In this day and age when environmental concerns are becoming more and more prominent in nearly every facet of life, from design professions to politics to the marketplace and even religion, it should come as no surprise that people take varying stances in relation to being green. While much of today's debates concern a certain type of doomsday environmentalism regarding climate change and energy sources, it's perhaps fitting that the ASLA recently touted itself as being "Green Since 1899."
Indeed, notions of nature, green-ness, and conservation weren't invented in the 1960s or even the twentieth century, and have roots stretching much farther back into human history.
One of these traditions is the sometimes problematic notion of Pastoralism, an idealized and romantic (not to mention superficial) view of the rural landscape and lifestyle as being inherently better and of higher morals than the dirty city. One need only think of Marie Antoinette's ribbon-wearing sheep on her faux-farm at Versailles to grasp what can be a superficial facsimile of rural reality, and to realize that it was just that sort of decadent disconnect with common people was the sort of thing that fomented the revolt that resulted in France's Reign of Terror. Yet Pastoralism continues to rear its head in the present day, albeit in the often attractive and less galling forms such as the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics or in the blockbuster Hollywood film Avatar.
So it should come as no surprise that concerns about Pastoralism should be a part of the architectural debate at a time when sustainability and urban-rural differences have become paramount. Such is the focus of the May/June issue of Architectural Design, a quarterly British journal that focuses on a particular topic in each issue. Specifically, the theme of this edition is about how small pastoral inclinations can heal the rift between the natural and the man-made in architecture.
"Dualism is Dead; Long Live the Pastoral," guest editor Mark Titman, a Dorset-based architect and artist declares, regarding the false dichotomy constructed between architecture and nature. He calls for a architects to bring nature back into architecure, a view echoed in many of the articles in the journal. Marta Pozo Gil profiles some of Dutch architecture firm MVRDV's attempts to weave nature into the city in what it calls the "Wild City." Michael Sorkin highlights some of his projects that were inspired by natural forms, such as a cucumber-shaped skyscraper and a turtle-shaped portable theater, and members of FutureScape Studio explore novel ways of using nature to alleviate mundane urban life, such as a sardine on the London Subway and casting "a painterly light" onto the city.
While editor Titman encourages an embrace of the Arcadian idyll as an alternative to "doom-saying" environmentalism, others in the journal reject the notion of the Pastoral as being a somewhat naive distortion of reality. Along the way, there are discussions of topics as wide ranging as cybernetic feedback systems and micro-ecology.
All of this may be grist for the mill, but of particular interest to landscape architects is the conspicuous absence of landscape architects and landscape architecture (at least, as a distinct profession) from the debate. Granted, it is an architectural journal and as such architects can be expected to predominate. However, given the journal's subject, the fact that several contemporary and historic artists are included in the pages makes one wonder - were there worthy landscape architects who were simply overlooked for inclusion within the journal's pages, or are there no landscape architects that warrant being included?
All in all, it is an interesting topic and the journal issue is full of insightful articles on how Pastoralism relates to art, architecture, urbanism and the culture at large. It may be the task of landscape architects, whose traditions are rooted in the same history as Pastoralism (such as landscape painting), to bring more to the table in terms of how nature ought to relate to architecture.