Representing Landscapes

Representing Landscapes

Reviews: Books

Nadia Amoroso:

Representing Landscapes


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At the core of Nadia Amoroso’s trio of representation books is the question of landscape representation’s role in imagining, creating, and inhabiting the built environment.1 This inquiry is critical to the landscape architecture discipline because of representation’s profound ability to shape both the theoretical development and physical making of landscape architecture. Landscape architects propose aesthetic agendas and implement design strategies; and graphic traditions such as painting, drawing, modeling, and mapping among others are essential in communicating those ideas. It is not surprising, then, that at the very heart of the design disciplines is a need to define successful representations and how to make them. Numerous scholars have tried to achieve just that: some exclusively examine the value of a specific graphic tradition, while others more broadly outline the supremacy of analog over digital, or vice versa.
     Amoroso’s newest volume, Representing Landscapes: Hybrid, is a departure from much of the literature on landscape representation. Prior literature falls into three categories—critical examinations of representation’s influence on the practice and theoretical positioning of landscape architecture, surveys of and guides to representational methodologies, and deep investigations into the significance of specific graphic traditions2 Representing Landscapes: Hybrid, however, underscores the combination of representational theory, methods, and tools as new forms of engagement for both thinking through and designing for the complexity of landscape architecture. As contributing author Suzanne Mathew deftly writes, “Hybrid drawings allow for the coupling, or layering of multiple views and methods, as well as the juxtaposition of differing or even conflicting ideas” (46).

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Through Representing Landscapes: Hybrid, Amoroso brings together twenty-four leaders in the field who are pioneering hybrid representational methods. Each author outlines the principles that guide their visual practices through a short essay and accompanying visualizations, all produced by students, impressively. The anthology is unapologetically written for students of landscape architecture. The essays explore themes that are relevant to contemporary landscape practice and education and use language that is clear, precise, and noticeably devoid of jargon. The stunning images are useful precedents for practitioners, students, and academics who will inevitably use this book as a source of visual inspiration and imitation. Importantly, this book is more than a how-to guide; it is a how-to-think guide, highlighting representation as critical expressions of values and beliefs across temporal and geographic scales. Amoroso structures the twenty chapters by scalar similarities, though a more compelling way to read the texts is through their thematic continuities. The most pervasive and pertinent themes are the importance of drawing time and ephemeral landscape processes, the value of hybridizing two- and three-dimensional drawing techniques, and the usefulness of fusing qualitative and quantitative data. 

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Embedded Time and Process in Hybrid Representation
Representing accelerated change over space and time is a key component in communicating landscape processes. Whether at diurnal, seasonal, yearly, geologic, or much longer timescales, the landscapes we observe and those that we design for are not static—they are constantly changing even when that change is imperceptible or unpredictable. Many of the contributing authors propose hybridized representational techniques for designing with an explicit acknowledgment that the landscape will change, most often in highly unpredictable ways. In “Make No Scenes, Real the Unseen: Photographs, Photomontages, and Mapping,” Liska Chan and Anne Godfrey write, “We expand the meaning of photographic representation first by examining how the photographic image can present false realities. Highly reliant on replicating commercial styles and trends, contemporary photorealistic montages based on ‘straight photography’ deny the dynamic nature of landscape by presenting consumable, static, idealized, and unobtainable scenes, instead of presenting active, living places” (178). In this era of heightened sensitivity to climate change and global migration, it is vital to design and represent places to accommodate the short-, medium-, and long-term evolution of their ecologies, social structures, and programmatic needs.

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Models as Hybridized Two- and Three-Dimensional Representations
As a strategy for conceptualizing landscape, model making has been largely overlooked in contemporary landscape education and practice.3 Most often the model is predominantly used as the artifact of a fully formed idea. The discussions surrounding models throughout Representing Landscapes: Hybrid are refreshing examinations of how three-dimensional studies are analytical, intuitive instruments for thinking. Maria Debije Counts writes in her essay “Maintaining Proximity: Balancing Interactions of Analog and Digital Representations in Site Design” that the hybridization of two- and three-dimensional representations forces the student to make more deliberate design decisions. She expounds, “Drawing and photographing the conceptual modeled landscape sculpture in 3D and photo montaging atop creates moments of opportunity for studying and developing design iterations in perspective—such exercises promote revisions and further deeper thinking from multiple angles in perspective for a more experiential exploration of study” (26). Reintroducing model making into the discipline as a strategy of inquiry, not as a presentation object, allows for a more nuanced engagement with a site’s form, scale, and landscape processes.

