The team did some hiking and bird watching this past weekend at Government Island State Park in Portland. Government Island is located on the Columbia River and is actually comprised of a series of islands, with 15 miles of shoreline. It was a gorgeous outing! Check out some of the shots from the adventure, taken by our resident photographer and marketing assistant Charley:
A conversation we started on Land8 was spotlighted as a featured discussion!
We posed the question to landscape designers: Where did your passion for landscape originate? What were the narratives you had growing up that defined and transformed the world into a canvas for you?
We generated some really interesting, compelling responses (some even recounted poetically), all of them which may be read here.
The responses we received are really exciting to us, as they help to accomplish two important things:
1) Affirm the vitality and social value of the profession (it can often be viewed pejoratively and is misunderstood as being “exclusive” or culturally/socially unusable or irrelevant).
2) Uncover a common thread that connects all of us–professionals and nonprofessionals alike. The land is our home to all the meaningful experiences we’ve had–and will continue to have. It’s the book of all our experiences, the story of which, of course, is forever ours to write.
We encourage you to read this discussion here and join us in the conversation by telling your story in the comments. Share with your friends. Let’s rethink our connections and relationships to the land.
Without it, where else would we be?
We often tango with the question of “sense of place,” and what it really means. It’s a topic which we confront invariably in our day to day work, and as a landscape design firm in Portland, OR, it’s something which we seek to define, understand, and to potentially rewrite– in a sense. After all, a “sense of place” is different for everyone, and it’s really a bit of a dynamic entity.
There’s no one correct usage of the term. We can say that “sense of place” is some singular attribute (or attributes) that some geographic spaces have and some which do not. We can say that it may not even have anything to do with geography at all, but with a certain feeling or a recognition that we carry within ourselves. In either case, what results is a nebulous but compelling sensation of attachment, belonging, ambiguous nostalgia–a kind of rightness. A formless, shapeless feeling, yes, but essential.
A “sense of place” is also, we believe, history in passage, sweeping into the next moment, then the next. Landscape is an important vehicle that guides, records, and naturally becomes a part of that passage. Spaces develop and grow unto themselves in the courses of nature: anthropological expansion, climate patterns, topographic shifts. These are what can make places unique and what endows them with history. We believe landscape is an ancient tapestry onto which stories are woven–stories which never quite disappear either. A “sense of place” is a sense of existence, of all the things that once existed, are existing now, and will exist. It can be a sense of being, of finding your piece in the story and employing your position in an ideally infinite history.
It’s interesting to see the transformations taking place today in modernist landscape architecture that seem to work towards planting a sense of place where it may not have existed before. Take this article, for example, on contemporary landscape “interventions.” Renowned modernist spaces, characterized by their austere sparseness and hard lines, are being redesigned and renovated to essentially supply a better sense of place, where people can relax and linger. While there is some debate over the legitimacy of these redesigns and whether or not they threaten an important part of the country’s architectural history, these projects and transformations reveal a contemporary agenda that attempts to answer and reinscribe (in our eyes, at least) the question of “sense of place.” Thomas Balsley says in the article, “Many of the spaces were impressive, very modernist, but not very human…[y]ou didn’t feel like you were part of the story.”
What’s your definition of “sense of place”?
Looks like a set from a steampunk movie!
The Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord is virtually unknown outside of Germany, so we were happy to stumble upon a great post about this park, built on a bygone coal and steel production plant in the north of Duisburg. In 1985, the steel industry abandoned the area and left its ponderous structures to decay and crumble. In 1991, Peter Latz of Latz + Partner initiated a project to rehabilitate this lost zone with an objective to heal and resuscitate the land. Latz’s idea of the land’s ecological recovery, however, involved keeping as much of the existing sites intact. The result is a park that retains a strong industrial legacy and a strikingly pre-19th century agricultural heritage.
It’s this balancing of elements and integration of history that make Landschaftspark so remarkable. There are important precursors: Latz’s preceding “Harbour Island,” and Richard Haag’s “Gas Works Park” in Seattle.
These are successful instances of the ways in which abandoned sites can be treated, and they are magnificent not only because they show how defunct, inoperable land can transform into breathing, multi-functional parks, but also because they connect memory into the design strategy. By preserving these gargantuan industrial monuments, the viewer is given an experience of past and present–first a connection to the agricultural and industrial antiquity from which the park has sprung, and second the process of framing and making sense of the sites which the viewer encounters. Themes of temporality and transience attend the park as the steel continues to degrade throughout the area, while nature quietly reclaims pockets of the land.
It’s dynamic and relevant–a vital demonstration of function, of culture, play, history, and place.
More about this amazing place here.
We recently spotted an article about artist Konstantin Dimopoulos, who has been painting trees blue in urban areas like Seattle and Kenmore. He cloaks the trees with azurite, a soft, deep blue copper mineral that eventually fades and washes away over time. The effect is marvelous, as it transforms what has always been so familiar and essential to us into something quite foreign and strangely conspicuous.
Dimopoulos began his Blue Trees installations in 2010 as an effort to draw attention to shrinking forests around the globe and to the millions of trees being lost to man-made and natural deforestation each year. The basic principle behind the project is to transform the way people view, think about, and process the natural environment around them. When we see the trees for what they’re not–in this instance, blue–we’re forced to re-evaluate the experience we typically have with these entities.
Konstantin writes on his website: “In nature color is used both as a defensive mechanism, a means of protection, and as a mechanism to attract. The Blue Trees attempts to waken a similar response from viewers. It is within this context that the blue denotes sacredness, something reverential.” While I find the choice of blue to be more jarring, intrusive, and bizarre than divine, the trees certainly inspire feelings of awe. There is an assertiveness and an imposing quality to the Blue Trees that seem to almost reshape the landscape surrounding them. How do we make sense of the relationship between these trees and the city blocks or commercial spaces in which they’re placed? How did we make sense of it before the trees were colored blue?
While there have been mixed responses to the project, there’s something to be said about the way it confronts us with the question of disappearing natural elements. This brings me back to the thoughts about green walls and the rise of urban greenery mentioned in a previous post–ironic, is it not, that we seem to be invoking and attempting to revive elements of nature in our urban spaces at the same time we’re supplanting nature via rapid urban development?
Check out Dimopoulos’ work here.