The “Ecological Turn”: ‘ethics’, ‘aesthetics’ and ‘ecology’ in landscape urbanism and ecologcial urbanism, by Vera Vicenzotti

Taking the recent discourse of Landscape Urbanism and Ecological Urbanism as an example, my paper will explore one influential way in which current landscape and urban design conceptualises aesthetics, ethics and their relationship as well as the role ‘ecology’ plays in these consideration.

Aesthetics are explicitly said to be of subordinate importance in Landscape Urbanism. In particular, there is a powerful strain of anti‐Picturesque and anti‐pastoral rhetoric throughout and a general fear of seeming reactionary, sentimental, romantic and—superficial [1]. Instead, the explicit focus is on issues such as ‘functions’, ‘surfaces’, ‘patterns’ and ‘processes’, of nature as well as of society. Landscape Urbanists thereby stylise ‘ecology’ as a positive antonym to ‘aesthetics’ and ‘design’. Even though it is laudable and necessary to shift the focus from an exclusive emphasis on design to ‘ecological’ and ‘social’ issues, the decided denial of aesthetic aspects in Landscape Urbanism has conceptual shortcomings that I will dissect in the paper, analysing two theses in particular:

1. Despite explicit programmatic statements on their inferiority, aesthetics and design are crucial for Landscape Urbanism. This suspicion is confirmed when looking at the books, plans, illustrations, photos, diagrams and actual design proposals of Landscape Urbanists, which are of very high aesthetic quality and sumptuously designed [2]. My paper will explore the meaning and consequences of this discrepancy between programmatic statement and rhetoric on the one hand and actual practice on the other.
2. Landscape Urbanism simultaneously ‘ecologicalises’ aesthetics and ‘aestheticises’ ecology. On the one hand, Landscape Urbanism explicitly rejects aesthetics, or at least ‘romantic’, ‘scenic’ and ‘pastoral’ landscape aesthetics, to focus on ‘ecological’ issues. It thus reduces ‘landscape’ to an ecological object. The implicit neglect of aesthetics and associated cultural issues allows Landscape Urbanism to adopt a technocratic approach to design and planning. On the other hand, in some Landscape Urbanism projects the illustration of ecological processes is highly aestheticised, and ecological facts are turned into aesthetic subjects [3]. In this regard it is worth analysing whether ‘ecology’ is not just reduced to a sign or symbol of a ‘green’ attitude.

I will conclude by searching for answers not only on how, but also on why aesthetics, ethics and ecology are connected the way they are within the discourse of Landscape Urbanism and Ecological Urbanism, wondering whether this ‘turn to ecology’ is not primarily motivated by the struggle against societal vacuity of landscape and urban design.

[1] E.g. Corner, J. 2006. Terra Fluxus. In The Landscape Urbanism Reader, edited by C. Waldheim. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 21–33.
[2] See e.g. Mostafavi, M., C. Najle, and J. Corner, eds. 2003. Landscape Urbanism: A Manual for the Machinic Landscape. London: Architectural Association.
[3] See. e.g. the illustration of different phases of the Fresh Kills project by Field operations, James Corner’s firm, http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/pdf/fkl/fied14.pdf.

Vera Vicenzotti, Technical University of Munich, DE

vicenzotti@gmx.de

Harvard Citation Guide: Vicenzotti, V. (2012) The “Ecological Turn”: ‘ethics’, ‘aesthetics’ and ‘ecology’ in landscape urbanism and ecological urbanism, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 20 May 2012, Available at: https://isparchitecture.wordpress.com. [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

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