Landscape architecture is an art form.
Landscape architecture is neither art nor science, but art and science; it fuses environmental design with biological and cultural ecology. Landscape architecture aims to do more than to produce places for safe, healthful, and pleasant use; it has become a forum for the articulation and enactment of individual and societal attitudes toward nature. Landscape architecture lies at the intersection of personal and collective experiences of nature; it addresses the material and historical aspects of landscape even as it explores nature’s more poetic, even mythological, associations.
Conclusion Landscape and garden design is the greatest art form and it sits at the top of the built environment hierarchy. The landscape is not only the greatest art form, it is a science and the natural science all forma a part of it. The landscape is our primary environment, our physical wellbeing and our psychological wellbeing originate with it, more than that our lives actually depend on it.
Long overshadowed by architecture and the fine arts, landscape architecture is producing remarkable transformations in our public environments. The profession is maturing, conceptually it is more complex. It is developing the artistic and technical tools to address extraordinary social and environmental demands. The ways in which we understand and represent our relationship with nature are enormously important in the expression of culture. The ways in which we meet the challenges of urban sprawl, open space preservation, resource consumption and waste, and environmental protection and restoration are crucial to the quality of our lives—maybe even to the survival of our species. It is landscape architecture that confronts these challenges. I wish to make an extreme statement, if only to make an emphatic one: landscape architecture will prove the most consequential art of our time.
Landscape architecture is not an art form.
Anyone familiar with “Walking,” by Thoreau, will recognize that I have borrowed the rhetoric of the preamble of his essay. Thoreau used hyperbole to make a point; I am inclined to do the same in order to argue that landscape architecture will soon become the most consequential of the design arts. Admittedly, the profession has been beset by various problems. Relatively young, it lacks the rich theoretical and critical traditions of architecture. It has long been constrained by an attachment to the picturesque. In recent years it has been at war within itself, diverse factions pitting ecology against art—as if the two could not coexist. And so far it has failed to attain the public profile of architecture or the fine arts: built works of landscape architecture are not as readily identified and evaluated as paintings, sculptures, or buildings.
Now that we have answered all those questions one serious question remains. Why is landscape design the most disrespected profession in the built environment? Why are we the last professionals to be called in for development projects when logic tells us we should be the first? What’s wrong with this picture? Think about it!
These phenomena raise an important question. Are these urgent social and environmental demands being met by the development of a compelling design language—a language particular to landscape architecture? Landscape architect Diana Balmori has articulated widespread anxieties within the profession that landscape architecture has yet to find a contemporary idiom. “The profession of landscape architecture appears to be finished,” she argued. “Its edges have been overtaken by architects and environmental artists. Ecology has been taken over by engineers and hasn’t really affected design. At the same time, the profession hasn’t found a core. The center has not been defined and held.”4
Landscape architecture can be an art form.
Another Perspective Yet there is one other excellent argument to augment the status of landscape and garden design as the greatest art form. If we work logically through the hierarchy of the built environment, we find that we arrive back at the origin point – the landscape itself!
An Introverted Perspective So far, we have been discussing the nature of landscape and garden design based on its inherent dimensions as living functional art. We can analyse all the art forms based on these dimensions to see the extent of involvement.
But if I had to choose one project that suggests all the intricacies of recent landscape architecture, it would be Parque Ecológico Xochimilco in Mexico City. Not only does this project articulate the commanding narratives that undergird recent practice, such as remediation and sustainability, it also addresses the challenges of urbanization in one of the most populous cities in the developing world, providing both open space for recreation and productive land for economic development. And it does all this on multiple scales, from the circulation in a flower market to the workings of an extensive ecosystem. Even more than Landscape Park Duisburg North, Xochimilco suggests the large role that landscape architecture can now play in social and environmental remediation.