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Monday, December 31, 2007

Book Review: Two Landscape Books

The Landscape Urbanism Reader edited by Charles Waldheim
Large Parks edited by Julia Czerniak and George Hargreaves



As issues of environmental degradation, urban overcrowding, and other global concerns push landscape architecture and the more recent field of landscape urbanism into the spotlight, books responding to the landscape on the large scale are more and more common. These two books by Princeton Architectural Press collect essays and projects on the field of landscape urbanism and the phenomenon of large parks, just two aspects of how designers are approaching the shaping of brownfields, suburbia, and other "leftover" sights.
 
Landscape urbanism can be generally defined as the notion that the contemporary city is represented and constructed by landscape, rather than architecture. Editor Charles Waldheim's assertion carries through the fourteen contributions to his reader on the theory, from landscape urbanism's "father" James Corner to Alan Berger's embrace of the "drosscape." What permeates is a view that the landscape can be the glue that ties urban constructions together, by approaching the city inclusive of its region, by seeing landscape as process, and by incorporating natural resilience into designs. Basically it is a view of the landscape -- and henceforth the city -- as dynamic and fluid, rather than static and stable. Gone is the traditional notion of landscape as solely gardens and parks. By seeing landscape as process and the horizontal network in the city's verticality, landscape urbanism embraces those places, like industrial sites, that typically weren't considered as sites for intervention.
 
This isn't to say that parks and gardens are no longer an important part of the landscape profession. But how these more typical pieces of the landscape are now addressed and seen in the context of the city is the subject of Czerniak (a contributor to The Landscape Urbanism Reader) and Hargreaves's collection. While focused on a narrower topic, this book shares many traits with the reader on landscape urbanism, mainly the view that landscape can help the city; the large scale of the urban park can do more than provide recreation, it can be an important public and ecological place for the city. What separates these two collections is their approach to history. While the reader sees (primarily modern) history as something to be overcome, Large Parks sees history as something to be learned from, mainly because the greatest time of urban parks was the era of Frederick Law Olmsted and other designers tackling the urbanization of the 19th century. While places like Central Park and Golden Gate Park cannot be done today, due to the impracticality of displacing individuals and families to create centralized parks, they nevertheless offer lessons that contemporary landscape architects embrace and mold to today's concerns.
 
Certainly different in focus and content, these two books are valuable collections of how to approach the design of the urban landscape, from parks to industrial sites and other infrastructure. Overlap exists in some of the themes and the personalities involved, illustrating how the flow of ideas and approaches on the urban landscape mirrors the (design of the) landscape itself.

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