Landscape Urbanism

Home / Programme / Bachelor of Science (ASD) / Courses / 20.112 Sustainable Design Option Studio 2 / Landscape Urbanism

Studio Tutors

Federico Ruberto, Eva Castro

Studio Assistant

Ignacio Lopez Buson

Conditions of sprawl, post-industrialisation, rapid urbanisation and ‘natural’ disasters pose significant challenges to normative design practices, requiring an approach that operates beyond the quick fix or the local solution. In this context Landscape Urbanism has emerged in North America and Europe as a new design discipline responding to the specific demands and potentials of these conditions. Here ‘Landscape’ is not understood as a scenographic art, beautifying, greening or naturalising the city, but as a model of connective, scalar and temporal operations through which the urban is conceived and engaged with: the urban is diagrammed as a landscape; a complex and processual ecology. With this model the urban can be connected to local, regional and global scales and understood in terms of its future orientation and performative potential, as opposed to the nostalgic and socially divisive strategies of the ‘new’ urbanist enclave.

Landscape Urbanism is, by definition, transdisciplinary. Whilst drawing upon the legacy of landscape design to address the dynamics of contemporary urbanism, it integrates knowledge and techniques from environmental engineering, urban strategy and landscape ecology, and employs the science of complexity and emergence, the tools of digital design and the thought of political ecology. Through these means the course projects new material interventions that operate within an urbanism conceived as social, material, ecological and continually modulated by the spatial and temporal forces in which it is networked.

3 core elements central to our methodology

Indexing, mapping and the diagram
We understand the index and the diagram, broadly, as forms of mapping that are both exploratory and propositional, and thus crucial to the design process. Indexing records the constitution of a given territory. It registers its topographical, geological, environmental, demographic and socio-economic conditions as processes, forms and parameters. From its reading of constituent elements it establishes a kind of common language that enables an understanding of their interrelated operations as a contingent whole. This, in turn facilitates the generation of strategies premised upon an understanding of their impact upon the territory as a whole, as opposed to one focused upon the remediation of its ‘problematic’ parts. Following Deleuze, we describe the propositional dimension of mapping as diagrammatic, as a shift from the representational to the productive, ‘setting up so many points of emergence of creativity, of unexpected conjunctures, of improbable continuums.’

In contradistinction to a previous generation of ‘diagram architects’, however, we do not seek to establish our autonomy, as designers, from the ground conditions identified in the index, but rather to identify their potentials.

In order to address the infrastructural problematics revealed by Graham’s analysis — its tendency to ‘splinter’ the lived environment along lines of class, race and gender — as well as to explore its capacity to operate beyond a narrowly defined functionality, our engagement with it moves beyond the established paradigm ‘necessity’. Rather than approach the question of infrastructure as a cosmetic problem –in need to be concealed, we treat it as an opportunity to engage with the machinic processes ranged across its sites. The critical role played by infrastructure in the organisation and management of the city’s complex systems of movement, communication and exchange is recognised as the basis from which its operation can be further developed and pushed beyond its tendency to fragment and divide toward other possibilities.

We pursue the formal and material articulation of infrastructure, coordinating its operations with the territorial processes, forms and parameters identified in the indexing of the site, developing its relation to the ground, and elaborating its architectural composition.

The recently cited design shift in Architecture from “what it means” to “what it does” acquires a special relevance in urban projects and particularly in infrastructures, given its performative nature within the cities. Hence beyond the problem-solving and remedial capabilities, landscape and engineering techniques, such as soil remediation, water cleansing strategies, traffic control, earthworks… to name a few, become the medium through which diagrams and indexes find the material constrains to emerge as highly designed spatial structures.

Ground Morphologies
Collectively, the approach to the different dimensions and registers of the site are coordinated through the morphology of the ground. It is especially through the treatment of the ground, through its formation, that we seek a means to resist the tendency to conceive a site as, ideally, horizontally articulated, absolutely flexible, and infinitely reprogrammable. We would argue, against the grain of many of the arguments from which Landscape Urbanism originated, that it is through form that landscape urbanism attains one of its principle means of agency as a design practice concerned to commit itself toward specific urban scenarios:

More than a problem-solving exercise, however, this type of ‘groundwork’ also provides an opportunity to generate artificial topographies with the formal capacity to structure relations between environmental, social, cultural and economic factors on a given site. Whilst the techniques employed for this type of groundwork may be borrowed from those used in more conventional techniques of landscaping, it is through their architectural elaboration that these forms achieve the greatest potential to articulate determinate — though not deterministic — urban relationships. Architecture, like no other medium, is able to structure the city, its functional, cultural, social and even political implications, into a coherent assemblage.

