In the past decade or so many articles have been written and promising careers made by speculating on the potential of landscape and architecture for remaking infrastructure. The movement has even given rise to the “emerging field” of landscape urbanism, home of such new school luminaries as Chris Reed, Liat Margolis, Pierre Belanger, and Kate Orff. This movement, coinciding nicely with the rise of web 2.0 and parametric design capabilities, have given bldg blog and pruned a fertile field to plow. Budding young academics have taken the mandate to make beautiful, bombastic drawings about just how fun and beautiful things will be if we make all infrastructure social.
Now, the above project riles me up. I love the idea, but the renderings are disingenuous. They don’t admit or address what will surely be a major issue with the plazas when they are built; namely they don’t deal with the grime and dirt that comes from recycling a city’s water. This is major theme in landscape/architecture/urbanism- take the pretty, leave the ugly. And this undermines our credibility in the eyes of the engineers, beaurocrats, and sensible citizens (as opposed to those unsensible ones).
To seriously tackle the undertaking of constructing socio-ecological infrastructure- productive landscapes- designers can embrace the seedy underbelly of engineering. This mind-shift, would give rise to a whole generation of Bukowski-esque landscapes. Muddy zones in public plazas where seedlings are propagated, unkempt areas of public parks where people are able to dump their compost of or see their grey water at work, newly engineered bio-rafts accessible only by catwalk where the food waste of the West Village is composted.
Landscapes that functioned as systems and not just as stages for entertainment would be deployed throughout the city, much like corrugated pipe and asphalt is today. This is not a novel idea and most of the big ideas comptetitions these days deal directly with the topic. But until we stop showing renderings that assume sewage is pretty, and trash smells nice, we will continue to implement these stategies in a superficial and piecemeal way, creating didactic landscapes that point out “I am a bio-filtration swale. I filter stormwater” while the real infrastructure remains underground and out of sight. Storage and staging grounds have always been a part of any working landscape, be it a backyard garden or Lower Manhattan.