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Hybrids as Qualitative and Quantitative Representations
Advances in data analysis and digital modeling technologies have produced positivistic methods for understanding landscape processes. These methods often valorize measurable, perceptible data over intangible, perceptual impressions and interpretations. Part of this contemporary practice is the legacy of a McHargian solution-based methodology to landscape design wherein results from modeling, testing, and analyzing these quantifiable data alone determine how a site is designed. But as many of the authors in this compilation imply, combining quantitative and qualitative data is essential if one is to gain a holistic understanding of a site. In “Model-Minded: Conversations in 3D as a Means for Exploring Design Alternatives in Urban Parks,” Maria Debije Counts and Christopher Counts note, “Combining photographs, historical background, and measured site data through drawing and model making illustrates an approach to site analysis and investigation that resists the temptation for a computer program or equation to prescribe or drive site analysis and prompts students to learn to see and discover a site based on its site specificity that is inherently unique to each site” (133). The use of qualitative and quantitative data is an undeniably vital component of the design of contemporary landscape architecture and the hybridization of these data are critical in creating landscapes that are responsive to both subjective and measureable information.

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While it is clear that Amoroso’s compilation of representational hybrids is an essential addition to the discipline, the book does not establish an explicit connection between how the theoretical positioning explored through the essays is instrumental in the creation of associated images. This is not to imply that the linkage between textual and visual representation should be described through specific lessons that guide the production of student work, but rather to suggest that the reader would benefit from understanding how to translate a theoretical position into visual output. The value of representation to landscape architecture lies in its power to transform ideas about the territory—sociocultural, infrastructural, and ecological conditions—into strong visual narratives about a specific site or spatial condition. This capacity for translation is at the core of representation theory; yet it is also essential to explicitly establish linkages between our theoretical conceptualizations and our visual outputs.
     At the end of Amoroso’s compilation, the question remains­—what form should the future of landscape representation take? It is clear that the technique of hybridization is an effective tool for engagement with landscapes across a range of temporal and geographic scales, but do these traditions help us engage in more meaningful ways with our sites and with the public? For the most part, the visual examples show representations that are the literal combinations of existing analog and digital traditions, but these do not necessarily produce wholly new, unforeseeable, or unpredictable forms of design. The question of how hybridizing landscape representations will redefine the way that we draw, and therefore think about and build landscapes, remains an open, hopeful provocation.

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Nadia Amoroso is the editor of the vitally important trio of Representing Landscapes series: Representing Landscapes: A Visual Collection of Landscape Architecture Drawings (New York: Routledge, 2012); Representing Landscapes: Digital (New York: Routledge, 2015); and Representing Landscapes: Hybrid (New York: Routledge, 2016).
The two most notable books on landscape representation theory are Clemens Steenbergen, Composing Landscapes: Analysis, Typology and Experiments for Design (New York: Birkhäuser Architecture, 2008), and Marc Treib, ed., Representing Landscape Architecture (New York: Taylor & Francis, 2008). James Corner has also published numerous essays on the power and agency of landscape representation, all republished in a new compilation of his writings. See “Section 2: Representation and Creativity,” in The Landscape Imagination: Collected Essays of James Corner, 1990–2010, ed. James Corner and Alison Hirsch (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2014), 133279. Over the last decade, there has been a rich body of work that demonstrates representational tools and methods. A small sampling of these include Paul Cureton, Strategies for Landscape Representation: Digital and Analogue Techniques (New York: Routledge, 2017); Bradley Cantrell and Justin Holzman, Responsive Landscapes: Strategies for Responsive Technologies in Landscape Architecture (New York: Routledge, 2016); Bradley Cantrell and Wes Michaels, Digital Drawing for Landscape Architecture: Contemporary Techniques and Tools for Digital Representation in Site Design, 2nd ed. (New York: Wiley, 2015); Bradley Cantrell and Natalie Yates, Modeling the Environment: Techniques and Tools for the 3D Illustration of Dynamic Landscapes (New York: Wiley, 2012); and Elke Martens, Visualizing Landscape Architecture (Basel: Birkhäuser Verlag, 2010). Numerous publications examine particular landscape graphic traditions in depth. Most pertinent are Chip Sullivan, Cartooning the Landscape (Charlottesville, University of Virginia Press, 2016); Jill Desimini and Charles Waldheim, eds., Cartographic Grounds: Projecting the Landscape Imaginary (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2016); and Charles Waldheim and Andrea Hansen, eds., Composite Landscapes (Berlin: Hatje Cantz, 2015). Additionally, there is a body of literature that deftly explores the production of construction documents as a visualization technique for our discipline. Two important examples are Sabrina Wilk, Construction and Design Manual: Drawing for Landscape Architecture, 2nd ed. (Berlin: DOM Publishers, 2016), and Astrid Zimmermann, Constructing Landscape: Materials, Techniques, Structural Components (Basel: Birkhäuser, 2015)
Pierre Bélanger, “The Multimedia Language of Models,” in Platform 6 (Barcelona: Actar, 2013), v.


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