Landscape Urbanism

As a landscape architect, I was intrigued by Landscape Urbanism’s promise that landscape is to become the new building block of the urban, the model and medium for the contemporary city, to paraphrase Charles Waldheim. However, even if landscape is one of the key terms of landscape urbanism, it is curiously ill defined in the writings of Landscape Urbanists. There seems to be a lack of awareness of the tensions inherent in the concept of landscape. Unpacking the multiple meanings of landscape in Landscape Urbanist discourse, I’ve argued that this is both a source of difficulty and a missed opportunity for the theory and practice of Landscape Urbanism.

The peri-urban in-between

Maybe it’s because I grew up in such a landscape: The peri-urban, hybrid, dynamic landscapes of the in-between—in between urban conglomerations, between the urban and the rural, between nature and culture, between aesthetics and anaesthetics—have fascinated me for a long time. I analysed the German language discourse on the so-called Zwischenstadt, or Where We Live Now (Thomas Sieverts), i. e. peri-urban landscapes. Earlier research concentrated on the influential metaphorical reading of urban sprawl as ‘wilderness’ by mapping the cultural patterns, social and political ideas and ideologies behind urban and landscape design strategies. Key outcomes from this work are in by doctoral dissertation, published as Der Zwischenstadt-Diskurs (transcript, 2011). In later research (in the project SPRAWLESCAPES), I have focused on a comparative study of landscape discourses of urban sprawl in Sweden and Germany. In analysing how the concept Zwischenstadt travelled from Germany to Sweden, my colleague Mattias Qviström and I contributed to a critical analysis of the transnational flows of planning ideas and to conceptual alternatives to the pejorative term ‘urban sprawl’.

The idea of wilderness

Often wilderness is defined as nature untouched by humans. I have authored and co-authored papers which demonstrated that this scientific attempt at a definition (regardless of whether or not it succeeds) ignores that in nature conservation, environmental planning, landscape architecture, and urban design wilderness is primarily a symbol, a place of myths and social projections. Much of the so-called international literature on wilderness has, implicitly or explicitly, an Anglo-American perspective. Wishing to diversify the literature on wild nature, my colleague Thomas Kirchhoff and I wrote an article-length historical and systematic overview over perceptions of wilderness in contemporary western European cultures.

Landscape ecology and landscape architecture

I have addressed the problem that landscape architecture, environmental planning, and nature conservation are not just applied ecology, as they often tend to conceptualize themselves. For landscape is not a purely ecological object (even if one can explore ecological systems within landscapes), but also a mental object with symbolic meanings. This was also the starting point for my colleagues Thomas Kirchhoff, Ludwig Trepl, and myself to explore the philosophy of science of complex (poly-paradigmatic) disciplines using the example of landscape ecology.

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