ARMATURES AND PROCESSES
Viable design begins with purposeful study and analysis. But the planning process rarely requires the active form-making that is central to landscape architecture. Reams of analysis and overlays will establish the parameters for making a garden for a suburban backyard, but they will hardly provide the design. McHarg’s method insinuated that if the process was morally and analytically correct, the form would be good, almost as if and aesthetic automatically resulted from objective study. Presumably, meaning would accompany the resulting landscape.
-Marc Trieb, “Meaning in Landscape Architecture and Gardens”. New York: Routledge, 2011.
Exercise: Armatures and Processes
Landscape processes are open ended, and some results can be controlled to a degree while others cannot. Armatures are structures or systems that may reveal, redirect, or be affected by processes. The art of landscape architecture is in the play between armatures and processes.
Form-making is intrinsic to our discipline. In landscape project development, site analysis provides the initial parameters for form-making. Project boundaries, soil depths, existing topographic signatures all control and influence built form. In addition, project briefs outline program requirements; some programs require specific square footages or geometries.
Yet the art of the discipline lies in making the transition from the parameters of analysis and program requirements, to the creation of a landscape. In this phase, like it or not, you must show your hand. You must be decisive: how big, what color, what material, how and where to delineate—or not—boundaries between conditions.
Modeling and sketching are intrinsic to testing the spatial, aesthetic, and material implications of your decisions. How we draw something—be it a with a sharpie or software—will have a substantial impact on the form of what we build. In general, these mark-making tools are precise and deliberate. But these devices are less effective for “working out” and representing the formal potentials of landscape processes, those involving chance, gradients…and accidents. In drawing, we often focus only on expediency, what we’re comfortable with, and what is within arm’s reach, rather than what’s appropriate for the drawing task. To counter these tendencies, in this assignment participants create a series of drawings and models using “fluid” materials that may provide unpredictable formal results, concluding with a series of models that are experiments in modeling the play of landscape processes against site armatures
An ARMATURE refers to a framework or skeleton. An armature may change or it may be removed or replaced. In general, an armature is durable-it remains unchanged for an extended period of time in contrast to the processes that play against it. Processes may affect the armature, through structural or gradual means. An example of an armature is the low-head dam near 5th Avenue on the Olentangy River that was recently removed. The dam induced both spatial and ecological effects; it created a larger area of inundation and slowed water velocity, affecting plant and animal communities. Its removal resulted in a large-scale reorganization of the territory it once influenced.
A PROCESS is a series of actions that leads to changes in conditions. Landscape processes include words ending in -ion: erosion, deposition, inundation, excavation, fertilization. Disturbances are a type of process, often due to a release of energy on a given site. Fire is the agent of incineration; drought is a prolonged period of desiccation, and flooding is the inundation of land by an increase water. Disturbances alter spatial conditions, biological communities, and result in aesthetic changes to landscapes.
Processes may be instigated, induced, or controlled by humans. Many processes once considered natural are highly influenced by human actions. For example, forest fires are considered to be natural disturbance, but the increased damage to life and property from forest fires is due to increased urban development in fire-prone areas. Flooding may be considered a natural disturbance, based on seasonal weather patterns. Yet increased severity or frequency of flooding events may be due to an increase in upstream development and the expansion of impermeable surface. Some processes are inevitable, such as the colonization of recently disturbed ground by ruderal species, until additional disturbances occur. Thus, specificity in terminology is key in our discussions, rather than relying on binary categorizations such as natural and man-made.