Building the Future of Health 2  Time:10:00-11:00

Theme:#healthy cities

Source: Building the Future of Health

Serious Landscaping, Healthy landscapes, transforming experiences


During the nineteenth century it was debated whether ‘land’ could be described in terms of beauty or sublime, as these were words related to the experience of nature. It was then generally agreed that landscapes needed ‘that kind of beauty which is agreeable in a picture’ (Gilpin, 1802). Recently, however, the agenda for an understanding of landscapes has toppled towards more immediately embodied nature and landscape experiences instead through the arts (Carlson, 2014). One of the explanations why the aesthetic character of ‘the sublime’ has become relevant again, is that there is need for a revolt against industrialization and ruthless urbanization combined with an increasing acceptance of ecological ideals (Brady 2013). If this is the case, the notion of the sublime can be explained as a critique of the current inadequacy of imagination on how to build cities and manage natural resources.

In this session we will first elaborate on this notion and then discuss two examples, made by young landscape architects. A new generation of landscape architects is concerned with large-scale landscape transformations that both heal the physical aspects of these landscapes, as well as their experiential character. We thereby interpret the future of health as both a physical as well as an experiential phenomenon. The combined ecological and experiential character will be explained by use of a framework for six archetypical landscapes that each poses a different challenge for healing. In general, we acknowledge healing as a transformation process of both body and mind.


First price Archiprix competition won by a landscape machine!

The project ‘Ems, Full Hybrid’ by my former students Remco van der Togt and Jonas Papenborg (co-supervised by Harro de Jong)

won the prestigious Archiprix first price 2014.

For the project description see here

and for the jury report see below:

Each year the Dutch institutions offering Master’s programmes in architecture, urban design and landscape architecture select their best graduation projects and submit them to Archiprix.

Of the 27 submitted projects 21 are by students graduating in architecture. Two entries have urban design as the major subject and six have landscape architecture. Thirteen of the graduation projects are located abroad.

Armed with an ingenious strategy, this graduation project presents more than just an all-in solution to the serious and complex economic and ecological problems afflicting the Ems estuary. It adds a convincing long-term perspective for developing this area on the border between the Netherlands and Germany. The approach is professional in the extreme and scientifically underpinned where possible and clearly documented. The designers correctly acknowledge that this is a so-called wicked problem. There is a margin of uncertainty to be considered, since the effects of the proposed interventions are not entirely predictable. This explains the manoeuvrability of the strategy to be followed. The project makes a credible impression, illustrating that designing can combine well with scientific research. The design has appealing spatial qualities and is presented in a way that is transparent to all involved. The compelling tale is clearly told and beautifully portrayed. The project unfolds a series of related proposals that are technically well underpinned. The proposed measures are targeted at benefitting the processes in the area. These are not just natural processes such as the flow of the river and the effects of the tide, but also the displacement of water by the cruise ships passing by. The long disused polder system to either side of the river is exploited in a new way, in which discarded North Sea oil rigs get a new duty to perform. Besides generating an attractive landscape in which nature and production join forces, the project provides economic opportunities while putting an end to the expensive business of constant dredging. The designers make a convincing proposal, one that gives shape to their intention of taking the vitality of the Ems region to a higher level. It is a project that provides valuable insight to a wide audience, from scientists to inhabitants, from harbour barons to nature lovers. A project that impresses and delights.

Landscape Machine CHECKLIST

Figure 2: An energy systems diagram of a hypothetical Landscape Machine described by making use of COOS – the key concepts of evolutionary thermodynamics described by Tiezzi. A set of interacting processes, energy and material flows that resemble functions and services performed by a hypothetical landscape machine. Processes, systems and connections among them have a spatial and temporal dimension, each of which is the potential object of a deep investigation and design. By Riccardo M. Pulselli 2012.

The design follows a procedure that is besides being dependent upon local circumstances, roughly generic according to these points:


examine (4 points)

  • examine the confinement of the landscape machine
  • examine potential ecosystem services
  • examine historic systemics of the site and past/present social engagement (e.g. cultural embedding)
  • examine external and internal metabolic relationship and mark by what they can be measured


define (4 points)

  • define desirable nutrient cycles and feedback systems (recycling)
  • define nutrient cycles geographically and describe what has to be connected/isolated?
  • define desirable human, animal and plant life involvement (affordances and landscape ecology)
  • define what type of yield is possible over what timespan (strive for abundance and diversity)


A rather pragmatic part of the procedure is to administrate an input-output scheme of the metabolism. This scheme, together with accompanying cross sections that show the dimensions in the landscape, indicate what types of interactions may take place. We argue, and have witnessed, that such schemes can serve as the neutral ground for both the designer and the involved specialists to foster the research and design process.



Tiezzi, E (2011), ‘Ecodynamics: Towards an evolutionary thermodynamics of ecosystems’, Ecological Modelling, (222), 2897-902.

