The Reintroduction of Complexity

The question of how we choose to engage in landscaping is ultimately the question of how we choose to relate to the natural world. In some cases, as in turn of the century English gardens, the designers chose to replicate natural elements in an idealized arrangement through the imposition of order. In Japanese gardens, natural elements are abstracted and seen from planned perspectives- again imposing order. In other approaches, such as planned burns by the precolonial Native Americans, natural patterns of growth are guided in an ideal direction. Regardless of how we choose to relate to the world, human works seek to make sense of natural systems and improve existing elements for better use (recreational, agricultural, or infrastructure integrating). Through the desire to improve and control existing landscapes, we have achieved homogeneity (which results in instability) and added another layer of alienation to the built environment. Although no single method is necessary to reverse this trend, the common theme seen in all solutions is the reintroduction of complexity.

In “The Genius of the Place” the authors outline the effects of water source typologies on growth patterns of natural vegetation, as well as examining the effects of light and perception of the environment on local artistic and architectural traditions. Often, this information is obscured in the modern context because it has been covered or is overshadowed by our urban constructions. Irrigation, constructed drainage, and channelization leave little indications of the complex systems that originally existed, displaying instead even flat landscapes and straightened remnants of rivers enclosed in concrete. Omnidirectional streetlights and obstructing skyscrapers leave the typical city dweller with little concept of or connection to natural lighting conditions and patterns. By making a conscious effort to subdue our instincts to impose rationality to extreme lengths, we can facilitate the reemergence of natural complexity within the strict borders already imposed within the built environment.

In “Civilizing Terrains” Morrish is largely concerned with the spiritual and sociological effects of our alienation from the places in which we live. Ancient people tended to revere and ritualize the natural landscape in an effort to make sense of the seemingly unknowable events that they were faced by. Without this need we are left afloat in a world that is understood, but it has lost all meaning. As Morrish hints at, this loss of meaning has a profound effect on the depth and authenticity of society and culture. By formulating a new theory of our relationship to nature, perhaps through an embrace of the concepts of deep ecology, we can reintroduce some meaning and regain a sense of our collective place in the world.

Both of these lines of thinking lead me back to a phrase that Juhanni Pallasmaa used in his article “Neurophenomenology”. He said “salvation can be achieved only or primarily via an extended concept of rationalism”. It is a common theme that through our attempts to rationalize the objects and processes that we exist within, we have simplified concepts to assist in their evaluation. However, this simplification only assists our search for the truth if we remember that we are speaking of representations rather than reality. By extending our concept of rationalism to acknowledge the unquantifiable and the unpredictable we can begin to reintegrate the improvements of our modern world with the existential benefits of our metaphysical fables.


“Civilizing Terrains: Mountains, Mounds, and Mesas” William Morrish

“The Genius of the Place” Charles Moore, William Mitchell, William Turnbull

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