Ecology, Community, and Delight: Sources of Values in Landscape Architecture

Ecology, Community, and Delight: Sources of Values in Landscape Architecture

Ecology, Community, and Delight: Sources of Values in Landscape Architecture

Ecology, Community, and Delight: Sources of Values in Landscape Architecture

Synopsis

Landscape architecture is a key profession for a world facing an uncertain environmental future. Yet it is hindered by a chronic identity crisis: Is it primarily concerned with making beautiful places, helping people or saving the planet from ecological catastrophe? This book examines the three principle value systems which influence landscape architectural practice, the aesthetic, the social and the environmental, and seeks to discover the role that the profession should be playing now and for the future.

Excerpt

Many books about landscape architecture ask 'how-to?' questions: how can we reclaim this site?; how can we get trees to grow here?; how can I be sure that this wall will stand up in a force ten gale? This book, on the other hand, is more concerned with questions of 'why?': why is ecology important?; why does community consultation matter?; why is proposal A so much better than proposal B? It also poses the biggest 'why?' question of all-why be a landscape architect in the first place? Another way of putting this is to say that the book is concerned with the reasons why landscape architects do what they do, the values that they hold, and the underlying justifications for such values. To put this into academic jargon, it is a book of normative theory.

In writing it I have used two main sources. As one might have expected from an academic, I have buried myself in the landscape architectural literature, mining it for value statements, both explicit and implicit. But recognising that what is written in books might bear little relation to the profession as practised, I also sought out twenty-six landscape architects and interviewed them in depth in an attempt to understand their beliefs and motivations. During the period when I was writing the book I also talked to several landscape architects who had not been part of my original interview sample, but their ideas have been included where appropriate. Finally I sought to ground these investigations by looking at a number of case studies of actual projects, some-but not all-of which were undertaken by the interviewees. These are included as boxes at appropriate places in the text.

Theory: something to be done

When scientists use the word 'theory' they are generally referring to explanatory systems of ideas that have been established by observation or tested by experiment, but there is another sense of the word. The Oxford English Dictionary defines theory as 'a conception or mental scheme of something to be done, or of the method of doing it; a systematic statement of rules or principles to be followed'. A profession which seeks to bring about positive changes in the environment has to be based upon the conception that there is 'something to be done' and must propose preferred methods of doing it.

While recognising the narrowness of most attempted definitions of design, Bryan Lawson (1980) suggests some near universal characteristics of the design process, three of which are particularly pertinent to this inquiry. First, design takes place in the context of a need for action; second, it is prescriptive in that it deals with questions of what ought to be; and, third, it involves the designer in making subjective value judgements. This book is concerned with these inescapable value judgements. How can landscape design theory, as a 'systematic statement of rules or principles to be followed', offer the designer any guidance about the ends that are to be pursued or the manner in which they can be realised?

The condition of landscape architectural theory

The impetus behind this book came from an article in Landscape Journal (1992) entitled 'Most Important Questions'. The editors had written to twenty

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