“The page contains a single sentence: ‘Underneath it all he knew that one cannot go beyond because there isn’t any.’ The sentence is repeated over and over for the whole length of the page, giving the impression of a wall, of an impediment. There are no periods or commas or margins, a wall, in fact, of words that illustrate the meaning of the sentence, the collision with a wall behind which there is nothing. But towards the bottom and on the right, in one of the sentences the word any is missing. A sensitive eye can discover the hole among the bricks, the light that shows through.”
–Julio Cortazar (1966)
HISTORIOGRAPHY, FORMALISM(S), AND CRITICAL HISTORY
In early structuralism (Jakobson) there exists the theory of the dominant — e.g., the visual arts in the Renaissance, music in Romanticism — to which other forms conform / strive to merge. In Modernism the dominant is / was science — and linguistics, architecture, sociology, psychology, and etcetera attempted to produce a synthetical system outside of / in contradistinction to the humanities. This is the either / or of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, which of course he abandoned after the Russellian project collapsed.
In Russian formalism we see the first moves toward a system of signs freed from semantic content. This is also why Russian formalism appealed to the neo-rationalist architects of the 1960s and 1970s. The endgame however (Tafuri’s idea of hegemony returning) of formalism was futurism, suprematism, constructivism and functionalism — all more or less new forms of architectural nihilism (see Cacciari) at first and, then, new forms of architectural dogma. Berdyaev’s suggestion that communism failed because it was not spiritual contains a suggestion that the humanities and science are essentially irrreconcilable until systems are truly “open” — hence Umberto Eco’s anti-ideological concept of the “open work”. The mechanistic worldview and the organic worldview are two mutually antagonistic and insufficient themes that plague philosophy and architecture. (See Ortega y Gasset.)
Russian landscape — the silent and primordial figures and gestures lurking in the literature and art of the Silver Age (1890-1920) — gave way to the slashing, machinic universe of agit-prop avant-gardism. Socialist Realism killed even that latter, mechanistic worldview in favor of heroic images of an always-deferred material and technological utopia. Tafuri’s utopic realm of the sphere — versus the fallen world of the labyrinth — was idealism pictorialized. In the rarified realm of “structure”, politics (and ideology) were momentarily bracketed (or pre-prepared) before re-deployment. Hence, Tafuri favored — even against his own better judgment — the meta-logical games of formalism as acts of resistance and criticality (and oftimes aesthetic cruelty).
Lyricism returned in the 1950s thaw in Russian literature, and it is that spirit plus an intense inner working of the subject / object dialectic that animates the cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky. Landscape, in Tarkovsky world, is mise en scene, and reflects always an inner condition as does the supporting apparatus of architecture (often ruined architecture) and the things of everyday life. Tarkovsky connects the latter-day Russian aesthetic of the tragic to the pre-Revolution mysticism of Russian lyric poetry and literature.
It might be said that landscape ‘returns’ in waves (in movements through things) versus as an object or set of objects. An ecology of signifying forms is the meta-ecological model underlying signifying chains. New topographies and the renovation of the architectonic aspect of design almost always prefigures a re-deployment (re-surfacing) of repressed content (other possible futures, or always-already deferred alternative models). The ideological aspect of the aesthetic (Eagleton) consists of the mask that Tafuri considered the chief characteristic of Gramscian hegemony. In theory, this mask must be removed and the underlying content exposed and transformed to liberate consciousness (Porphyrios). Thus, radical formalism comes and goes — it’s here and then not here — as the diachronic history of architecture reveals the diachronic nature of signifying systems. Synchronic applications, on the other hand, are typically applied to the critical historical operations of philosophy, history (art and architectural), and aesthetics.
