Open to students and graduates, the New Gen Program was a one-day event that formed part of the 2019 International Festival of Landscape Architecture: The Square and the Park. Unfolding in Melbourne on Saturday 12 November, the event was run in conjunction with AILA Fresh Victoria, RMIT University’s student body SLAB and the University of Melbourne’s student organization SOLA, and aimed to bring landscape architecture students and recent graduates from across Australia together to participate in informal discussions with the festival’s keynote speakers.
Setting the tone for the day, Haiku Van Keuk of Melbourne practice SBLA asked: “What do you value as a human and a landscape architect today?” Her strong and inspiring words ignited a strong sense of the value of not only knowing one’s values but practicing them as well. Ella Gauci-Seddon of Hassell further explored the connection between ideas and practice, unfolding her own framings of contemporary issues – climate emergency, Indigenous knowledge and land rights and equality. Gauci-Seddon demonstrated how mapping could be used to zoom out and conceptualize one’s personal values within a broader context to better understand external pressures and how these might influence landscape practice. Her message: to go out and take a stance on issues important to us and endeavour to better understand not only what those issues might be, but how our work as landscape architects might impact these.
Through the lens of “landscape analytics,” technological integration and big data, presentations by Jordi McInerney of the City of Melbourne’s Smart City Office, Zhuocheng Gu of TCL, Matthew Kneale of GHD Woodhead and Andy Sharp of Place Laboratory all expressed the potentials of observing and designing through data and the possibilities for data mining. From Zhuocheng Gu’s “spotify” method of park recommendations to Sharp’s approach to understanding urban decline through visualising mobile phone usage, a range of talks garnered an appreciation of how a broader perspective and insight into a sense of place could be distilled through data, which could then be used to make larger-focused design decisions.
What was particularly fascinating were the more human-scaled ideas presented by McInerney and Kneale. McInerney’s spoke of smart infrastructure in the public realm and how landscape and technology can help us assess the performance of a landscape and make for better design and design management decisions using the example of Smart City Office’s “cool routes” tool as a potent case study that responds to CBD accessibility and rising temperatures in Australian cities. Kneale addressed the communicative empowerment of communities and technology at a more grass-roots level, sparking ideas on how else we might explore tools for empowering fellow citizens.
Reorienting the discussion to external pressures, Julia Czerniak, associate dean and professor of architecture at Syracuse University, spoke of the twenty-first century park, the use of performance metrics in post-occupancy evaluation and the need to critically address who parks are really for as factors that should be used to refine design strategies and move from an anthropocentric to an ecocentric approach. The Central Seawall Project by New York-based practice James Corner Field Operations showed us how one might negotiate external pressures on an assortment of issues – from issues relating to the rights of First Nations peoples to their traditional lands, local residents’ concerns over design “authenticity,” to the question of the salmon themselves and the decimation of their habitat. Through Czerniak’s observations, we were encouraged to think about not only how we might push the conceptions and considerations of what a contemporary park could be, but how we might, through many steps, collaborative and engineered, create an inspiring shift in the ethics of human-non-human relations.
In a shift away from a numerical, data-driven approach, Swiss landscape architect Günther Vogt, founding director of Vogt Landscape Architects, encouraged a more subjective relationship to reality and emphasized the importance of being physically in the landscape. Understanding the atmosphere and the difference between planned and lived space, Vogt referred to a park in HafenCity, Hamburg, where the planting of apple trees has given people a chance to relate to place – an approach that goes against the grain of what is typically seen as urban. In another intriguing example of park perception, Vogt described New York’s High Line as a place where tourists can take refuge from the city, by contrast with local New Yorkers who are accustomed to the intensity and density of their urban surrounds. Vogt’s example highlighted the need to question existing assumptions – different people can understand the same spaces in vastly different ways.
Starting from a rejection of generic urban design principles, academic Julian Raxworthy’s talk called for a move away from ubiquitous concepts of place to a nuanced practice of deep reading of place. Since landscapes are not static objects, Raxworthy advocated for a shift from understanding design as about a product to design as a process. By focusing on “working with the flows of nature,” the management of the landscape and respect for those who work in these aspects of the life of a project can be accounted for and respected.
Among inspiring presentations on breaking the typical career path of the landscape architect by AILA National President Shaun Walsh and anti-precedents and learning from shared mistakes by Sh*t Gardens’ Bede Brennan and James Hull, New Gen participants were also given an opportunity to interview and speak with landscape industry professionals Jane Irwin of Jane Irwin Landscape Architecture, Huicheng Zhong of Shanghai-based studio Lab D+H, and Mark Jacques and Simone Bliss of Melbourne-based practices Openwork and SBLA, respectively. These conversations coalesced around future practice models and helped fill a gap in many students’ and recent graduates’ understandings of professional practice and the career arc of landscape architects.
The New Gen program left a lasting impression on me. Each speaker’s presentation unearthed ideas that sparked consideration on how landscape architecture and practice is evolving. The talks shed new light on everything from the importance of considering the extended lifetime of a project to talking about your values and sharing mistakes as a step towards making yourself and others better designers. With a fantastic line-up of speakers sharing their insights and ideas with a full house of intellectually hungry students and graduates, it was an event that left me highly moved and wanting to do more.