“Dangers of Relapse Into Polarization”

urban-design-vs-urban-planningAccording to Charles Waldheim, “One of the more important debates with respect to the cultural renewal of landscape concerns the historical tension between the scenic and the metric” (Corner, 130).  Firstly, to understand Waldheim’s claim one must comprehend that there is a debate, and it has been an elusive issue.  The debate is centered on the premise that there is a fundamental paradox between planning and design.  The former based off metrics and the latter exclusively concerns humanistic appeals.  The humanistic appeals may be summed up as the emphasis on the “material, phenomenal, and ecological dimensions of landscape” (Corner, 130).  So, rather than metric and humanistic approaches being combined they are increasingly considered at odds.  In comparison to most matters, there is an origin to this debate.

During the Picturesque movement in 18th Century England the artist was the primary translator of design within the realm of landscape.  the 20th century gave rise to Modernism that grounded itself with the objective, the factual, and legal veracity.  Landscape, in general held onto the picturesque notions of the 18th century.  Unfortunately, today, “More important to the renewed vigor and vitality of the discipline is the development of critical lenses that are capable of accommodating the ‘both-and’ condition of landscape and its various representations” (Corner 131).  Landscape is not simply the subjective but must contain objectivity in order to mature as a field.  Maturing as a field will mean heightened access into markets, larger influence on the planning field, create a larger audience (“following” if you will).  These consequences in turn, will “solidify landscape’s role as heir to the bureaucratic and uninspired failings of the planning profession.  In this way, landscape might be recovered as a primary ordering mechanism for a genuinely diverse, transparent, and contemporary urbanism” (Corner 136).

The only things that might be impeding these inevitable successes is the debate itself for it has “revealed a new interest in the material, phenomenal, and the ecological dimensions of landscape in lieu of the purely pictorial” (Corner 130).  Consequently, a divide is occurring, which I personally see every time I open a Landscape Architecture Magazine (LAM).  As Landscape as a profession must highlight all of these facets yet remain balanced enough to maintain an objective planning, designing, building industry that accomplishes the above listed goals.

In short, “the past century has seen a growing disparity between the pictorial and its metric counterparts in landscape practice,” says Waldheim (Corner, 131).  Without redirection, without recovery from 2 centuries of misplaced efforts, landscape will continue to struggle  with creating beauty and truth in the built environment.


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3 Responses to “Dangers of Relapse Into Polarization”

  1. jnmllr says:

    Scott, this is a very astute piece. Could you identify the text by Corner that you cite? Is it the title of this post?


  2. sgetz2013 says:

    Thank you! The book is called Recovering Landscape, edited by James Corner, and the essay is dubbed “Aerial Perspectives of Landscape and Nature.”

  3. sgetz2013 says:

    Pardon me. The essay is by Charles Waldheim, and it is called “Dangers of Relapse Into Polarization.” The book is Recovering Landscape, edited by James Corner.

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