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.


Researched by Marie Baartmans and Marijn Struik of Happyland Collective


Through conducting a research about Lean Startup and Design Thinking we became aware of the fact that a designer can, besides designing the product, also design the process. How to arrange the context in such a way that the implementation of the product will be more serviceable and effective? Design in general is quite focused on content, where Design Thinking and Lean Startup are both more focused on designing processes and the combination of design skills and process/social skills you need for this. This research gives us the tools to bring landscape architecture not to the end product but to the beginning of the process. Therefore other skills are needed and in that way the theory of Lean Startup and Design Thinking on entrepreneurial and social skills forms a guide for broadening our scope.


The research builds upon earlier conceptual investigations conducted by Dr. Ronald M. Müller and Katja Thoring (Müller & Thoring, 2012). They compared and integrated the essence and processes of two user-driven innovation strategies, Design Thinking and Lean Startup. The outcome is a combination of both strategies, which is called Lean Design Thinking (Müller & Thoring, 2012). The knowledge gap we address in this research is that the current state of the development of lean design thinking does not yet clearly define which skills are needed when using the integrated process of this method to come to innovation through design. To divide the general skills from the skills for innovation through design (Lean Startup and Design Thinking), the framework of design skills by Lawson (2005) was used as a basis.


The concluding list of skills (see image) evolves the method of Lean Design Thinking by helping to clearly define what skills are needed when using the integrated process of Lean Design Thinking to come to innovation through design. Generally the research is significant, because it leads to a sophistication of Lean Design Thinking and addresses certain gaps. The research shows that skills in entrepreneurship and social skills that are also important factors in design that need to be taken into account. Besides this important critique on the framework of Lawson, it is doubtful whether the integrated list of skills under for example iteration can be considered too broad for a good understanding. Another factor that needs to be taken into account is that formulating and moving were by far the most important categories. It could be argumented that the other categories are not that important when it comes to the combination of design and entrepreneurship.


How someone should use these innovation skills is very personal and has to do with the field in which the design skills are developed and used. For us – as landscape architects – the most valuable outcome of the research was the realization of the importance of entrepreneurial thinking as a first step for initiating and facilitating projects or starting up a business. Thus we see the envisioned outcomes of the research in that way that landscape architects already learn how to think and design for innovation, but as the field is changing we need to develop the skills to undertake the action needed to come to innovation through design.


Concluding list of skills for Lean Design Thinking. Please note that the text marked in black represents Design Thinking skills, the blue text marks the Lean Startup skills and the text marked in red indicates the similarities.

Concluding list of skills for Lean Design Thinking. Please note that the text marked in black represents Design Thinking skills, the blue text marks the Lean Startup skills and the text marked in red indicates the similarities.