Cutting-edge Landscape Architecture in Europe

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In Touch: Landscape Architecture Europe is the third book in a series by the European Federation for Landscape Architecture celebrating the state of landscape architecture in Europe. In Touch presents in-depth case studies of 11 European landscape projects built between 2001 and 2010, along with an array of brief snapshots of other European projects. These works were selected by a jury of five people (four landscape architects and one architect) from roughly 500 submissions, striving to capture not only the best contemporary landscape architecture in Europe, but also uncover what makes these works uniquely European. Each in-depth case study, or “feature,” is followed by a short essay and a series of one-page snapshot case studies of other works elaborating on the themes expressed. Clearly organized and beautifully presented, In Touch is recommended to anyone with an interest in the state of landscape architecture in Europe.

One featured project I found particularly interesting was Cap de Creus in Cadaqués, Spain. Designed by Estudi Martí Franch and Ardevols Assocaits, Cap de Creus converted a profitable and architecturally significant complex of vacation homes into a nature preserve. Taking into account these unusual circumstances, the project does not simply demolish the homes to restore what was there before, nor does it attempt to recreate any idealized notion of nature. Instead, the materials from the buildings were used to create an entirely new landscape. For example, the foundations of the existing buildings were repurposed as sites for pedestrian viewing platforms.

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Existing roads were modified or eliminated to boost the site’s capacity to handle tourists. In this way, the designers transform the park into a natural preserve while still respecting its history as a human landscape.

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Following the feature on Cap de Creus, Maria Hellström’s essay, “Perform With Nature,” elaborates on that relationship between human and natural landscapes. Hellström discusses the continued relevance of McHarg’s seminal 1969 book, Design With Nature. She concludes that modern landscape architects are now designing with nature by maximizing ecological fitness, creating a new complex relationship with nature.

Hellström writes, “While some projects confine themselves to affirming nature’s otherness with established means, others, like Martí Franch’s Cap de Creus at Cadaqués, Spain, seek to engage in or practice ‘the wild’; trying out a position for man as ‘the enzyme’ of the material world.”

Instead of simply clearing out the human environment to make way for a restored natural environment, Cap de Creus blends the two, carefully deconstructing the human environment to allow for a re-emergence of the natural.

In Touch’s 10 other case studies are equally thoughtful and interesting. In each case, the essays and additional mini-case studies paired with the features do not feel extraneous, but instead provide additional insight and context. The essays in particular manage to be both intelligent and readable, thankfully resisting the temptation to succumb to design-speak. It’s also worth noting that as a landscape architecture student in the United States I found this book particularly enlightening –- I am exposed to far more American works of landscape architecture than European works. In Touch: Landscape Architecture Europe is an excellent book for anyone interested in contemporary European landscape architecture.

Read the book.

This guest post is by Ben Wellington, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture Candidate, Louisiana State University.

Image credits: (1) Birkhauser, (2-3) Cap de Creus Concrete Path Encouraging Exploration / Estudi Martí Franch and Ardevols Assocaits, (4-5) Cap de Creus Observation Platforms / Estudi Martí Franch and Ardevols Assocaits

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