Excerpts from the interview with landscape arch. Laurie Olin, author: Johanna Hoffman. For Planetizen.
Social issues play a big role in your work. What kind of process do you go through to spacialize social factors in a new project?
There's no specific process, really. The process of design is really all about asking yourself, "Where am I?" "What's the nature of the this place?" And the answer's always different.
A large part of designing is becoming a student of people. To design well you have to be interested in and learn about how people behave. For instance, humans really are the most devious and gregarious of the four great apes – the chimp, the gorilla and so on. We love to be together and watch other humans eat. So the work is in large part about designing nice places for those kinds of things to occur. Our designs are how we show what we've learned.
What are your most important goals in pursuing landscape architecture?
Well the first, to borrow a medical term, is 'do no harm.' No matter how you approach a project, you have to do what’s appropriate to the particular place and time.
And if we start to talk about social issues, we usually in this day and age start talking about sustainability. When we talk about sustainability we end up talking about ecology. So for me, landscape architecture, social issues, and the environment are all inseparable.(...)
One thing I've noticed about your designs is the way many of them feel as if they’ve been in place a long time, even if they're recent works. How do you think history influences your work?
History’s really a remarkable thing if you’re not afraid of it. If you don’t know your history you are an empty vessel. But if you do, you’re pretty well equipped for most things. Each phase of history lays down it’s view of the world in its respective layer; each generation has to be able to do so.
But in order to do your layer well, you better know the other layers. There’s no such thing as a blank slate. To do it well, knowing the history of the medium is essential.
How do you envision landscape architecture progressing in the future?
No one knows the answer to that question. The future is usually a certain extension of the present; in that way, a lot about the future is already here.
What’s certain is that we have a global environmental crisis, about water, air quality, loss of habitat. And it’s happening everywhere, especially in less wealthy nations. Population growth is exacerbating the issue.
These things lead to inevitable conflict, within and between societies, that are happening already. They also lead to extreme, unsustainable types of growth in cities. Right now, in China alone, there are over a dozen cities each larger than New York. People in those kinds of situation are now living in environments that don’t resemble traditional cities at all, that don’t provide for the functions that humans have required for generations.
The question of the present and future is what kind of people will those growing up in such environments be like? I think landscape architecture is a discipline that is and will continue to address those questions.
U.S. Embassy: studio amd
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