Curiously, avant-garde modernist and late-modernist art and architecture share an innate anima towards the return of the out-moded (Foster). Paradoxically, late-modern (or neo-modern) art and architectures also permit a selective return of certain forms of avant-garde formalism — the primary example in neo-modernist architecture is the persistence of varieties of purism and architectures of liminalism (the Whites, or the New York Five) and minimalism. Blame Frampton for the New York Five, if you will, but their collective position was an act of recovery and renovation of principles buried in the avalanche of generic modernism after Le Corbusier. The so-called corporate modernism of the post-WW2 period led directly to the crisis of the 1960s. Tafuri may have denounced historiography as mythography, but critical history also contains its own mythicizing subject (the architecture of deferred utopias reaching back to the Renaissance). (See Tafuri on Alberti.)
The problem well may be that architecture is implicitly hegemonic in itself — as it almost always denies ground. Its own version of hegemony is built into its reliance on materialization and the technological spirit. It is this latter thing that emanates from within hegemony as a form of positivism that takes no prisoners. This primary urge within architecture is the place where architecture is overwhelmed and appropriated by conventional / instrumentalized forms of everyday hegemony. The age-old architectonic of metaphysics underwrites this doubling of hegemony.
Machine-age romanticism pervades modern architecture. This is the ‘Machine Ate the Garden’ syndrome. It is prefigured in Blake and Thoreau and problematized by Leo Marx and proponents of the industrial sublime. The hegemonic aspects of architecture crush landscape whenever its own precious autonomy is threatened. This is most evident in urban environments. This aggressive autonomy issues forth from architecture in defense of its hegemonic status — utopian or otherwise. The avant-garde is complicit in this handing over of architecture to everyday hegemony insofar as it abdicates its responsibility to prevent the collapse of free consciousness into new empty forms (new masks). Clement Greenberg’s “Towards a New Laocoon” preceded the hegemony of abstract expressionism and set the stage for the 1960s revolt of conceptualism and minimalism. Lessing’s Laokoon (1766) simply countered the late-baroque concentration of the arts in de-materialized spiritual form by placing limits on literary and plastic art forms. Wölfflin produced an art history without names that essentially took the synchronic approach to reading form to a new level of systemization by way of psychological precepts. His gift was absorbed into Russian formalism by way of symbolism and then futurism. This abstract approach to mining history came to an apotheosis in Structuralism (by way of Saussure), and was undone in turn by Post-Structuralism, in which case the diachronic political critique of post-Marxism extracted maximum revenge on the tyranny of the signifier.
Today, we see the advent of a deterministic virtuality (an almost-new vitalism) that impregnates everything with the shimmering sign of nothingness. This nothingness — the ultra-depleted surface of things — is, paradoxically, valorized as the most prescient of conditions, as the late-modern subject is primary presented as a void (a virtual and virtuous nothingness). This renascent nihilism suggests that architecture has grown weary of its complicity in hegemonic orders and has elected, instead, to play versus resist. Such a strategy also suggests that the flotsam or debris field of architectural de-construction has opened up to purely instrumental and ad hoc games played from ‘inside’ architectural production — i.e., within the folds of information and data that produce / impress the architectural image as well as the architectural object. As the shimmering architectures of the de-materialized subject are increasingly realized as actual cultural fabric, the anti-ideological ideology of ‘total flow’ might be expected to reveal itself. That this pluralistic, negative ideology has arrived out of a de-construction of previous ideologies is fully consistent with the nature of the production of architectures. What is curious is the maelstrom of incorporations that occur in the inter-textual apparatus of architectural virtuality and de-materialization. As the architectural object moves closer to a field condition in and of itself, a wide array of previously repressed material is folded into the matrix. This new ‘ecology’ is, in fact, a form of psycho-social re-conditioning — and the incorporation of the idea of ‘landscape’, as figure or fold, suggests a possible way out of the deterministic circle inscribed in the generation of purely synthetical environments. This ‘way out’ is through the proverbial hole in the wall of the architectural image — the ‘cracked’ and ‘broken’ surface. A possible re-inscription of depth is in and of itself predisposed to return landscape + architecture to its place in the creative construction of consciousness. This concept of depth approaches Heidegger’s ‘running ahead to meet the past’, and, as a cipher for the production of timeliness, such an approach precludes complete immersion in the detritus of over-determined, collapsing systems and / or the seductive, de-materialized field of flows and vectors. Despite the scintillating presence of surface, at some point the issue of architecture’s ontological ground must be formally re-addressed.
