Cultural landscapes and landscape aesthetics are broad topics that have been thematically explored by many authors who have dedicated their careers to questioning how people interact with and manipulate their environments, such as J.B. Jackson in Landscapes (1970), Denis Cosgrove in Social Formation and Symbolic Landscape (1984), Simon Schama in Landscape and Memory (1996), and John Stilgoe in What is Landscape? (2015). Their work continues to influence landscape architecture by offering a range of perspectives for seeing the world and understanding our place in it, from the vernacular landscape to the representation of landscapes to what landscapes themselves represent. Although Thinking the Contemporary Landscape succeeds in providing a broad cross-section of the current questions and concerns within the discipline such as climate-change challenges and topics in cultural landscapes and aesthetics, as a collection it lacks depth in the exploration of such topics and questions. As the editors concede in their introduction, the book raises “more questions than it will bring answers” (10.) The objective of the book is clearly pertinent and essential in the field today, and the questions raised are valid, but this statement justifies the editors’ choice to prioritize breadth (more perspectives) over depth (extended pieces). Simultaneously, many of these questions concerning landscape aesthetics, culture, and social impacts have already arisen in the discipline as a critique of positivist approaches to landscape, and this volume is unsuccessful in venturing far beyond them in either asking or answering. For instance, in her 2008 essay Meyer asks, “Can landscape form and space indirectly, but more effectively, increase the sustainability of the bio-physical environment through the experiences it affords?”2 The editors seem to raise the question of bridging the gap between aesthetics/experience/formal and performative/systems-based/open-ended approaches, but few authors addressed this directly. Questions surrounding the role of aesthetics and poetics in contemporary landscape architecture, addressing a discipline grappling with larger scales and global challenges, are extremely timely, relevant, and necessary to continue to push disciplinary boundaries. These questions, however, need to be confronted head-on to create highly meaningful, functional, and performative cultural landscapes that engage in the complex challenges we face in this century.
Elizabeth Meyer, “Sustaining Beauty: The Performance of Appearance,” Journal of Landscape Architecture 3, no. 1 (2008): 6–23; and Anita Berrizbeitia, “Scales of Undecidability,” CASE: DOWNSVIEW PARK, Julia Czerniak, ed., (New York: Prestel, 2001): 116-125.
Meyer, “Sustaining Beauty,” pg. 8.
How to Cite this Article: De Almeida, Catherine. Review of Thinking the Contemporary Landscape, by Christophe Girot and Dora Imhof, eds. JAE Online. July 17, 2018. http://www.jaeonline.org/articles/reviews-books/thinking-contemporary-landscape#/.