Thursday, October 21, 2010

Know Thy Annotations...

I'm really pleased to be able to present a snapshot of the bibliographical evidence related to the existing literature.  While not a complete and total view, this gives hints into some of the theoretical unpinnings of the theory of Landscape Urbanism, which could aid many of the discussions and dispel (or reinforce) some of the misconceptions flying about regarding what LU is, what it has accomplished, and where it is going.  Call it a public service, at the very least, it summarizes the points of view and offer a point of debate and discussion (versus uninformed knee-jerk reactions and snarky pot-shots) related to the panoply of  "Urbanisms" out there.  We're all in this discussion, and it's not about being right, it's about moving forward.  Thoughts, comments, ideas - welcome.

This list and summary was compiled by a couple of my friends and colleagues here in Portland - Allison Duncan (PhD Candidate, Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning, Portland State University, and Ethan Seltzer (Professor, Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning, Portland State University,  Thanks to them both for letting me share this great resource that was completed in June of 2010.

:: Download a PDF of the full Annotated Bibliography - (100 Kb File)

What is Landscape Urbanism?

  • Landscape urbanism is a response to the limited understanding or portrayal of project and site context currently employed by both architects and landscape architects. It is also a notion put forth strategically by landscape architects as a means for differentiating their profession among the design professions, particularly architecture, and in response to the superficial role landscape architects increasingly find themselves in.
  • Paradoxically, landscape architects have not generally latched on to this movement as strongly as architects.
  • Landscape urbanism is a catch phrase for a range of concepts all reflecting a desire for more flexibility and ecological sensibility than is currently incorporated in design and planning.
  • Landscape urbanism appears, at heart, to have a fondness for infrastructure and a desire to incorporate this infrastructure into design without resorting to superficially “shrub it up”.\
  • The theory and language are in some cases intentionally vague such that the concept serves as a thought exercise instead of something which is actually implementable.
  • There is value in arguing the theoretical niceties of landscape urbanism — this dialog digs into the role exterior spaces play in connecting urban fabric while countering the dominant role architecture has played for many years in defining and structuring urban design.
  • Many authors define it as a shift from the urban “building block” of architecture to the “structuring medium” of landscape.
  • Possibly one of the most fascinating aspects of landscape urbanism is its inclusion of indeterminacy into the design process. Spaces can be too programmed and attempting to leave some flexibility in a design is both interesting and potentially pragmatic in the face of uncertainty.
  • Landscape urbanism fundamentally draws attention to context. More to the point, what it demands is the inclusion of landscape in all its forms – built, vernacular, natural, etc. – as the basis for understanding the forces shaping projects and to which projects must respond. In this respect, landscape urbanism promotes an understanding of places and projects based on an ecology that includes people and what they do and have done in the same frame as a comprehensive view of the natural world.

Thought leaders:
People who actively write about the theories of landscape urbanism—not those who are cited as writing the foundational pieces which contribute to the theory of landscape urbanism:
  • James Corner
  • Stan Allen
  • Alex Wall
  • Charles Waldheim
People who have contributed the most descriptive and actionable/practicable writings about landscape urbanism:
  • Chris Reed
  • Christopher Gray
  • Peter Connolly
  • Richard Weller
  • Jusick Koh


  1. Thanks Jason (and Allison and Ethan) for posting this. A rather handy reference.

    (By the way -- was in Portland last week and stopped by the pod you designed on Belmont. Great spot.)

  2. Great effort to compile all of this:)

    I have been reading Charles Waldeims book for quite some time and I started my definition list as well! It somehow cleared my mind after reading so many different approaches to LU.

    Im still not quite sure, if LU is just a new definition created to describe what designers have did (Olmsted)/are doing. Or maybe a new definition to promote what people did in the past and is being neglected now...

    p.s: I just love your blog! I have been reading it for ages:)

  3. nice work and thank you for sharing this, jason.


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