“The possibility of access to history is grounded in the possibility according to which any specific present understands how to be futural. This is the first principle of all hermeneutics.” –Martin Heidegger (1924)
Thus the wheel rolls on and on, turning over and over, crushing incomplete school after incomplete school. The provisionary nature of form-making is revealed in the process — and the essentialist worldview within such processes escapes unscathed to return another day as another attempt to reach the ontological ground beneath our feet and some form of synthesis, or, as Walter Benjamin proclaimed, “The Coming Philosophy”.
ARCHITECTURAL HORIZONS / TIME NOT ITSELF
Upon disposing of (setting aside) the achingly beautiful photographs of so-called natural landscapes (the Sierra Club idiom) and the glossy, romanticized vernacular images of working landscapes (the National Geographic idiom) — or first and second nature — and circling this same window on the world (photography) in search of something more timely (third or ‘fourth’ nature), the image of the subject / object dialectic reappears through the agency of the putative autonomy of the photographic work of art. (See Rodchenko, Steichen / Stieglitz, Cartier-Bresson, Becher, Koudelka.)
The sense of time not itself provided in Heidegger’s lecture “The Concept of Time” (1924) works to the foreground in the various worldviews contained in photography — whether the socio-politically charged works of Magnum or the extreme, aesthetic ambient ‘landscapes’ of Blossfeldt, Kenna, James, Korab, plus architectural and fashion photography in general. Closer to the origins of modern photography, the work of Steichen, Evans, Rodchenko, Man Ray, Sudek, et alia picture the elan vital — the inner history — of photographic subjectivity through an apparent objective apparatus, an apparatus that proves in the end to be mythic versus empirical. These early progenitors of the photographic aesthetic meld the expressionist, constructivist, and cubist affects of an inquiry into form and the interplay of object and field, the latter most often portrayed as shadow or tenebrious void out of which emerge the forms of life (often as vestige, phantom, and / or fragment) imbued with momentary auratic, if not symbolic verisimilitude, only to fade into the fixity of the frozen image.
In architectural photography (Sudek, Stoller, Shulman, Llimargas, or Binet) and fashion photography (Newton, Avelon, Meisel, Teller, Knight), the concept of trace and vestige moves to a new level of significance, productivity, and seductivity in the suggestive yet aborted narrative content, landscape (urban and otherwise) often providing a telltale (palpable) intonation or adumbrative depth suggesting a deferred grounding of abstract (de-materialized) desire in consumption, appropriation, expropriation, and photogenic simulation. That such aesthetic precepts have further burrowed their way into the present-day image of architecture through computer-generated simulations is, therefore, no surprise.
In the photographic expropriation of landscape, in and of itself, the image of constructed ground (space) — whether gardens, cities, parks, cemeteries, airports, etc. — supports the subtle but persistent themes consistent with the production of an elective versus enforced hegemony. This surplus hegemony is ‘elective’ insofar as such circumstances are either avoidable or generally out of reach. The nature of time, as relative to environments and variable milieux, and as depicted in an imagery that selectively edits / represents cultural values (currents) and implicit historicity (timeliness), or that which asks “How?”, frames and enhances the authorized and unauthorized perceptions of cultural conditioning; that is to say, the emptiness of the typical modern architectural image is an elective minimalism as are the polished products of the sensuous and seductive editorial pages of glossy fashion magazines which often appropriate and ‘re-style’ classic, baroque, and modern landscape gardens as mise en scene supporting the dream-state of haute-couture fashion and design. Indeed, such fashion statements operate within the world of photography as an excess (a type of hallucination) glorifying the scenographic and privileged places and attitudes (modus vivendi) identified as ‘de luxe’ and or ‘elite’ in the rarified upper reaches of ‘society’, a class-conscious production of cultural identity. In turn, a titilating noirish under- / over-world is suggested in the extreme and phantasmatic imagery that is folded into such normative fashion pages (e.g., Helmut Newton and Jurgen Teller) as an image of extravagance, decadence, and an excess of ‘success’ (freedom through mock bondage). This latter imagery substantiates the ineluctable charisma of the urban chic and is present in diverse forms, including the presentation graphics of present-day architects and landscape architects.
