Forms of Ecology: Towards New Epistemological Binds Between Landscape Architecture and Ecology
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AbstractForms of Ecology examines the main narratives through which ecology has come to the forefront of landscape architecture during the last two decades, criticizes their reductive implications for design, and proposes a series of alternative narratives of ecology that emphasize ideas of form, by which it fosters new relationships between ecology and landscape architecture as a way to bolster the agency of design as a cultural project.
The dissertation departs from a critique of the emphasis on the operative capacities of landscape brought about by ecology’s move to the foreground of landscape architecture. Indeed, the last decades have witnessed a proliferation of ecologically-grounded landscape architecture discourses and built works that emphasize notions of performance—the capacity to carry out work—and adaptation—the capacity to accommodate change in order to endure. While performance and adaptation, as the revision of several case studies shall show, have been extremely fruitful ideas in expanding the field of landscape architecture and its modes of practice, they also entail limitations for design. Through performance, landscape architecture is often invoked as a problem-solving practice, invested in the production of systems to assist in the ecological project of environmental efficiency, and largely unaware of landscape formal associations, that is, landscape’s possibility of being looked at and deciphered. Adaptation, on the other hand, calls for landscape strategies that privilege ecological complexity and its process-based notions of indeterminacy, unpredictability, and open-endedness, which often restrain landscape architecture’s agency in favor of passive positions that relinquish the specification of design outcomes to external forces.
In order to overcome these limitations, the dissertation investigates the origins of these ecological views and their biased interpretations of system and process. In so doing, it draws a lineage of the core debates in the evolution of ecological theory during the twentieth century. Amply overlooked in contemporary landscape architecture, core to these debates were questions around the fundamental ecological entity—whether it is the biotic community or the individual organism—and the different modes of interaction that exist between them, as well as around the homeostatic and stochastic nature of environmental processes. The research looks back into the nineteenth century embryonic stages of ecological theory, where these ideas were not so neatly delineated but, instead, embedded within metaphysical and epistemological concepts of form.
In seeking to forge new relationships between ecology and landscape architecture, the dissertation applies the conceptual frameworks derived from these debates to the examination of a series of case studies that emphasize the legibility of the different modes of interaction established between designed landscapes and their environment and the different ways by which design deliberately speeds up or slows down the processes through which the environment is formed. In so doing, it contributes to the formulation of new epistemological binds between landscape architecture and ecology. Such an expanded field of reciprocity between design and science allows for a better understanding of the formative processes and interactions of designed landscapes and for an increase in landscape architecture’s potential to articulate new forms of thought that both work on the environment and render it legible as a social construction.
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