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Landscape Epistemes

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1 Landscape Epistemes on Mon Jun 18, 2018 6:47 am

Topic: Culture of Nature: Landscape Epistemes
How have the meanings and functions of landscape shifted throughout the past centuries? Using Foucault’s epistemes as a model for reference, I will look at the Renaissance, Classical, Modern, and Post-Modern epistemes in comparison to the cultural perceptions of landscape spaces during these various eras. The end of the paper features a discussion of landscape design in more recent eras and how they effect our current understanding of landscape architecture in the spirit of Foucault’s analyses.

The Order of Things, written by French philosopher Michel Foucault in 1966, was a highly influential book in France during the time of it’s release. Foucault presented a unique analysis of history in the context of ‘epistemes’ – following the major paradigm shifts in logic throughout history. Foucault relied on systems of power and logistics of language to organize this progression of human understanding of reality.

While the book was highly revered by French intellectuals, many historians found the analysis over-simplistic (Fillingham). Although Foucault generalizes historical events, the perspective presented in The Order of Things provides a new way of thinking about human existence and the way in which reality is interpreted.

Foucault’s reasoning establishes a basis to survey many fields of study – he presents examples from art and literature throughout the text. As landscape architecture is changing with the influence of digitalism and globalism, Foucaults epistemes provide a system by which to analyze space and assess future developments in the practice.

The proceeding chapters follow Foucault’s epistemic structure while examining landscape architecture through Medieval to Modern history. The analysis of landscape architecture features projects located predominantly in Western Europe. The last section features an analysis of current landscape architecture developments in the style of Foucault to critically inspect modern landscape architecture practices and identify doublets to be resolved for future intellectual progression.

Man as Connection
Pre-17th century gardens were highly compartmentalized, confined to built structures and featured forms that were cohesive to utilitarian purposes. The ‘Period of Mirror’ can be seen in landscape form as symbols are directly referenced to material elements and their denotations – “the hinge between two things a resemblance appears” (Foucault, 18). Analysis of the world is based on a series of resemblances – sympathy, emulation, convenience and analogy (Gutting, 142). The relations of objects was based on a connectedness rather than separation. Man is seen as connected to surroundings that all have relations to God, human and the object in question – meanings directly rely on a supposed knowledge and do not encourage analysis further than relating symbols to allegorical meanings.

Although very different in scale, walled gardens and chateaus represent a similar paradigm of thought throughout Medieval and Renaissance landscape use. Besides agrarian purposes, the medieval garden relied heavily on symbolism. The wilderness was seen as a doublet of religious enlightenment and also fear of the unknown. To control this duplicity, walled gardens were created to add a sense of human control on the landscape while providing a space for religious meditation. Elements included “flowery meads” which imitated natural areas (Boults Sullivan, 22). Landscape elements held similar meaning to that of painted works at the time where botanical elements were related directly to certain human qualities – i.e. lilies in relation to purity as in Robert Campin’s painting Annunciation of Merode Altarpiece (Ferguson, 1961). The objects of landscape were understood by their relation to visual similarities and proximities to other objects.

In the 16th century the doublet of landscape as production or symbol still persisted. There was a slight shift in the appropriation of landscape in the 16th century. Economic growth due to increased markets and luxury imports lead to landscape elements, still highly invested in symbolism, but, instead of religious origin, the forms mimic those of material goods. Anet in France was enclosed by architecture and featured parterres that symbolically linked themselves to tapestries and other symbols. Economic growth in both France and the Netherlands came with the increase of country homes with private gardens removed from villages and urban space.

Man as Organizer
Foucault’s ‘Period of the Mask’ is based on the analysis of observation – rather than pure symbolism. Man as seen as an ‘invisible organizer’ who imposes order in an attempt to understand the world. Foucault found that Descartes Rules for the direction of mind captured the nature of thought during this period in time (Gutting, 146). Unlike the Age of the Mirror where resemblance was the organizer of thought, signs in the Classical Period were argued to be “ontologically separated from the world and instead only exist in an ideal mental order” (Gutting, 149) Signs were created in the mind of man, there was no longer a need to rely on the inaccuracies of the natural world, and they “must represent; but that representation, in turn, must also be represented within it” (Foucault, 64). This viewpoint can be seen well in the French Chateaus as well as the English landscapes of the 17th century.

Axial viewpoints – usually radiating from a built structure – connected dwelling, nature, to extents beyond by imposing a system of order. Landscape designers sought to make the extents of a property perceivable as endless by a system of geometric forms. Topiary became more abstract and less allegorical – control was emphasized over symbolism. Logic was applied to landscape and the sense for reason and control as pioneered by Descartes and Euclid. This can be seen in the work of Andre La Note as Cartesian logic was the basis for designs (Boults Sullivan, 138). Each element had a specific location in a plan drawing of the site. In contrast to the medieval gardens which existed in a less rationalized space, often portrayed by a flat image containing it’s basic form and elements or in an anecdotal tale, these forms were highly representable. This also relates to the interest in accurate mapping of space in the 17th century. Forms were not judged outside their ability to impose order on a space.

