Book Review: ‘Landscape Infrastructure: Case Studies by SWA’

A review of a new book by iconic landscape architects SWA from LANDSCAPE+URBANISM reflects the Landscape Urbanism’s intense interest in the infrastructure and hard material of the urban park – I still wonder where the space for the changing roles of people and their needs are in these lucrative control structures? 

Landscape Infrastructure: Case Studies by SWA‘ published in 2011, is edited by the Infrastructure Research Initiative of SWA including Los Angeles office principals Gerdo Aquino and Ying-Yu Hung.  This is supplemented with contributions from Charles Waldheim, Julie Czerniak, Adriaan Geuze, Matthew Skjonsberg and Alexander Robinson.  While ostensibly about landscape infrastructure, this type of book is a new sort of publishing hybrid that has emerged, combining the firm-specific work of a monograph within a more topical subject matter on a particular typology or approach to project work.

I think this may become a new trend in publishing, as it provides firms with the opportunity to showcase work, but also offers a more expansive vehicle for exploration of themes and inclusion of more collaborators, making the book both more widely marketable while putting the work of the firm in the forefront of emerging trends.  This differs somewhat from the Dutch examples and their production of brick-like graphic tomes of research and work.  This collection of essays and case studies benefits from the inclusion of more voices, although is similarly directed at positioning a firm within a certain intellectual and conceptual frame of reference.

This frame of reference, landscape infrastructure, is not altogether new, but is definitely one of the more emerging ideas within landscape architecture and urban design, which is reflected in the description of the book, per the SWA website:

“INFRASTRUCTURE, as we know it, no longer belongs in the exclusive realm of engineers and transportation planners. In the context of our rapidly changing cities and towns, infrastructure is experiencing a paradigm shift where multiple-use programming and the integration of latent ecologies is a primary consideration. Defining contemporary infrastructure requires a multi-disciplinary team of landscape architects, engineers, architects and planners to fully realize the benefits to our cultural and natural systems.”

The book exhibits some of the exploration of these topics, picking up on what Aquino mentions as the aim of SWAs Infrastructure Research Initiative “as a testing ground for engaging and redefining infrastructure in the context of future growth in our cities and towns.” (p.7)  This is echoed by Waldheim, and the research of the firm and the position of infrastructure as a way to “enter contemporary discourse on landscape as a form of urbanism.” (p.9) and is thus connected to the more well-known broader goals of landscape urbanism and other ‘adjectivally modified’ forms of urbanism. (for more on this, read Aquino’s interview on Archinect ‘What is a Park?‘)

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