The ageless, immortal landscape that stands just outside this frame (process) of forceful or frivolous ‘acculturation’, as a ‘timelessness’ within timeliness, in turn supports the indeterminate nature of the authorized / unauthorized activities of the elite, the voyeur, the flaneur, the aesthete, the connoisseur, and the so-called cognoscenti (fashionisti) — an explicit confrontation / clash of the microcosmic, iconoclastic architectures of the heterogeneous with those of the everyday world of the hoi polloi. The macrocosmic image — the wide world — often is deployed as a spectral other and supports a synoptic, panoptic return to preternatural and natural vectors of consciousness ostensibly outside historical time and its proscribed, constructed ground. Landscapes of the primordial ground condition and re-insinuate the elemental dialectic of self and ground through a social and aesthetic reductionism to primitive or unalloyed terms consistent with the concept of wilderness and primitivity. The structural and operational terms of such a grounding are built upon the innate aesthetic allure of things archaic and / or of a radically contingent ‘nature’. Landscape + architecture appears, then, as ever, suspended in the void between Pascal’s two infinities.
The production of time (timeliness) — as time has no abstract reality, ‘as such’, other than the neutral concept of timelessness — is as often a surplus as an intentional affect of design. The promenade (architecturale and cinematique), the cemetery or park as heterotopia, the cacophonous urban bazaar and street, the implied orthodoxy of certain styles and modes of structural landscape — historical (diachronic) and trans-historical (synchronic), or ‘isms’ — all effectively produce fictionalized forms of time bound up with a system of inferences and discursive structures that are both concealed and masked (see Tafuri, Jameson, and Davis), as all hegemonic systems construct a surface to which things are projected. In the latter case — e.g., in the synchronic plenitude of avant-garde formalisms — much ‘modernist’ landscape is complicit in the spurious conflating of the timeless and the timely, primarily through an extension of seriality and cinematic aesthetic strategies inconsistent with unmasking conventions and undermining the everyday (default) mode of the production of time and space. It is the putative production of authenticity that motivates the avant-garde (“every new age requires new forms”), while almost always the operative forms are re-absorbed into a new conformity. The bricolage of post-modern landscape and architecture, or the pop and minimalist landscapes of the 1980s avant-garde, is, thereby, directly implicated in the demotion of landscape architecture to a type of brinksmanship versus an authentic re-writing of the codes of everydayness. This denial takes both the form of a-historical games and faux avant-garde agitation. It is the polar opposite of the utilitarian and pragmatic (often conservative and reactionary) modes utilized by the status quo. In most cases the faux avant-garde and the pragmatic are both facile and instrumentalized representations of landscape as surface, intentionally glossing or bracketing cultural and intellectual depth, troublesome and pernicious forms of ideology, and introducing a type of determinism by way of formalizing contingent systems. In other words, “How?” is endlessly supplanted by “What?”.
The fixity of images is a relatively ancient problem in aesthetics, while the structural and contingent gestures of design and representation betray or conceal this concept insofar as they produce a product or condition versus a continuum. In the case of the production of a continuum, time is portrayed through a dynamic synthesis (syrrhesis) of structural and ambient forces — an avant-ecology of signifying factors (images, signs, forms, functions) that imply as well as access a vast otherness within, beyond, above, or below the constructed ground of image / place / time. Rote fixity collapses under such immense pressures and time opens up to ‘other times’, to other horizons, the nature of time itself (implied historicity) forced to the foreground or gesturing wildly in the background. In-between, almost always, remains the subject (the proverbial, metaphysical, irreducible middle-ground) situated at the crossroads of vertical and horizontal axes, x, y, z (the conventional coordinates of constructed space) replaced by ‘fourth’ nature — ‘fourth’ nature being the very image of being, a sublime portent for the cipher of time not itself, or time as the provisional field for the non-ideological unity of things.