Agenda 01_ Nepal
On April 25, 2015 at 11:56 local time, part of the tectonic boundary between India and the rest of Eurasia began to slip, sending powerful earthquake waves to Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu just 50 miles away. The earthquake measured 7.8 on the Richter scale… Just over two weeks later, a second earthquake of similar magnitude struck…

Nearly 9,000 people died, 22,000 were injured, 600,000 houses were totally destroyed and a further 290,000 were damaged,


  • temporal dislocation of the underprivileged communities
  • temporal living/ infra-human shelter conditions
  • migration of male labour
  • devastation of agricultural grounds/ landslides

Opportunistic approach

  • tourism exploitation linked to infrastructure development and accessibility
  • new (post earthquake) building regulations

We propose to seize the opportunity that presents itself; that of engaging foreign capital intending to develop tourist enclaves, whilst negotiating the needs of the local population to improve the conditions in what ought to become a sustainable regenerative process of urbanization.

Studio’s Structure

3 periods/ 3 workshops

  1. Indexing Territories

The workshop understands mapping and diagramming as both exploratory and propositive, having an active and crucial role in the design process. The aim is to develop the students’ capacity for reading information from fields and then decoding, synthesizing and systematically processing it into indexical models. Introductory sessions will look at different techniques of mapping territories focusing on networks, fields, dynamic behaviours and topographic conditions.

  1. Scripting Prototypes

The purpose of the workshop is to explore different scripting techniques as a means of creating flexible design tools that are capable of accommodating change and a degree of indeterminacy within the design process. Paradigms of self-organized systems, distributed networks and uprising complexity will be introduced though ruled based design techniques, setting up counter models to conventional urban planning. In this workshop, the student will be asked to generate variations of material components, linking them to a research on infrastructural, environmental and other spatial performance.

  1. Meshing the Grounds

This workshop will deal with the mediation of bottom up readings and strategic decision-making concepts.

The overall arrangement of the material components produced in the previous steps will be adjusted and further articulated to respond locally to specific conditions and globally to relational strategies.

1.2.3. Landscaping Urbanism – Readings

Given the multidisciplinary nature of Landscape Urbanism, these readings correspondingly range across urbanism, landscape architecture, planning, geography, philosophy, cybernetics and social theory. We will explore the role of these disciplines in relation to the development, theorisation and practice of the studio’s work, introducing the paradigm under which Landscape Urbanism understands and employs the ‘Landscape’ component of its title.

These readings are conceived as part of the design studio, since they address contemporary urban conditions and the constrains and possibilities these pose for the practice of Landscape Urbanism.
‘Some natures rather than others’
‘The key political question is one that centers on the question of what kind of natures we wish to inhabit, what kinds of natures we wish to preserve, to make, or, if need be, to wipe off the surface of the planet (like the HIV virus, for example), and on how to get there. The fantasy of ‘sustainability’ imagines the possibility of an originally fundamentally harmonious Nature, one that is now out-of-synch but which, if ‘properly’ managed, we can and have to return to by means of a series of technological, managerial, and organizational fixes.’

‘The Post-Political Condition and the Environment’, Erik Swyngedouw

Often enough our active and political engagement in deciding which future we may want, and which particular configuration of ‘nature’ we are advocating for, is suspended in favour of simply ‘managing’ the putative crisis of the environment.

Now if Landscape Urbanism is to realise its potential to operate as an agent of intervention within the critical conditions of contemporary territorial transformation, it must move beyond the straightforward affirmation of the paradigms of mobility and flexibility which it shares with neoliberal urban entrepreneurialism.  In order to do so, we believe that it must also now question and move beyond the simplistic rhetoric of ‘environmentalism’, ‘sustainability’ and ‘eco-cities’.