We all know that architects design buildings, those discrete objects that sit on a site somewhere in a town or a city or the suburbs or the countryside. We also know that architects, at least most of them, make an effort to design their buildings with some sensitivity to the particulars of their sites and even to a broader landscape commonly known as ‘the context.’ But in our contemporary urban world, with its aggregates of buildings that become in themselves artificial landscapes and contexts—entirely displacing the natural—the architect’s role would seem to inevitably expand beyond designing built single objects. Also, in our contemporary world of environmental and global ecological concerns, it is clear that even the design of single buildings has broad consequences and must be framed in those terms by their designers, indeed by all involved in their realization. It is up to architects, with their presumably wider perspective, to take the lead.
A few architects have explored the possibilities of fusing buildings and landscapes, creating what Thom Mayne has called ‘hybrid landscapes.’ While such are not in themselves inherently ecological, this approach indicates a sensibility that could lead in that direction. At the very least, it manifests a different attitude toward architecture, one that plays down a heroic conquest of nature and looks for modes of coexistence with it. As in all cases of coexistence, neither presence is sacrificed at the expense of the other; rather, each impacts the other in creating—hopefully—a balance, even a new form of harmony.
(below) Giant Group Campus, Shanghai, China, by Thom Mayne, Morphosis, design 2005, construction completion, c. 2010. Actual photos of constructed landscape:
(below) City of Culture of Galicia, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, competition model, 1999, by Peter Eisenman, Eisenman Architects. Project under construction.
(below) Terrain (earthquake architecture), by LW and Dwayne Oyler, 1999:
(below) Terra Nova, Korean DMZ, 1988, by LW:
Artists have covered the same ground, so to speak, in ambitious ‘land art’ projects:
(below) homage to El Lissitzky, The Netherlands, 1986 [demolished c. 1993], by Lucien den Arend:
(below) Spiral Jetty, Utah, 1970, by Robert Smithson:
Industry has done the same, with less than encouraging results, bringing into question the very idea of transforming the natural. To what end is it done? And with what consequences?
(below) Coal strip mine, West Virginia, photo c. 2008: