Why a landscape machine?

Designers should design landscapes that challenge human beings and human collectives to allow them to redefine nature within and beyond themselves.

We are well aware that the two words ‘landscape’ and ‘machine’ are dissonant in many ways; something technocratic versus something pristine? The dissonance is on the other hand exactly right, if you consider an important pragmatism in the field of large scale landscape interventions: (1) landscapes are mostly created by (generic) professionals, only dimly including local people. (2) Landscapes, for a large part, serve a purpose, in most cases as agricultural production area, as natural reserve or as urban/infrastructure territory. These two pragmatic elements make it more feasible to consider the machine part of the landscape. Being an optimised production facility for desired outcomes. Any dissonance with local people and out of radar ecological developments, is what interests us, as part of the landscape machine concept.

The (welcome) dissonant to any fixed machinery thinking is provided by the rather slow and gradual development of landscapes. People can change, as landscapes change and thereby initial negative experiences can change. This is what is magical and unique in landscape development and this is what needs to be taken into account when considering the machine-aspect in a developing landscape. The machine may be static for a while, but will change and so will the opinions, aesthetic references and social inclusions. This is a fact that has been recognised by many designers for years, but has not yet been included and explored academically.

Landscapes need not be designed at all if they are to reflect the potential of wildernesses. Despite the autonomy of natural landscapes, we consider human imagination central and essential in the development of new types of productivity. We are worried about the increasing absence of landscapes as future places other than for parkish delight or arcadian wildernesses. Biodiversity can be increased by allowing landscapes to be productive, according to their ecological potentials. Yet, as the attention for urban centres and urban farming increases, the notion of the vast amounts of landscapes are left barren and desolate. In an average country, over 70% percent is landscape and only 8% is urbanised, this means that a future vision on the productivity of such large stretches of land is needed, to maintain a growing urban population. Urban life produces waste and dirt that can be cleaned and processed by landscape machines, if they are big enough, flexible enough and self-sustaining enough. This is the aim of every designed landscape machine. Landscapes are thus not only places to comfort and satisfy human needs, they are places that are proof of human inventiveness, natural self regulation and intricate technical competences. Additionally, designed landscapes are contemporary sublime environments to enhance dormant potentials of the abundance of energy that is present on an everyday basis.

Landscape Machines are technically complex designs that serve to clean and produce all that humans use and need for themselves and simultaneously adhere to the abundance principle of living systems. The composition of landscape machines is dynamic because of the continuous interchange of expansion and diminishment of living system components. A landscape machine is deliberately kept on the verge of imbalance because of the continuous yield of food, energy and resources that put stress on natural resilience. The design effort to create the appropriate type of imbalance is the main challenge when designing a landscape machine.

Community Supported Landscape Regeneration

Msc. thesis project Flore Bijker and Lian Kasper

whole report can be viewed here

Is there social support for the implementation of large-scale landscape machines in populated regions? What is the role of (local) people within the landscape machine concept? What allowances does the re-design of landscapes offer for the creation of (local) maintenance structures and appreciation?

These are the type of questions that came to mind when we first encountered the landscape machine concept. We were of the opinion that the concept would benefit from an increased attention to social aspects of landscapes and landscape change, especially if a large-scale landscape machine is intended to reach implementation in a societal context. In our thesis project we investigated the issue of social support for large-scale landscape regeneration projects, which could include landscape machine designs of the ‘system repair type’.

social feedback model_17_06

In the thesis project, we introduce the ‘Social Feedback Model’,  which enables analysis of complex social-ecological systems. The phenomenon of ‘social feedback’ between landscape appreciation and consequent attitudes and behavior towards the landscape proved particularly helpful in understanding social mechanisms that either disable or support landscape change and large-scale regeneration efforts.

Through the use of the Social Feedback Model in a multidisciplinary literature review, three case studies of regeneration projects and an analysis of the existing socio-spatial situation of the Vechtplassen region in the Netherlands we increased our understanding of social mechanisms. We were subsequently able to introduce conditions that underlie critical support for landscape regeneration, based on the need for empowerment of local people in the landscape on input (governance), output (use and accessibility) and social feedback level (knowledge and awareness). These conditions imply the need for new social contracts for responsibility-sharing between governments and local parties, the creation of local capacity through communal networking and agreements, and prospects of (new) direct relationships between local people and the natural environment.

social feedback model_10_09

The conditions are applied in a strategy for socially supported landscape regeneration as well as in a spatial design for the Vechtplassen region. In this way we show the possibility to deliberately plan and design for landscape regeneration that is supported by local communities. Application in design also leads us to our final suggestion towards the landscape architectural discipline: to increase  focus on the facilitation of social processes, the exchange and accessibility of knowledge and the shaping of new ways for local people to be directly connected with the natural system.

