One of my primary research efforts is focused on Latin American landscapes. Outside of the work of Luis Barragan and Roberto Burle Marx very little is known about Latin American landscape projects, practices, and practitioners in North America. This may not be unique to landscape architecture, but related fields such as geology, ecology, archeology, civil engineering, architecture, agronomy, political science, sociology, and anthropology have all created bodies of knowledge- historical, theoretical, and technical- that include developments in Latin America.
There remains a profound Northern bias in North American landscape studies: our precedents, philosophical underpinnings, study abroad programs, invited speakers, grants, and fellowships all heavily favor Europe, North America and recently East Asia. There are very good, historical reasons for this tendency including the fact that Europe is our dominant cultural referent, as well as the fact that the discipline of landscape architecture was not organized as a profession in Latin America until very recently.
I believe this negligence is to the detriment of landscape architectural theoretical and technical development in the United States. I laid out the crux of this argument in a presentation at the 2012 Conference of the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture and you can see some of that work in this brief blog post. Latin America may not be our referent but it is our corollary: the size of rivers and mountains, post-colonial histories, ecosystems in ecological release at a continent scale, wealth and income disparities and relatively unpopulated expanses punctuated by huge metropolitan agglomerations are all trans-American commonalities that are important to understanding the landscape (and they are all radically different from anywhere in Europe).
There wasn’t always such a sharp division in landscape architecture through the Americas. In the early days of the profession practitioners such as Virgil Bogue practiced throughout the American Cordillera and urbanist Benito Carrasco in Argentina argued for a national parks system based on that recently established in the United States in the first decade of the twentieth century.
We might reknit these relations and create new knowledge by studying the urban forms of modern Buenos Aires and Bogota in relation to Chicago and Miami, by understanding the distributed port systems of the Parana River in relation to the Huntington Tri-State Port on the Ohio River, and by considering the municipal parks created in Latin American capitals in the final decades of the 19th century. I hope to prove the historical, theoretical and technical relevance of landscapes in South America such that the study of landscapes in Europe might be deemphasized in favor of relations with institutions, practitioners, and landscapes throughout the Americas. One potent way in to this project is through the field of Hemispheric Studies, which posits the Western Hemisphere- the Americas- as “a broad system of exchange, movement, and influence to examine the overlapping geographies, movements, and cross-filiations between and among peoples, regions, diasporas, and nations of the American hemisphere.”
This work is being formalized along 3 lines: as a broad Atlas of Latin American Landscape Architecture meant to act as a starting point to support or instigate research across fields and institutional allegiances, as a comparative project of urban rivers and watersheds throughout the Americas supported by the Cornell Einaudi Center for International Studies, and through the Borderlands Research Group, which draws from folks such as Frederick Jackson Turner and Mary Louise Pratt, and Scott Pratt to investigate the significance of frontiers and contact zones in American landscape design.