Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Corner(ing) the Market

I've been sitting on this almost finished post for almost two weeks, patiently, then not so patiently waiting for Metropolis to get around to posting their November content online... mainly for this month's great profile about James Corner, and some sweet new pics of the High Line and other work. Finally it's here, and we can properly illustrate this article 'The Long View' and elucidate what Corner means to the profession?

:: what can YOU learn from this man? - image via Metropolis

This picks up our threads from previous discussions of influence and professional voice... Perhaps Corner is that voice. Not a magazine to shy away from hyperbole, the frontispiece proudly starts out with the simple statement...
"By embracing the city's industrial past - reclaiming landfills, remediating browfields, developing neglected waterfronts - James Corner has helped reinvent the field of landscape architecture."

No small feat, for sure - but I think perhaps it's deserved. And since the intra-professional backbiting of a few years back had died back - perhaps the profession has finally turned that corner (no pun intended) that we all needed to attain some professional validation. I haven't heard much lately about the art versus science debate. Nor is there a bemoaning of ecology as a cop-out to design credibility within the professional dialogue. Seems, as many of us mentioned, you can (or rather have to and certainly want to) have both. And it's refreshing to see the change. Not that we've buttoned up every issue, but there seems some sort of viable platform (to borrow the election term) upon which we exist as a profession and proceed with our work. At the very least we've cracked out of our shells and remembered the importance of not just what we do - but that we need to be visible and vocal leaders in this world as well. There is credit due to a number of players - and one of those is definitely Mr. Corner.

:: Fresh Kills - images via Metropolis

The article is a good overview about Corner, and his professional work with Field Operations giving a broad timeline of 25 years of professional and academic work that has turned from writing to competitions to realized large scale built works. It touches on some of the foundations, such as Fresh Kills, as well as showing the expansion and evolution of the scope and breadth of FO's work. It's an impressive evolution and interesting to see some visuals of newer work, such as the Lake Ontario Park in Toronto: "Similar to Fresh Kills... a combination of wetlands and uplands on an environmentally degraded site. The design accepts the complicated landscape rather than smothering it with a single-minded vision."

And the Shelby Farms proposal (previously covered by L+U here) which influence the overall role of the profession. As Corner posits, we should occupy that driver's seat in leading these design interventions: "Rather than wielding bushes and trees—the proverbial parsley around the roast of proper ­architecture—landscape architects are, as Corner sees it, the best prepared to tackle the complex, large-scale, often environmentally damaged sites that have become the hallmark of urban regeneration."

:: Shelby Farms - image via Metropolis

It's also refreshing to see some confidence and candor coming from the profession. One note that stuck in my head from the article: "“I don’t want to be embarrassed to be a landscape architect because we’re thought of as tree people who come in at the end of the day,” he says." It's something we can all support and strive in our practice to promote as well.

:: Fresh Kills - image via Metropolis

The article does spend a lot of time on Fresh Kills, particularly the scale (immense) and the timeline (long) for implementation. As a landscape architect best known for popularizing temporality and duration - it seems even Corner is prone to the antsiness of the designer: "...the slowness grates on Corner. “I think I may have become less patient,” he says. “You go all out, you put a lot into this, and it’s frustrating to see the way and not have it followed.” He went on, “It’s a great profession, a great medium, but I tell you, it’s such a difficult medium to move.”

:: Fresh Kills Phase One - images via Metropolis

:: Repurposed Diggers as Signage - images via Metropolis

Perhaps some of the long timeline will be abated by the High Line, which is progressing steadily from zoomy renderings to actual reality.

The article has some great new images of the High Line's continually evolving construction and implementation of the High Line... I particularly enjoy the precast fingers... here's a few more.

:: images via Metropolis

As an further endnote... Has anyone noticed Metropolis' coverage of Landscape Architecture lately. Seems as if some of the editors have finally discovered the fair profession since Susan Szensasy's commentary from last year... thoughts?


  1. Re: Metropolis.

    Susan Szenasy hosted a morning general session at the ALSA conference in Philly last month... and a short dialog at the session was the highlight of my conference experience.

    I'm paraphrasing the dialog here, but essentially she told a story about being on a site with several LAs and only one of them could ID a plant when she asked about one...

    I know Corner was on the panel she was moderating, but I think it was Kathryn Gustafson who took the comment to heart and made the reply; Gustafson put Szenasy in her place by letting her know that LAs are not horticulturists. We have to know such a broad spectrum of details across so many related disciplines that we can't possibly be expected to know plants that well. She said LAs are constantly put in the position of team building… bringing together specific professionals such as geologists and horticulturalists... and trying to use their specific knowledge to form/transform space.

    It only goes to show how misguided Landscape Architecture's reputation often is... even in the design world.

    At any rate, Gustafson's retort was met with applause just short of a standing ovation. Good times.

  2. I was appalled at Susan's comments coming from a respected design journalist and editor in chief of Metropolis magazine. There's much to criticize about the field of landscape architecture and the direction it is going; but she clearly has no concept of even what landscape architects do!

    It's one thing to hear comments from people who do not know what the profession is about, and another thing completely from someone who has been in the field of design as many years as she has.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.