The English picturesque gardens of the 18th century do not fit as well into Foucault’s epistemological thinking as the French Classical gardens do. The arrangement is not based on a specific geometric order, the space is mainly dictated by viewpoints and a progression of follies. A connection can be made in the interest of knowledge being represented as in it’s suggestion of greek and roman architecture and in the presence of hermitages – on occasion small dwellings would be given to nomads that were given a stipend and supply of books to stay on the property and act as a source of whimsy. The use of superficial elements as a connection to knowledge would seem artificial outside of this period of thinking.

Man as Object/Subject
Foucault discusses the ‘Period of the Hyperreal’ as resulting from a ‘failure’ of representation (Gutting, 182). This ‘period of hyperreality’ has man as both the subject and object of study. The reasoning behind structures and forms were questioned and Foucault presents the paradigm shift that all knowledge not is representable. With the doubt of representation, this period saw the split in traditional fields of study – analytic and synthetic knowledge were now distinct (Gutting, 183). Natural History became biology; philosophy shifted from the understanding of the world and becomes the understanding of man; the analysis of wealth became economics (Cenzatti). This transition in fields can be seen in Landscape Architecture, as man is not merely an invisible organizer but is reacting to the empirical systems of knowledge such as environmental and social sciences. This leads to the doublet of form vs function as human-use in space became increasingly important. The focus on human experience was gained by the loss of the unquestioning acceptance of representation of the Classical episteme (Fontana-Giusti, 32). The landscape was no longer seen as what could be represented in plan but was perceived to have influence on urban health and promote spectacle by creating a platform for displaying consumer goods. The individual experience was now an intentional influence on the forms of landscape architecture.

The knowledge of representation as a human construct bore limitations – forms and their derivatives were contested. The uncertainty of representation as truth, led to the reluctance to rely on pure geometry for allocation of space, Landscape Architecture became fixated upon either environmental determinism (function), abstract ground planes (form), or a hybrid of both approaches. Haussmann's redesign of Parisian streets represents an early transition in planning to this thought-process: the large boulevards and uniform housing did not only provide more capacity for vehicles of transit but in the continuous facades and allées created an idea of movement and economic strength that could not be represented in traditional rendering techniques. Highly influenced by public health advocates, Fredrick Law Olmsted demonstrated this shift to functional landscapes: “service must proceed art... So long as considerations of utility are neglected or overridden by considerations of ornament, there will be not true art” (Olmsted Papers). There was a sense of dishonesty in pure form and the approach of landscape as public intervention was popular throughout the late 19th and 20th century. The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces by William H. Whyte was created during the culmination of the influence of this approach; the film empirically approaches urban plazas, applies a logic, and evaluates spaces for their social services. Also influenced by the need for a logic applied to form, Landscape Architect Lawrence Halprin described the landscape as "a whole appreciation of environmental design as a holistic approach to the matter of making spaces for people to live.... Modernism, as I define it and practice it, includes and is based on the vital archetypal needs of human being as individuals as well as social groups." Man was the creator of space as well as the subject of it’s creation (Gutting). Forms that were universally effective to living space were sought out through empirical research and the question of formal language of design continued throughout the 20th century.

Man as Singularity
Current states of landscape architecture in the 20th century are being questioned as digital platforms arise and global connectivity increases. In Foucault for Architects several questions are suggested by the author for analysis of current affairs under a Foucauldian analysis. I will analyses the future of landscape architecture under the following inquires: What determines the flow of capital and power today? How did this hierarchy come to be? And what effect has digitalization and globalization had on current paradigms? (Fontana-Guisti, 14).

The flow of capital today is defined by the increasingly connected society – money, objects, and data are instantaneously available. The global market is one of volatile exchanges and unpredictable shifts. Reallocation to more productive markets is increasingly simple with digital platforms catering to a global marketplace. The exportation of the labor economy to post-colonial regions has allowed for a surplus of capital in the colonizing regions, making the service industry grow in developed – colonizing – nations and increasing the availability of materials that convey digital abilities. Digitalization and globalization have affected current paradigms by creating an instantaneous knowledge base where focused observation is no longer paramount to understanding space when digital records are readily accessible. This shift from analysis to a vectorial access of information has affected both the way knowledge is perceived and ordered.

As forms of past decades have become easily accessible, new importance has been placed on the transcendence Foucault calls phantasm – the persistent ephemera within the perception of reality. Foucault describes the mental experience of the exclusion of definition as that which “arises between surfaces, where it assumes meaning, and in the reversal that causes every interior to pass to the outside and every exterior to the inside in the temporal oscillation that always makes it precede and follow itself...” (as cited in Gutting, 153). Foucault often refers to Deleuzian thinking which sought to remove the simulacrum and instead perceive the inconsistencies that were not able to be processed in traditional representation techniques – moving past the uncertainty of representation to the unrepresentable. In order to understand a world that rejected representation, knowledge is currently based on sets of hierarchical relationships. Hegel defined this way of thinking in his principles of ordering knowledge; according to Hegel, reality is based on binary contradictions and man utilizes a series of contradictions and synthesis to grasp reality and organize thought (Cenzatti). We organize space into concepts of indoor vs outdoor, global vs local, periphery vs center, formal vs informal. The concept of phantasm encourages awareness of the inconsistencies within these dualities. In the spirit of Deleuze, Foucault encourages the slippage into the realm of vacillation where lines are blurred and awareness is unrepresentable, to hover over the subtraction of knowledgeable representation.