Landscape Machine TYPOLOGY

Recent examples of landscape machines envisioned in the design laboratory at Wageningen University have revealed several types that clarify the diversity of living system design. Even while all designs reveal a site-consciousness, they differ in their productive aim and living system methods.

production type, example see here

waste treatment type, example see here

system repair type, example see here

renewable energy type, example see here

With the ‘production type’ an initially small enclosed cycle of crop or livestock breeding is upscaled to become an open chain of nutrients, waste and fertilizer exchange. The landscape machine enlarges the amount of production units while being responsive to existing or dormant landscape processes that are cooperatively used.

With the ‘waste treatment type’ it is intended to decontaminate soil, water or artificial materials by means of ecological processes. The sequence of processes is determined by variation in time, size and position of the various cleaning stages. Eventually, the majority of waste is turned into valuable resources. In some cases, a minority of waste residue has to be isolated to perform in extreme types of landscape environments (e.g. the sink garden in Dredge Landscape Park) and to avoid contamination of other systems.

The ‘system-repair type’ is an intervention in a landscape to re-adjust an unbalanced aspect within for instance delta regions, riverbeds or beach and breach coastlines. Due to human creations such as deep sea harbors, some dynamical systems need continuous and costly maintenance that results in an equally continuous hindrance of biodiversity and system complexity. Such landscapes are ‘kept alive’ by relentless human involvement that by their necessary brutality continuously effect the evocation of natural balances. Carefully designed landscape machines are however capable to catch up with natural balances within dynamical landscapes and by doing so, introduce more abundant and diverse biodiversity that can thereafter become the basis for local and sustainable economical management. For example, the project ‘Ems, full hybrid’ , reveals that a sea-delta can be restored to a natural balance of width, depth and shape of the delta while adding new breeding grounds for mussels and a vast diversity in marine biotopes that, given the change to mature, will re-establishes an (economically profitable) gradient between mainland and delta landscapes.

Lastly, the ‘renewable-energy type’ of landscape machines are intended to redesign the infrastructure of energy and mass exchange within a confined physical environment (or region). The availability of local materials and energy to produce electricity and heath/cooling can be enhanced by living system design. Renewable energy provided by natural forces such as ebb and flood, plantgrowth, wind, sun, and the chemical difference between sweet and salt water (i.e. blue energy) all offer parts of a puzzle that is needed to assimilate and store a guaranteed amount of energy. The various parts of this machine operate within their own timeframe and speed, some very slow and some need prevention to develop into the next successive state. The periodicity and overlapping biorhythms are specific to this type of design and are especially interesting to describe by way of an evolutionary thermodynamical system.

Relevant conclusions of the >>designing nature as infrastructure – symposium<<


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technical university München November 29/30 2012

English grammar mistakes may still be present

by Paul Roncken, Wageningen University

How to Grow a Landscape and Who should Initiate such a Venture?
It was a pleasant and insightful meeting in München and our hosts did everything to make it comfortable and intellectually stimulating. The attention for each presentation was substantial and the discussions were sincere and helpful. We all enjoined this pioneering venture into the design research on ‘nature as infrastructure’. Here are some of the main conclusions that were exposed during the debates at the end of each session.

There was a general agreement among the 17 (teams of) participants that the design for living systems is in demand of a monitoring procedure. Such a procedure is currently absent, both as a concept and in practice. (1) The concept of a monitoring procedure should contain qualitative aspects while assessing for example water and soil quality, energy efficiency, waste cycles and characteristics of biotope development. (2) The practice of a monitoring procedure serves to inform about the performance of the project and the deviations and unexpected development.

There is currently hardly any client or governmental position to initiate a monitoring procedure and it was therefore discussed if designers should prepare for initiating steps to enable future development of such a crucial aspect in living system design.

Besides monitoring of performance there seemed agreement on a collective motive to position design as a risk undertaking field that is in demand of low-risk experiments on a 1:1 scale because living system design necessarily includes an amount of unpredictability. This is both the charm and the essence of living system design and relates to an equally important development of theory to specify the aspects of such a ‘charming essence’ since this is related to the field of ‘environmental aesthetics’ (not specifically addressed during this symposium, but implicitly mentioned every now and then), including both negative and positive sensations because living systems are not bound to human preference alone, they are bound to biotic and abiotic relationships that rather may be a ‘counterpoint’ (e.g. Matthew Skjonsberg) to human interaction.

The presence of ecological theory by referring to authors such as Odum and the concept of entropy and exergy is generally accepted as insightful manners to quantify the many holistic (and therefore also negative) relationships within a living system. It is however necessary not to be blinded by the seemingly objective presentation of such (thermodynamical) models. Even these models contain moral and ideological paradigms that should be made explicit and transparent before using the models as foundations of living system design. If designers hardly attempt to enquire about the fundamental discussions that have led to such ecological models and do not engage with recent journal articles on the topic of ecological modeling; designers could be subjected to unknown flaws and empirically unfounded reasoning. It is the responsibility of design researchers to adapt such models to serve a clear motive instead of simply ‘parasitizing’ on the surface appearance of models for the purpose of scientific validation alone – risking the development of quasi-design-science (e.g. Georg Hausladen).