THE FUSION THING / TOTAL FLOW OR NOTHINGNESS?
The historical, diachronic interplay of landscape + architecture in modern architectural production is / was at times a visionary pas de deux, while at other times an anti-visionary danse macabre (danse mecanique). In the latter case, landscape (milieu, ambiance, ground) is eclipsed and/or flattened in the strenuous and sometimes idealistic (utopian) seige represented by high-borne modernist formalism (technocratic, positivist, pragmatic, and programmatic). In such scenarios, landscape became an almost nothing, not by design, but by proscription, elimination, and / or abstraction. In this essentialist project, landscape became de-natured space.
In the somewhat delicate, often lyrical case of the pas de deux, landscape is situated at the elective nexus of interpenetrating systems (architectonic and environmental fields), as intermediate condition, or simply noted, in passing, as a surplus value incorporated into the development of the architectural object by juxtaposition. The extension of architectural eIements into the near landscape in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, Alvar Aalto or Carlo Scarpa, and the penetration of the building by so-called free-flowing or layered space suggests the classical disposition of positive and negative, solid and void, and the articulation if not transformation of architectural forms to fully synthetic forms in the rare instances when landscape and site impregnate architecture with a prescient auratic ‘interiority’ and / or formal radiance that plays out in an explicit synthesis of verticality and horizontality — as in early modernist villas — thereby picturing the contingent, material conditions for architecture’s emergence. The most immaterial aspects of ambient environmental factors — the play of light and shadow — often provide architecture with an archaic uncanniness (an elemental timeliness) that is purely ephemeral and, most usually, unintended (purely incidental). Ando and Holl are masters of this poetic / phenomenological genre, while others (Gehry) simply accept the inevitable ‘patina’ of building marked by time. The mutable materiality of architecture supported this embrace of the ambient, as glass curtain walls and metal cladding became ever more common and de-materializations occurred in the genre, noted explicitly by MoMA’s 1995-6 exhibition “Light Construction”. Dan Graham’s mirrored pavilions play wonderfully with this omniscient quality of glass, doubling the field of vision such that the very field of representation breaks down into a prismatic and often kaleidoscopic universe of shards, filters, and superimpositions — the effect entirely dependent on the setting of the object in the landscape. This latter de-materialization invokes the concept of ‘total flow’ and the tendency towards objectifying surface at the expense of depth.
Outside of this cyclic, accidental, and discontinuous emergence of sublimated aspects of architecture’s implicit ground, a third order of symbolization and abstraction is to be found that represents a preliminary and provisional synthesis of subject / object relations — i.e., most often a figurative symbiosis built into form and described as the gestural or sublime fusion of ‘form’ and ‘content’ in sculpture and the hybridized field of land art, most especially, where discursive orders are stripped away and an elemental, generative, and formal essence presses forward. In the case of art, and its near-automatic assumption of conceptual autonomy, the works of Noguchi and Smithson, plus the avalanche of land art-inspired landscape architecture after the 1960s, re-present the archaic and liminal nature of almost-first nature (perhaps ‘fourth’ nature) through hyper-sensual manipulations of form and a presentiment, if not an acclamation, of pre-linguistic forms and seminal structural operations versus aspects of full-blown discourse (full-fledged signifiers). Here, timeliness is reduced to an iconic presence tipping inexorably toward absence (timelessness). These liminal measures most often take the form of excavations or insertions (interventions) that at the least pretend to re-write the codes of occupying or mapping presence. This type of ‘deep-sea diving’ comes in many forms and is not limited to the delineation of art-in-the-landscape, or art-as-landscape. The concise, inward-driven nature of such expression is primarily poetic and is found in all of the arts. This archaistic jouissance deliberately invokes the ontological ground as a place ‘before’ — pre-existent to — the emergence of the Imaginary (the phantasmatic world of doubled and / or tripled un-realities) and the Symbolic (the so-called fallen world of the signifier). These figures play in the dust of the Self, seemingly before the emergence of the Ego (and Super Ego). Such fictive gestures also act as analogs for the extreme interiority of works of art and architecture prior to their deployment as cultural signs and tropes (figures of speech and thought). In the process of stripping away the detritus of signifying chains (ossified and / or fossilized modes of expression and discourse), such maneuvers circle the same ground repeatedly. The eventual collapse of the operative figures of near-speech simply occurs as the work vanishes into the annals of art or architectural history. The dissolution of many of Heizer’s and Smithson’s remote works matters hardly at all given that they were intentionally situated in a mythicized ‘wilderness’ as a strategic critique of the production of modern art and the machinations of the art world.