This project shows the concerns that may come up when large-scale spatial plans like landscape machines are proposed to local people in their social/spatial reality. Concepts like the landscape machine will need strategies in order to  avoid local resistance to change. We therefore propose that designers do not only occupy themselves with the design of the technical landscape machine, but that they also use their expertise to tackle social issues and build social support, and that they think of ways to embed (roles for) local people within the machine landscape. This will greatly affect the ability of these types of large-scale plans to leave the drawing board and become reality.


Program 1: an enlarged scope of focus for the landscape architect: enticing large parties in the area to open up land, resources and knowledge for initiative by local communities. Creating prospects for local people in the landscape in terms of use and enjoyment of ecosystem services.


Program 2: an interactive platform on which knowledge and information about the area can be shared, lowering the threshold for people to be well informed, gain awareness and connect to each other.


Program 3: facing (sometimes drastic) changes, communities are encouraged to get together and form local agreements and responsibility structures. Local visions get institutionalized by the municipality.


Example of an initiative: the ‘houses of nowhere’ (inspired by the concept of ‘huisje van niks’, WTS architecten) form an example of new entrepreneurial initiatives that can take place in a changed (partially inundated) landscape. People can ‘sail’ with the floating, autarkic houses through the landscape, and stay overnight at a quiet place.

image11_fish and duckweed

Another example of an initiative: the ‘water machine’ landscape can be seen as both a ‘productive’ and a ‘system repair’ landscape machine,  triggered by the need for inundation of a deep reclamation. The plan of combining fish and duckweed farming with recreational initiatives in an accessible landscape resulted from the wishes of the local community and is carried by a local cooperative in which (most) local people own shares.

Water Sprung Versatility


The river Roer (Roermond, the Netherlands) has been of great importance to the inhabitants of its valley since the Roman empire. However, anno 2013,  the Roer is not only beloved, but also known for its moody character. Due to the increase of precipitation in winter and the decrease of precipitation in summer, the rain river increasingly causes floods (figure 1) and water shortage (figure 2). As a consequence , homes in the valley are endangered by heavy rainfall upstream and the local prices of vegetables rise, as sections of the farmland due to water insufficiency. Foundation Holtveld, the client, wanted to develop a self-sufficient social cohesive estate in the Roer valley (figure 3), according to the regulations of the ‘Natuurschoonwet’ and the principles of permaculture.

Topo Roermond

Figure 1 flooding of Roer valley

figure 2

Figure 2 watershortage of Roer Valley

figure 3

Figure 3 vicinity of the estate

To be of importance to the environment, the estate needs to decrease water shortage in summer and the danger of flooding in winter. At the same time the functions of the Dutch estate have to be created: dwelling, agriculture, (public) leisure and nature development. In the design rain- and grey water are used as inputs to produce the functions of the Dutch estate by producing a diversity in water conditions via the natural elevation of the Roer valley (figures 4-6). In its construction, the design answers the flooding danger and the water shortage at the same time and reaches out to the nearby secondary school.


figure 4 diversity in water conditions via ponds

Relief 1op10000

Figure 5 natural elevation Roer valley


figure 6 eutrophication via soil

The estate (figure 7) consists of three parts: the left wing, the right wing and the residential center, which connects both wings. The left wing of the estate collects rainwater, which is gradually eutrophicated through the soil (figure 6) via two in-between ponds (figure 8) before it is released into the Roer. The construction of the rainwater-collection-pond gives the opportunity to safeguard the historic farmhouse at the same time. The right wing collects grey water, which is gradually purified through willows and reed via two in-between ponds before it is safely released into the Roer (figure 9). The different ponds with different water conditions give the estate many different functions for itself and its surroundings (figure 10). The residential center (figure 11-13) of the estate is the starting point of the rain- and grey water, which go through the machine. It is the water-beating heart of the estate, that embodies a housing capacity for eight families.

The design shows how the concept of the landscape machine provides a way for landscape architecture to not only exalt people and give them a multifunctional space, but even to be of fundamental importance by safeguarding the design and the surroundings against floods plus providing them with locally produced food, by means of taking pressure of the sewer by the gradual purification of grey water and the collection of rainwater.