The attention to the multidisciplinary character of living system design and monitoring underlines the extremely broad interests clinging to landscape design. Yet this broadening obviously also can delude the specialized competence of designers as imaginative seducers. In other words, the seriousness and comprehensiveness of the now well accepted responsibility for living systems in general may be an ambition for landscape designers, planners, urbanist, architects and artists, yet somehow they cannot or will not – by their own tradition and professional culture – guide and implement all the necessary strategies to create actual living systems. Designers see what is needed, but they cannot deliver the whole product. This situation is already felt and discussed within academia and so far it has resulted in a number of new names for – maybe – old concepts, such as ‘green infrastructure’, ‘landscape machines’, ‘ecosystem services’ and ‘network design’. It is still questionable whether these ‘names’ benefit the maturation of the profession as a whole. New names might instigate new collaborations (which would be beneficial to the complex knowledge needed) yet they might also instigate a fashionable type of ‘branding’ that leads to unnecessary competition and self-protection amongst colleagues.

The articulation of design motives may to designers themselves be vague and intuitive – perhaps more opportunistic? – and would need the aid of social sciences to help clarify and question. A specific performance of a project would need a specific target group to communicate to, how well are we able to adapt our project results to diverse target groups – or: how blind have we become due to academic language?

New alliances are needed to ‘grow a landscape’. Alliances within urbanized regions are different to those in un-urbanized regions. Let us not forget that urbanization may be a hot topic to politics and design in general, but landscapes (forests, watersurface, mountains, agriculture and recreational area’s) still make up for more than 75% of the geographical content of countries. During the conference both urbanized and un-urbanized examples have made clear that strategic thinking on project-coalitions demand our attention. In both cases it seemed clear that a local community inclusion would be preferable to top-down implementation. Community inclusion appears to have major advantages regarding long-term management, monitoring and adjustment, education as a means to create awareness and economic viability.

Again, an important question was brought forward: if the designers see the necessity of community inclusion, what competences and actions do they develop and undertake themselves to make it happen – besides making it appear obvious by articles and paper plans. Social sciences need to be included more intensely into design-research alliances to avoid the risk of uninformed presumptions regarding public involvement and the manyfold motives varying according to different cultures.

Growing a landscapes does not automatically relates to ‘greening a place’. Since landscape design is increasingly intertwined with urban and architectural design and because ecological reasoning has been system related since the 1960’s, we need to be smarter than sales representatives, pitching photoshopped images of luxurious greenery (perhaps by including more text based social media). As academics we appear to be in the right position to examine what ‘growing a landscape’ would mean. Smartly designed urbanization is in some cases better equipped to implement ecological cycles. New material experiments containing biochemical components, nano-technology and (small scale) renewable energy plants still need to be included in our design repertoire.

The presence of student work in developing examples of living system design is very beneficial to the speed and intensity of experiments. They however also limit intensive cooperation between experienced designers and researchers. It would therefore be a welcome addition to start design research projects including the university staff members themselves and professional talents. Such collaborations could become part of future conferences addressing specific specializations and themes. Such design experiments are however too complex to handle in a workshop style, they are in need of longer term semester periodicity. Maybe an international network of ‘Design Research Academies’ containing a selection of relevant parties could be instigated to structure such an effort. These ‘Academies’ are temporary programs as part of the existing Msc structures (exchange programs, internships) and they could be part of now dormant design research teams within design offices; linking practice and academia into the exploration of Serious Landscaping.

PR | 2012

Ecosystems Under Stress

SENSE Symposium:

Assessing the impact of chemical and physical disturbances on ecological processes and ecosystem structure

This symposium welcomes poster and oral presentations that aim at assessing the impacts of chemical and physical disturbances directly or indirectly originated by humans on ecosystem integrity and eco­system function at different levels of biological organization and at multiple geographical scales.

The rapid increase in human population and strong industrial growth experienced in the last century affect ecosystems on a global scale. Direct impacts of expanding anthropogenic activities such as agriculture or industry include forest destruction and habitat fragmentation, water resource depletion, and chemical pollution, which caus­es severe disturbances of the structure and functioning of aquatic and terrestrial eco­systems.
Furthermore, as a result of the alteration of the basic physiology of the planet (i.e., chemical composition of the atmosphere and cycling of carbon and other basic ele­ments of life), indirect impacts such as climate change, erosion or eutrophication are adding unprecedented stress to natural systems. Humans have been dedicated to the study of the prevention and restoration of such (irreversible) ecosystem disturbances by using modeling approaches and experimental studies. However, the puzzle is still in­complete and new ecologically relevant approaches need to be developed in order to assess impacts for a wider range of ecosystem stressors and ecosystem endpoints.

Keynote speakers
Dr Theo Brock – Chemical stress in freshwater ecosystems of agricultural landscapes. Alterra, Wageningen UR
Han Lindeboom – Impacts of physical disturbances on marine ecosystems. Imares, Wageningen UR

14th of December of 2012, 9.00-17.30h

Wageningen University, Atlas building, Room 1 and 2

Andreu Rico, Jacqueline Augusiak, Noël Diepens (Aquatic Ecology and Water Qual­ity Management group, WU)

Information, submission and registration
This symposium is free of charge.
For submission of a presentation abstract send a title + abstract (max 350 words) to before the 28th of November.
For registration send an email to before the 5th of December.