From 1930 to 1960, the time of the emergence of high-modern architecture (and the International Style), landscape was effectively subjugated by the ordeal / onslaught of hyper-structural and technocratic instrumentalities — cultural, political, economic, and otherwise. The image of techno-utopian architecture and the architect as glossy man accompanied the last hurrah for messianic modernism. The high-architectonic was at best complemented by neutral ground / landscape, though most often ground / landscape was ‘locked away’ in the spatial assault of low-formalist and high-functionalist orthogonal systems — super-functionalisms. The amalgam that came to be known as corporate modernism, and which was typified by Mies van der Rohe’s transcendent glass office buildings (set upon pristine podiums), is / was, according to Cacciari and Quetglas, the pure reification and secularization of the certain abstracted aspects of sacral architectures past. This ‘classicism’ masked the origins of the modernist experiment in socially-self-conscious experiments in form-making — e.g., Mies’ problematical Berlin period — and became hypostatized in the omniscent and omnivorous over-production of sterile corporate architectures. Most mid-century modern landscape architecture, following suit, adopted the dominant visual code of geometricism and the architectonic logic of plan libre as the spirit of the age, overthrowing the last vestiges of romanticism, post-romanticism, and the late-Olmstedian picturesque. The latter continued well into the mid-1900s transposed into the form of national parks and interstate transportation systems. In the case of the exemplars of modern landscape architecture (Kiley, Eckbo, Tunnard, Sasaki, and Walker), an attendant minimalism, expressed in seriality and typological reductionism, secured the accommodation of landscape to architecture, albeit through subjugation and abstraction. Gaudi, Burle Marx, and Luis Barragan, on the other hand, appear to represent unique expressions of critical regionalism before it was characterized as such by Kenneth Frampton.
[Bracketed, herein, is the entire section of faux-populist, pop, and vernacular architectures from theorists such as Banham, Venturi, Rudofsky, Jackson, and Alexander, to the late-modern syncretism of ‘everyday’ and new urbanist fantasies. In the case of Banham, machine-age romanticism had its Second Coming. In the case of New Urbanism, typologically driven post-modernism returned in the form of an elective code. The classicizing aspects of New Urbanism, however reductive, remained open enough to absorb the experimental alienated architecture of Rossi as well as certain aspects of the critique of urbanism associated with the Tendenza and European neo-rationalism.]
After the 1960s, as the hegemony of abstract planning and object-oriented modern architecture increasingly fell into disarray (and disrespect), various alternative visions emerged alongside post-modernism (after 1968) both reviving and re-negotiating the language of generic historical form and the geometric and material expressions of late-modernity — modernity being measured, to paraphrase Lacan, “from the Renaissance to the so-called zenith of the twentieth century”. In the 1980s, as the last signs of the ecological and vernacular movements of the 1970s faded or were absorbed into a new artistic vision of landscape architecture (including expropriated affects of land art), a new wave of design speculation, which premiated or gave equal merit to ground, submerged the last vestiges of high (mid-century) modernism and the ubiquity of the neo-baroque landscapes of corporate campuses and urban entourage (Walker’s “everything 3 meters apart’). Rote geometricism continued as a default methodology in landscape urbanism, especially in the case of 1980s urban projects that sought to revitalize the devastated economic prospects of the city center. The waterfront ‘festival marketplace’ became the new re-urban model, ending — thankfully — with Battery Park City in the late 1980s.