Adobe Photoshop PDF

figure 7 Estate overview Holtveld

figure 8

figure 8 concept: Eutrophication left, Purification right

figure 9 waterways

figure 9 waterways

figure 10

figure 10 floods in different frequencies

Figure 11 Distinctive main entrance and rainwater collection-pond

Figure 11 distinctive main entrance and rainwater collection-pond

Adobe Photoshop PDF

Figure 12 purifying willow island, sight on teahouse and residential center

Visual Hoeve V2 backup Ai

Figure 13 the residential center: the water-beating heart

For more info please contact the author:
Koen Steegers (koensteegers@gmail.com)

Relevant research angles

There are several possible research angles that are relevant for the conceptual development of landscape machines:


Landscape production
e.g. concerning diversification of yield, introducing (new forms of) biodiversity, ecosystem analyses and thermodynamical system mapping.

Landscape aesthetics
e.g. embodied experience, (new) ritual engagement, everyday landscape interactions, shades of sublime and design style.

Landscape anthropology
e.g. local influence, feedback aspects of human/environment interactions, entrepreneurship of the designer, (new) socio-economic cooperations.

Landscape narration
e.g. design and communication, interpretation, meaning and value, involvement of other communicative expertise, pervasive computing.

Doorstep Landscape

ImageThe landscape of Venray (in de Southern most province of the Netherlands) is for an important part shaped by the presence of a successful livestock sector. This sector is obviously important for the region, but faces drastic changes. Approximately 50 to 70 percent of the farmers will quit their production, and the other farming entrepreneurs will take over their production. A transition resulting in numerous farms of mega proportions scattered over the rural landscape. The development of a metropolitan food cluster can prevent these consequences. By radical and technologically advanced clustering of the industrial activities of agriculture, the overall rural landscape will be spared from fragmented large industrial buildings. Moreover the disappearance of scattered industrial activities offers space for other functions to develop. As of consequence, a radical clustering will result in a residue of not essentially needed (former agrarian) buildings and fields, a phenomenon that is described as the space-pump effect.

The design for the space-pump in Venray is created as part of the landscape machine design lab. Nevertheless, the ‘Doorstep landscape’ is not consciously designed according to the principles of the landscape machine concept. The landscape machine aims, for good reasons, for an input-output balance in living systems. But the farmers, who are searching for a better economic, or productive balance within the metropolitan food cluster, do not share this aim. Especially these farmers are essential for the regional development by starting the metropolitan food cluster, and in that way the space-pump. The concept of the landscape machine in relation to the space-pump in the livestock sector would conflict too much with the interests of the farmers, and in that way cause a collapse of the space-pump development.

Based on this thesis one can question the applicability of the landscape machine design concept in the current economic context. The concept seems to lack a good reason for those groups who currently have the power in the rural landscape to get involved in the landscape machine concept. On the other hand, the definition of the landscape machine is quite open-ended, and makes it hard to determine whether a landscape is a landscape machine or not. If one is consciously willing to find the characteristics of a landscape machine in this design for the space-pump in Venray, it could turn out that also this design will function as a landscape machine, whether or not a in a perfect way. The landscape machine concept should in my opinion therefore be interpreted as a method to asses whether there is a stable balance within a landscape.

Fig. 1 The size of the livestock sector in Venray is far above average, and therefore very important for this region.

ImageFig. 2 298 livestock farms scattered over the rural landscape of Venray. When autonomous developing, 30-50% will grow to mega proportions.

ImageFig. 3 When the space-pump occurs in the current monotone agricultural landscape, this space can be used to restore the stream valleys, connect the villages with the landscape again, and offer the small farms an opportunity to transform their function.

ImageFig. 4 By transforming the stream valleys in a recreational, and ecological attractive framework, the lost relation between the village and the rural landscape can be restored.

ImageFig. 5 The transformation to the Doorstep landscape offers farmers in Venray an opportunity to change, or diversify their function of intensive livestock, like for example the sale of local products.


full thesis here: Doorstep_Landscape_Renze_van_Och

Lightning Farm

link to: BLDGBLOG: Lightning Farm.

There are times at which a project strikes me with both an incredible awe and a diminishing type of jealousy for the work being performed. This is such a project. A Landscape Machine of the type of dream that you can have, but do not remember the following day, leaving you with the intense feeling that something very nice has occurred without precisely knowing what was the source and reason.

Please look at the beautiful drawings by Farah Aliza Badarudding and at the test results using real lightning. (see link at the top)