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.

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.

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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)