Short review: "The Urban Masterplanning Handbook"

Adhering to the naming convention of the ongoing family of ‘urban handbooks’ from Wiley, this substantial book is less a instruction manual for urban development and more a deep resource of use to architects, urban designers, planners and other development professionals. Starting with a succinct summary of the evolution of masterplanning, the authors offer their own definition which is clear, concise and characteristic of the supporting text and images evident throughout the book. Setting out to assess “how much control is desirable and necessary for urban development”, the bulk of the book is devoted to 20 case studies of historic and more recent masterplans drawn from around the world. 

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landscape urbanism (dot) com

I was recently delighted to be asked to contribute to a brand new website and online publication: landscapeurbanism.com. Founder and editor-in-chief Sarah Kathleen Peck is the driving force behind the initiative and it was a fantastic experience to work with her and her team on an article for the inaugural issue themed around ideas of “Indeterminacy and multiplicity”.

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Turning the field: Contradictions in Landscape Urbanism

The theoretical genetic code that makes up the DNA of landscape urbanism is spliced from a diverse and eclectic range of disciplines. The selection, mix and concentration of these theoretical components by landscape architects, architects and other professions has resulted in discrete interpretations of landscape urbanism that are often contradictory and representative of specific rhetorical threads. What are these contradictions and how did they form?

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From emergence to divergence: modes of landscape urbanism

This dissertation is the result of my interest in a hybrid practice that might cross architecture and landscape architecture. As a student of both, and a city dweller, I have always been fascinated with how the contemporary city, in all its complexity, engages with the physical architecture of its built form and the landscape of its territory. Just as fifty years ago, there were few concepts of spatial structure in cities, we are perhaps now in a period where the understanding of ‘natural’ systems in cities is only just starting to emerge. 

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Measure: phenomenological & ontological readings

Measures of subsistence: common grazing. Illustration: Author's own.

Measures of subsistence: common grazing. Illustration: Author's own.

Man’s measure is not a quantity that can be measured. Only man’s being itself can tell what its measure is, by the fiery test of the living encounter of the human self with reality...Human measure is to be sought in the quantity of our belonging – in the magnitude, direction and degree of our being with the other as with our own.
— Albert Hofstadter, Agony and Epitaph: Man, His Art, and His Poetry (New York: George Braziller, 1970)

October 2005 saw the start of my Postgraduate Diploma in Architecture degree year at Edinburgh College of Art. I joined the 'Locus Architecture' unit, the aim being to "discover and identify the elements and forces that constitute a Locus and to translate these into authentic architecture". Tackling challenging rural situations in the Scottish Highlands, the year was about integrating dissertation topics within the design project and focused post-graduate research. The unit helped crystallise ideas that I have long felt missing from much contemporary architectural practice and allowed me to attempt to tackle such issues within the difficult and highly emotive landscape of the Scottish Highlands.

During the course of the year I wrote a dissertation which explored the term measure as it relates to human interaction and understanding of the natural environment. Measure is most usually understood as the units as well as the mathematical or cosmological structure with which one may understand a certain reality; measure is also the particular technological instrument that shapes, or makes manifest such units and the ethical gauge against which the actions and cultural products of these instruments can be assessed. Taking a key text on measure by James Corner and Alex Maclean entitled Taking Measures Across the American Landscape as a starting point, the dissertation aims to explore the phenomenological aspects of the term suggested in the text, and furthermore demonstrate that measure can be read from an ontological viewpoint. 

This ontological viewpoint takes the philosophy of locus architecture as a starting point in order to show how by a structuralist approach, such a reading of measure can be understood to reveal the deep structure of a place. Simply put, locus architecture is the practising of a careful architecture with authentic design drawn from the deep cultural study of a specific place. At its core is a concern for the powerful essences of pure being that exist in a place, abstract essences that have been described as ontological forces. Whilst locus architecture is the philosophical background to the dissertation and the author’s own diploma design work, the Scottish Highlands is the geographical background. 

The dissertation is illustrated throughout by the author’s exploration of changes in measure in the Scottish Highlands. These informal diagrams and maps are an extension of the text and suggest further avenues for study as described in the final chapter.

You can download the dissertation here (55Mb).

Folding landscapes – defining a new language of surface?

...we are currently in a period of architecture and design where the power of computers to model complex organic built forms is being exploited, resulting in the development of a new design language that works for both architecture and landscape architecture. Could such a common language lead to closer cross-disciplinary understanding and ultimately better designed landscapes, buildings and spaces?

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Short review: "Parks: Green Urban Spaces in European Cities"

Parks: Green Spaces in European Cities
By "Topos - European Landscape Magazine"

“Parks: Green Urban Spaces in European Cities” is the latest themed collection of previously published articles drawn from the past 10 years of Topos magazine offering readers the chance to access articles long out of print or hard to find. As in the last collection, the articles range from theory and historical discussion, to presentation and critique of built work and are heavily illustrated. French, German and Dutch writers contribute the bulk of the theoretical writing, presenting a balanced and forward-looking vision of the role open-space has to play in their respective countries. Built works are drawn from a somewhat larger area and include the usual suspects: Parc Citroën; Parc Villette; Duisburg Nord and the Kröller-Müller alongside newer projects such as Thames Barrier Park and the new Botanical Gardens of Barcelona. Happily, the generally little-known ‘Gardens of the World’ project by Kathryn Gustafson is presented, despite its position in semi-rural France. Situated in the Dordogne outside Terrasson-Lavilledieu, the park is briefly but eloquently described by Gustafson herself and supported with beautiful site plans, sections and photographs. The only other practitioner describing their own work is Giles Clement who carefully and thoughtfully discusses identity and signature in landscape design through a detailed analysis of his Serial Gardens within Parc Citroën. His comprehensive presentation of planting plans, plant lists and photographs alongside the sensitive underlying landscape theory is one of the strongest pieces in the book and perhaps worth its purchase alone.

There are a number of other books in the same series which are all great resources for past Topos articles:

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