of memory and random
connections, then the creation of architecture is like creating children.
Fragments from the labyrinth can inform design, but the possibilities are
still infinite. Intuition and fantasy also infuse us with ideas. This
"labyrinthine" way of designing breaks the rules, because architecture is
all about rules and rational, logical concepts. The infinite possibilities and
meanings that come from the labyrinth could allow us to change social
development.44 45 In this I am in agreement with Tschumi: Architecture
will only succeed when we transgress the rules. We can look at human
behavior and then decide the rules we can focus on human action and try
to interpret that. Breaking the rules allows us to express psychological
processes and desires. Sensual, experiential design can make an impact on
society. Only then will it become a valuable expression of our age.
In answering our initial questions, it is clear that historical precedent is no
longer helpful in the expression of our current post-modern reality. It is
equally clear there is no longer a group aesthetic that can provide us with
some non-existent universal meaning. The appropriateness and relevance

of landscape design is an open-ended and evolving concept. We cannot
assume a frozen state: it then merely becomes another fixed metaphysical
position. But we can use the concepts described in this paper to express
more appropriately our intervention within the context of what we
interpret as reality, realizing its impermanence. We can go on without a
fight, find that point of negotiation, continue the conversation.

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1 Fritjof Capra, The Turning Point. New York, 1983 pp 64-68
2 Jean-Francis Lyotard, The Post-Modern Condition, France, 1979 pp3-17
3 Bernard Tschumi, Architecture and Disjunction. London, 1994 pp 216-
4 Catherine Cooke, Russian Precursors in Deconstruction: Omnibus
Volume, eds Papadakis, Cooke, and Benjamin, New York, 1989 pp 10-19
5 Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy. Chicago, 1982 pp 69-87
6 Jonathan Culler, OnDceonstruction. Ithaca, New York, Cornell Press, 1982
7 Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy. Chicago, 1982 p392
8 Christopher Norris, Jacques Derrida: In Discussion with Christopher
Norris, Deconstruction: Omnibus Volume. New York 1989. pp71- 80
9 John Searle, The World Turned Upside Down, Working Through Derrida.
Northwestern Press 1993, pp 170-190
10 Deconstruction: Omnibus Volume, eds Papadakis, Cooke, and Benjamin.
Introduction, pp7.

11 Ibid. Paul Crowther, Beyond Art and Philosophy: Deconstruction and the
Post-Modern Sublime, pp98-101
12 Ibid. pp99
13 Bernard Tschumi, Manhattan Transcripts. London, pp6-13
14 Peter Eisenman, Blue Line Text, Deconstruction: Omnibus Volume,
15 Catherine Cooke, Russian Avant-Garde. Great Britain, 1995, pp6-30.
16 Catherine Cooke, Russian Precursors, Deconstruction: Omnibus Volume,
17 Ibid, pi7 M. Okhitovich.
18 Denis Hollier, Against Architecture: The Writings of Georges Bataille.
London, 1993
19 Bernard Tschumi, Architecture and Transgression, in Architecture and
Disjunction, London, 1994 pp65-78
20 Bernard Tschumi, Manhattan Transcripts, Great Britain, 1981
21 Charles Jencks, The Pleasures of Absemce, in Deconstruction: Omnibus
Volume, ppll9-131
22 Bernard Tschumi, Parc de la Villette, in Deconstruction: Omnibus
Volume, pp 174-182
23 John Griffiths, Deconstuction Deconstructed. New York, 1989 pp93-97
24 Deconstruction: Omnibus Volume, eds Papadakis, Cooke, and Benjamin,
25 Denis Hollier, Against Architecture: The Writings of Georges Bataille,
London, 1993
26 Peter Eisenman, Blue Line Text. ppl50-151

27 Elia Zenghelis, The Aesthetics of the Present, in Deconstruction, New
York, 1989 p239
28 Leon Krier, Architecture and Urban Design. Great Britain, 1992 pp9-21
29 Ibid. p298
30 Peter Eisenman, Blue Line Text, ppl50
31 suburbia
32 Elia Zenghelis, The Aesthetics of the Present, in Deconstruction, New
York, 1989, pp238-241
33 John Beardsley, Earthworks and Beyond: Contemporary Art in the
Landscape. New York, 1984 p8
34 Ibid. p9
35 Elizabeth Kassler, Modem Gardens and the Landscape. New York, 1964
36 P. Pregill and N. Volkman, Landscapes in History. New York, 1993
37 Beardsley, pp20-21
38 Ibid. pp7-22
39 Ibid. pp26-39
40 Beardsley, p59
41 Peter Eisenman, En Terror Firma: In Trails of Grotextes, in
Deconstruction: Omnibus Volume, New York, 1989 ppl52-174
42 Kassler, pp89-97
43 Ibid. p99
44 Denis Hollier, The Labyrinth, the Pyramid, and the Labyrinth, Against
Architecture, pp57-73

45 Bernard Tschumi, Questions of Space. London 1990 ppll-30 and pp87-

21. Robert Morris, Observatory. See plate 20.
22. Robert Morris. Grand Rapids Project,
1973-74. Length of ramps: 478 ft. Belknap
Park, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Collection of
the City of Grand Rapids.

25, 26. Christo (b. 1935). Running Fence,
1972-76. Steel poles, steel cables, and 2'/a
million square ft. of woven nylon; height:
18 ft., overall length: 24V2 miles. Sonoma and
Marin counties, California (dismantled).

59, 60. Walter De Maria (b. 1935). The
Lightning Field, 1974-77. Stainless steel
poles; average height of poles: 20 ft. 7'h in.;
overall dimensions: 5,280 x 3,300 ft. Near
Quemado, New Mexico. Collection of the Dia
Art Foundation.