Monday, December 14, 2009
James Corner of Field Operations gave a lecture at the Cooper Union last Wednesday. The projects were mostly the usual suspects, such as Fresh Kills, Governors Island, Nordhavnen, and the High Line. But it was still nice to hear him speak and learn the points he was trying to make.
He started the lecture with a peaceful landscape painting and said, "This is what people usually think landscape architects are doing." Something picturesque out there even before painters and poets romanticized it. By this definition, landscape is just something beautiful to look at. You are not part of it, not engaged in it. To Corner, landscape should be full of interactions - it should be seen as the ambient background of life. There's nothing pictorial about what landscape architects do. "Nothing cool." He then moved to explain his fascination about the American rural landscape, arguing that the pictorial aspects of the survey grid and water purification facilities come from the pragmatic use of the land. Here, beauty is defined by use.
Following the same line, design acts like catalyze, or an agency, to amplify the latent potential of the site and its surroundings. One example is the High Line. In addition to being a nice public space, it is also an instrument to affect changes in the West Side of Manhattan. The sheer variety of ways to use it far exceeded anybody's expectation. Corner said Field Operations had been trying to design their projects with a site-specific approach, avoiding pre-defined aesthetics or style, although he recently started to rethink that "maybe style is not necessarily a bad thing." (Is this what people say when they realize they do have a style?)
Corner described Fresh Kills as a "theater of processes." It's simply so big; and there are so many players and contested requests for identity. The project has to be phased into several stages of developments. He raised the question: "What if there are different values in different stages so that there's no final climax stage? No 'end-game'?" I think it's an interesting concept of time - design is dynamic and responsive over time. It is endless evolving growth, or cultivation if you will, both literally and metaphorically.