How can form be understood in relation to this un-space? How does the concept of phantasm effect the field of landscape architecture?  With the uncertainty of power structures due to the transfer of capital over vast expanses, spaces have become more reliant on digital or ephemeral elements to ensure they will be useful. Programmatic spaces are doubted – designers do not approach landscape formulaically but instead create spaces that will invite participation of that are open to temporal events by their lack of permanent structures. Besides the less immediately relevant appropriation of digital reality as an enhancer of public space – ambiguous spaces, open layouts, and parametrics can be discussed in relation to phantasm.

The reliance on social constructs reinforced by built structures was questioned in The Society of the Spectacle by Debord. Written works by Debord, Deleuze, and Guattari influenced designers – including Bernard Tschumi and Zaera Polo to create spaces without formal denotations (Fontana-Giusti, 158). Formal conventions in park planning are questioned by Tschumi’s design for Parc de la Villette; ambiguous ‘follies’ – a similar concept to those of the 18th century but without any formal historical reference – are scattered through the park in an attempt to bring ephemera into a system of formal logic. The spaces were indeterminable with no direct programming; their use was in their vagueness and rested upon the logic conclusion that there is no architecture without event (Fontana-Giusti, 40). It could be argued this mode was unsuccessful as many of the ‘follies’ were converted into more traditional building typologies later.

Another way phantasm can affect the field of landscape architecture is the increase of ‘pop-up parks’ and the creation of permanent spaces that allow for adaptation. With the uncertainty of how public space should be appropriate and with fear of long-term investment, funding has been giving out in smaller amounts to create a diversity of products. Similar to the start-up model pioneered by venture capital this mode of landscape generation has provided many spaces of transition, temporality, and transferability – spaces can be a process of long term interventions, ephemeral installations, or provide access for a range of events by their flexible form. Renderings of landscape architectural designs display this perpetuation of the ephemeral – perspective drawings tend to feature whimsical imagery of events taking place, people in action, and the existence of wildlife. While this approach focusing on the temporal can foster ingenuity in the field of landscape architecture, the grasp of phantasm has not been resolved. The spatial jouissance of Deleuze has been critiqued by various writers. Douglas Spencer critiqued this approach by highlighting it’s neglect of socio-political influence on form (Fontana-Giusti, 158). Other scholars have also discussed the doublet programmed vs un-programmed space scrutinizing programming temporal events in a public space in lack of activation by design (Kullman). Less-designed and highly-programmed spaces represent an attempt to create spaces that are elusive to representation, but problems with this style of design have not been fully resolved.

Another result of the movement from the forms of the modern episteme is the urge to create form conceivable only to parametric programs using digital technology. The use of parametrics transfers the field of design from the empirical to the more mathematical. Although an attempt to capture forms not readily representable, this design technique is not usually responsive to socio-political aspects of space and is mainly based on form. This indeterminable and alluring style of design has tended to be utilized for many large-projects, often to make a city more economically viable and give an appearance that an area has a place in the global market.

As the field of Landscape Architecture oscillates between standards of the practice in the past and the paradigms of the presents, it is important to maintain critical awareness when designing space. When speaking of the humanities Fontana-Giusti paraphrases Foucault’s analysis stating that “they have ceased to possess the emancipatory and transcending power they once had as liberal arts… they have become another form of training of a means of transmitting cultural capital.” With state of globalization expedited by digitalism, it is important to keep an understanding of social, economic, and cultural aspects of landscape design. Using Foucault’s analysis we can see how shifts in epistemic thinking have affected the field of landscape architecture, and, although sweeping, these models can give us a better understanding of the means by which value is placed on landscape.

Works Cited

Boults, E., & Sullivan, C. (2010). Illustrated history of landscape design. Hoboken, N.J.: J. Wiley.

Cenzatti, M. (Professor). The City: Theories and Methods in Urban Studies. Lecture conducted from UC Berkeley, Berkeley.

Fillingham, L., & Susser, M. (1993). Foucault for beginners. New York: Writers and Readers Pub.

Fontana-Giusti, G. (2013). Foucault for Architects.

Foucault, M. (1971). The order of things: An archaeology of the human sciences. New York: Pantheon Books.

Gutting, G. (1989). Michel Foucault's archaeology of scientific reason. Cambridge [England: Cambridge University Press.

Kullmann, Karl. 2015. “The Usefulness of Uselessness: Towards a Landscape Framework for Un-activated Urban Public Space.” Architectural Theory Review 19 (2): 154-173.




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