The Swans of Landscape Architecture

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GENERAL DISCUSSION The Swans of Landscape Architecture

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    Edward Flaherty

    ***Please forgive double post…but I think the readers here are mostly a different lot than on LArch-l.***

    Dear Readers:

    As the market, we serve most, goes through turbulent times again… …not the first since the era of FL Olmsted, I have noted that the profession, a unique blend of left and right brain activity, seems to move unaffected over the long run, like a swan moving through water, some ups and downs naturally.

    Yet within the profession there is always a steady noise from its practitioners, whether academia, public or private sector, about the definition of landscape architecture and the ‘relevance’ of our name, landscape architects. Yet, the swan gracefully glides onward.

    Despite the onset of calamitous world events, World War 1, the Great Depression, World War 2, despite the impact of social and technological events, the telephone, electricity, the automobile, airplanes, environmental activism, digital culture, the swan swims on; and it retains its solid yet lovely grace. That is landscape architecture, until I read about the Black Swan, works recently published by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

    Now this may be nothing more than a larger wave that our swan rides through; but lots of economic and social impacts seem to be headed toward some kind of warp change. And, hey, we will always need a small plot of ground to grow a few vegetables, fruits and flowers on, no matter what. But landscape architecture has ridden cartesian and platonic traditions fairly heavily into the present. We, in the western World have ridden these same traditions, and marketed them, with reasonable success, to all others as progress. And they indeed are moving humankind into more troubled waters.

    Black swan, according to Taleb, is an event, like a scientific discovery, that is undirected and unpredicted. It is a large impact and rare event beyond the realm of normal expectations. His thinking behind this is traditional sceptism and throttles the types of ‘taken for granted’ institutional thinking, and statistical norms upon which most of us build our world picture and plans for the future.

    I ask the readers here, is there a black swan in landscape architecture? By definition, black swan events are unpredictable and random…but for discussion…what would be a high impact black swan event in landscape architecture?

    …heh, heh, heh…
    Jus’ for fun,
    Edward Flaherty

    Rico Flor

    Heheh…letting loose some black swans your way, Ed:

    – If and when the US Administration takes environmental issues seriously into their local and foreign policy and matches these with budget and action…..not actually singling out the US, but a lot of nations follow suit or get influenced with US Admin policy…got a friend, avowed Republican, who considers that an anathema…

    – When landscape architecture is legitimately melded with human settlement developments and poverty alleviation (akin to issues confronted by the UN Commission for Human Settlements), and when both parties respect each others’ contributions (we don’t just prettify)…..Could there be ‘Development Landscape Architecture’?, and…

    – I’m already concurring with the eventual suggestion of climate change with ELE potential (ELE, as in “Deep Impact’s” extinction level event).

    Hoping there are also geese laying golden landscape architecture eggs.


    This is an intriguing query, though a little too much for my weary mind at the moment (the ski season in Colorado is on!!).

    Watered down thought is about all I can manage until tomorrow perhaps and then I may still be off the mark, but I believe adaptable and creative thinking may become more useful in the rapidly changing world we live in than what I think is the “institutional thinking” you are referring to.

    Perhaps the “Black Swan” in Landscape Architecture is our own collective consciousness about the reality we live in. I’ll let the slow cook tonight… ­čśë

    Thanks for the great topic..

    Ian Varriale

    Your question, or the question of a ‘Black Swan’ event is very intriguing. I think a true black swan event will only ever be realized in hindsight. I believe however, that it is possible that we are living in the shadow of a black swan event right now. But the shadow is so large that its true shape and nature can’t be fully discerned. While there may be many promises in science, technology and education the current climate change scenario may trump them all in terms of impact on the profession. Landscape Architects may well find their role has changed from designer to part of a rescue crew in an all hands on deck to save the ship scenario. With a failing economy and failing climate the majority of LA’s might well be relegated to installing predefined ‘modules’ of ‘landscapes’ as part of public works projects. While this may not be all bad it may well change the profession from that of creative place making to more of a civil servant role.
    Or not.
    No really I am an optimist!

    “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” -Donald Rumsfeld.

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