In landscape architecture, various neo-modernist schools attempted a revival of geometricism, but without the astringent and therapeutic measures of pure (and grave) formalism — as was occuring in architecture — while post-modern schools evolved toward a neo-minimalist, sur-rationalist, or neo-mannerist mode of representation. Deconstructivist-inspired landscape urbanism appeared as figurative ‘anti-storyboards’ in the 1980s and 1990s, primarily in the guise of international design competitions (see Berlin after 1989). Narratology and linguistics permeated the ‘extended field’ (Krauss) inherited from the 1960s, but failed to secure the poetic task of re-writing the foundational language common to landscape + architecture. Rather than search for primordial pre-linguistic analogs in design languages, linguistics was applied in a very literal, superficial, and artificial manner as ‘reading and writing’ the landscape. As landscape + architecture attempted to re-align the dysfunctional and infrastructural contingencies of the modern city through landscape urbanism, late-modernism also clashed with New Urbanism. Landscape + architecture fell into vogue, however, only insofar as the type and scale of projects and commissions required the collaboration of multiple disciplines and aesthetic considerations and / or the agency of computer-generated modeling softwares promoted convergence (see Parc Downsview Park). This nascent order only tangentially embraced the artistic jouissance of renascent forms of formalism — that always-estranged and strange dialectical / synthetic hybridization of milieu and anti-milieu that returns at times of cultural crisis. The deterministic and materialistic (anti-humanistic) systems of planning which evolved from McHarg’s system of mapping produced a new wave characterized by an obsession with terrain vague and junk space while new ecological imperatives were advanced in the necessary re-appropriation of post-industrial wastelands, urban and ex-urban. This latter movement, post-McHarg, returned to landscape the dynamic instrumentalities of process-driven design, while adding whole new representational systems and blurring / obscuring relative scales and normative graphic conventions. Montage and mapping were combined to produce a new avant-garde sensibility, even though much of the intellectual rigor of the Dadaist-inspired idiom was off-loaded or simply repressed after intitial gestures towards a new anti-aesthetic.
Today, following this historical melange of schools and movements, the always-already deferred synthesis / syrrhesis of landscape + architecture — that which resides uneasily in the interstices of all instrumentalized and discriminatory systems and / or fields, and that which has been problematized as “in-betweenness” — may be seen exacting revenge in the form of an irruptive other-worldliness in the operations of various latter-day conceptual artists (the truly irrepressible avant-gardists). This other-worldliness (which is radically contingent versus transcendental) comes to expression in the form of the attempt to bring / harness the figures and forces (gestures) of things and milieux — an ambient intellectual and environmental syrrhesis (flowing together) — that counters cyclical reification, outright expropriation, and rote appropriation. As K. Michael Hayes has recently pointed out in Perspecta 32 (“Resurfacing Modernism”), the late-1990s emphasis on flows (datascapes, vectors, etc) in mostly virtual architectures might, in itself, end in a return to a mere emphasis on imagology and surface without the induction of the intellectual coordinates that support critical-historical consciousness. Virtuality is, afterall, the present-day reified realm of the Imaginary. To prevent this collapse, the poetic, inter-textual, and the extreme formalistic gestures harvested from structuralism and post-structuralism must be re-visited. This quest to bring ambient cultural and natural forces to play within the axes of three-dimensional space — to produce the near-total work of art — stands astride the conflicting claims of architecture to be both an art and a science. It is in the latter instance, in architecture as a hyper-conscious (self-conscious and critical) art, that the more profound exemplifications of landscape + architecture will be found. Everything else will proceed per usual.
GAVIN KEENEY is a landscape architect in New York and writes on the subject of landscape + architecture + other things, a cultural amalgam always-already forthcoming. He is author of On the Nature of Things (Birkhauser, 2000). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
An ‘elective’ synthesis of landscape + architecture will be accomplished in the future, as it has always been accomplished in the past, in the singular work of art. The forms and types of this ‘near-total work of art’ are variegated and not reducible to landscape nor architecture, but, instead, open onto a vast, heterogeneous field that is symptomatic of the human condition; that field of subjective topographies comprised of the fundamental unanswerable questions and paradoxes of worldliness and timeliness.