Opening Academic Year WUR: The inclusion of Landscape Architecture | TOPOS

_OVERIGE_ door Rosanne Schrijver en Cor Simon A reflection of the opening of the academic year of the Wageningen University. It is striking how the controversial discipline of landscape architecture within the Wageningen University now seems to play an essential…

Source: Opening Academic Year WUR: The inclusion of Landscape Architecture | TOPOS

the whole opening ceremony can be watched here (there are green marks, for each new session in the whole video – the landscape machine part is at the fourth green marker).



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 (

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.

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.