Running Wild

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LA + cover / LA +

LA+ (Landscape Architecture Plus) is a new interdisciplinary journal of landscape architecture from the University of Pennsylvania School of Design. Published biannually, the journal explores contemporary design issues from the perspective of multiple disciplines, promoting collaboration and offering thoughtful insights and innovative ideas on each issue’s theme.

The journal’s provocative first issue, LA+ WILD, explores the shifting concept of “wild.” In the midst of the 21st century’s global environmental crisis, what is truly wild? For Tatum Hands, editor in chief of LA+, “wild is fundamental.” This idea resonates in the issue’s essays and graphic depictions, which speculate on conservation initiatives that fall under the rubric of “rewilding.”

Contributors of the issue’s 20-plus features aim to make “wild re-imagined, re-situated, and re-constituted.” Explorations into the interconnections of living things confound our preexisting notions. For example, artist Sonja Bäumel, in a project entitled Expanded Self, makes visible the bacteria on her own skin, depicting her body as an extension of the landscape.

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Expanded Self by Sonja Bäumel / Sonja Bäumel

Artist and designer Orkan Telhan observes in The Taste of the New Wild that “nature ‘as is’ is now competing with better (and wilder) alternatives.” Consumer products like bio-synthesized sandalwood and lab-grown meat are potentially more resilient, sustainable, diverse, but also more unpredictable than the sources from which they originate.

Timothy Morton’s theory on “agri-logistics” in Where the Wild Things Are and Julian Raxworthy’s appropriation of thermodynamics in Born to Be Wild: Heat Leaks, and the Wrong Sort of Rewilding challenge distinctions between humans and non-humans. Biologists Timothy Mousseau and Anders Møller reveal the darker implications of this interconnectedness in Landscape-scale Consequences of Nuclear Disasters. Findings reported from expeditions to Chernobyl, Russia, and Fukushima, Japan, demonstrate the considerable cascading biological impacts of radiation from nuclear power plant failures on ecosystems. Continued study is necessary to determine if these sites will ever be appropriate for habitation.

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Chernobyl Birds: Deformities, Albinism, and Tumors / Timothy Mousseau

So what are the implications of conservation initiatives based on “rewilding”? The movement today, as Adela Park, a landscape architecture graduate student at UPenn, reports in Re:Wilding, is entering into the province of genetic engineering that is “beguiling and frightening” and raises ethical questions regarding the invention and reinvention of life forms. Projects at Oostvaarderplassen outside Amsterdam and Pleistocene Park in northern Siberia attempt to recreate Pleistocene ecosystems to support the reintroduction of extant species like the aurochs and the de-extinction of species like the wooly mammoth. Humans are conspicuously absent from these landscapes.

But there are opportunities to encourage a meaningful and productive conversation on how to intervene in the wild. Landscape architects are positioned to redefine and reengage with the wild through initiatives that facilitate the integration and coexistence of humans and non-humans. New agencies of design and forms of practice that reach beyond traditional efforts to protect wilderness could result in novel ecosystems that both embrace and engender biological and cultural diversity.

In Tracking Wildnerness: The Architecture of Inscapes, Paul Carter, professor of design at RMIT University, shares observations on how the Shipibo people are shaping the Lupunaluz project, a cultural and biodiversity initiative in the Peruvian rainforest. From the Shipibo people’s belief that human consciousness derives from plant consciousness, contributors to the project have inferred that design is a collective endeavor shared by humans and nonhumans. Nature is not automatically arranged according to human preferences.

In Practices of the Wild: A Rewilding of Landscape Architecture, Mick Abbott, landscape architecture professor at New Zealand’s Lincoln University, explains how the Landscope DesignLab at the university is developing new technologies to engage public conservation lands. Tools like Plant-it, a mobile application that crowd-sources the replanting of forests, aim to spur the development of landscapes that value, rather than discourage, interaction between people and ecology.

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Plant-it Mobile App by Tim Reed / Tim Reed

Claire Fellman, a director at Snøhetta, argues in Watching Wild against the removal of 90 kilometers of roads within Norway’s Dovrefjell-Sundalsfjella National Park, home to a large herd of endangered wild reindeer. This conservation initiative, which prevents people from reaching the park’s interior, inhibits the creation of spaces where “blurred and overlapping boundaries can create a productive gray zone in which the rights of multiple species are actively negotiated, promoting respect, interdependence, and community.”

Gardening is an analogy for working with existing ecological processes that are both managed and adaptive. Washington University in St. Louis landscape architecture professor Rod Barnett advocates in Unpremeditated Art for conservation initiatives that are based on “an open system that creates novelty through its encounter with indeterminate conditions.” In England, farmers are being paid to create and maintain nesting plots for the Eurasian Skylark within their acreage by turning off their seeding machines for stretches of five to ten meters. This simple but innovative agricultural practice is as regulated as it is experimental.

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Unpremeditated art / Kate Rodgers

Additional opportunities emerge to experiment. UPenn planning graduate student Billy Fleming considers the efficacy of the recovery-through-competition model to create resilient cities in Can We Rebuild By Design? In Firescaping, Arizona State University environmental historian Steve Pyne discusses the potential for sculpting landscapes to control fire in conservation lands. In Xing: New Infrastructures for Landscape Connectivity, Nina-Marie Lister, Hon. ASLA, a professor at Ryerson University, presents the opportunity to design flexible, adaptive, and context-specific infrastructures for wildlife crossings that could influence the way we live and move through a landscape shared with other species.

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Hypar-Nature by HNTB and Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates / Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

Physicist and climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf advocates in Wild Ocean for the design of multi-use platforms combining renewable-energy generation, aquaculture, transport services, and leisure activities in the oceans. Writer Emma Marris‘s Simian City proposes a unique conservation strategy for the Golden Lion Tamarin, a rare species that Marris suggests could — with community support — “introduce surprise and beauty to urban life” while finding refuge in the city.

In World P-ark, UPenn landscape architecture department chair Richard Weller, ASLA, considers how landscape architecture “might now go to work on a scale commensurate with that of biodiversity’s otherwise inexorable decline.” He proposes linking the world’s most biodiverse and threatened landscapes into one contiguous World Park with two continuous routes: one north-south from Alaska to Patagonia, and another east-west from Indonesia to Morocco.

The landscape architecture program at the University of Pennsylvania is engaged in an exercise to map ecological networks for the 425 ecoregions that make up the world’s 35 biodiversity hotspots. Weller is confident that landscape architects are best positioned to negotiate how these networks, once connected, would interact with the landscape.

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World Park by Claire Hoch and Richard Weller / Richard Weller

These essays demonstrate that “to be wild is to exist in a condition of extreme openness – instability, uncertainty, and continual perturbation.” LA+ WILD sparks a dialogue that could itself run wild, potentially never reaching a conclusion, but perhaps proving as dynamic as the medium in which landscape architects work. A quote by land artist Robert Smithson paired with an image of his Spiral Jetty reminds us that “nature is never finished.”

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Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty by Adela Park / Adela Park

Purchase the issue. And look for the next issue on pleasure, which comes out in September.

 This guest post is by Shannon Leahy, Associate ASLA, recent master’s of landscape architecture graduate, University of Pennsylvania and former ASLA communications intern.

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