I recently attended an extraordinary conference aimed at examining environmental concerns and cultural issues as they manifest themselves in the open spaces we make, whether they are in the most urban parts of our cities, at the interface of developed and wild space, or in the newly open spaces created by shrinking cities and the abandoned building sites that result.
The three-day Landscape Architecture As Necessity conference, held September 22-24, was organized and hosted by the University of Southern California School of Architecture/Graduate Program of Landscape Architecture + Urbanism. The goal was underscore that the discipline of Landscape Architecture is uniquely qualified to play a central role in addressing the challenges that face us when we are creating spaces to inhabit in a collective way.
Many of these presentations benefited from significant research and extremely well-illustrated graphical representations of data gathered and assembled by graduate students working in focused studios over multiple semesters, under the guidance of the conference presenters. Most were a clear demonstration that the landscape architecture discipline is well qualified to translate data generated by environmental scientists into compelling graphical form. The results of these efforts were comprehensible and powerful. Furthermore, insights into the meaning of that data, and imaginative responses to those implications, was abundantly evidenced.
The premise that global climate change is underway underpinned the logic of nearly every presentation. The question is no longer if but how quickly, and what can be done to mitigate or adjust to the effects as they currently manifest themselves. Those effects include a rise in sea level, loss of biodiversity, and the re-disposition of agriculturally suitable land, to name only a few. These phenomena will trigger further impacts, including dramatic insults to world economic systems, disruptions to agricultural production, displacement of human populations and the potential for political unrest.
The extent of human impact on the planet is regarded as pervasive, according to the conference presenters. As evidence that this is so much the case, a new geologic age has been coined: the Anthropocene. This state of being has been achieved through our sheer numbers; by the technology enabled super-industrial scaled scouring of the planet for resources; and by the degree to which those resources are converted to waste at a rate, and in forms, indigestible by the regulating systems of the planet.
Solutions that account for and prepare for predicted, and at this point, measurable, effects of climate change while working to account for as many natural systems as possible were held up as models for the profession. Suggested methods for dealing with these impacts included new and resurrected building typologies and land use strategies, as well as identification of financial mechanisms to pay for the their implementation.
Highlights for me included presentations of poetic visons, expressive of the forces that that are shaping our planet, such as those presented by Dilip da Cunha and others. I enjoyed seeing solutions to the challenges presented by the project site (site as seen through the most expansive of lenses), which demonstrated the potential for an expansive view of the landscape discipline. Many creative and insightful proposals were represented in areas such as the complexities of river systems and the competing needs of navigation (and the economic and cultural benefits that it facilitates); the resiliency and permeability of original river systems; the need for groundwater recharge; the need to harness water for human needs, and the need to support the remnants of ecosystems in a region.