Emerging Themes in Landscape: David Fletcher on Infrastructure, Metabolism, Promiscuity and Catastrophe

Work and images from Fletcher Studio

“We’re at a really interesting time in landscape architecture and design, in part because of so many confluences in current praxis: the access to digital work, the access to data, the revolution in urbanization and the increasing demands and criteria for measurement in project performance.” 

A little over a week ago, ASLA’s Northern California Chapter hosted a series of speakers at AIA San Francisco, to present on the topic of landscape urbanism. Each speaker gave a short, 15-minute presentation on their practice or the theories around landscape urbanism. After the presentations, I helped moderate a short panel of question-and-answers with the audience.

The first speaker, David Fletcher, founder of Fletcher Studio and an instructor at California College of the Arts, told the story of his own history as a landscape architect and important themes underpinning the landscape urbanism dialogue and design practice today. “We’re at a really interesting time in landscape architecture and design, in part because of so many confluences in current praxis: the access to digital work, the access to data, the revolution in urbanization and the increasing demands and criteria for measurement in project performance,” he explained.

Furthermore, the shaping of landscape as urbanism, and as infrastructure—continues to showcase how landscape can serve as an organizing element for design, able to function across multiple scales. Fletcher, in detailing his history and experience with landscape urbanism—from his early interests in ecology and studio art at UC Davis to the the influence that leading designers and projects over the last few decades had on his thinking and practice—talked about how landscape urbanism emerged at the forefront and focus of his practice and teaching today.

As Fletcher encountered the work of George Hargreaves, Jim CornerAdriaan Geuze and others, and explored early landscape urbanism projects such as the Downsview Park competition, Parc de La Villette, and Gasworks Park, his interest in landscape architecture grew as he began to understand the spatial and performative implications of landscape design and its ability to operate at many scales. Each of these projects and experiences solidified, to him, the importance of process-based and performance based thinking across planning, theory, design, and execution.

In tracing his personal history through the lens of landscape urbanism’s development, Fletcher notes several themes that have emerged in landscape urbanism thinking, such as that of landscape as infrastructure and dealing with post-industrial sites and sprawling urban conditions where “true gains in landscape are made on the scale of infrastructure.”

Another compelling theme was the “urban metabolics,” and strategies of maximizing the connections between building and landscape to improve systems functions (such as waste treatment, water reuse, energy creation, and ecological functions). He also discussed the core concepts of process and time and their role in landscape urbanism projects in creating space for flexibility and indeterminancy of landscape-based solutions.

Promiscuity, he suggests, is the idea that we must acknowledge nature as having its own force within a project, and not something we should try to necessarily contain. Resource scarcity—how we deal with real limitations and constraints on our inputs—must be coupled with a strong sense of aesthetics—and recognizing the importance of expression, culture, and the creation of places in space.

Lastly, and as the focus of his more recent research and upcoming studios, Fletcher suggests there is an emerging theme related to anxiety or catastrophe—a seeming collective anxiety permeating our current culture in relation to large-scale events such as global warming, hurricanes, earthquakes, and other global forces of an unpredictable nature.

For more on the lecture series, stay tuned for presentation summaries from Jim Stickley, Judith Stilgenbauer and Lewis Knight, to follow.

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David Fletcher is the Founding Principal at Fletcher Studio and a Professor at California College of the Arts. David is an Urban Designer and Landscape Architect, professor, and writer. His work addresses process, void, symbiosis, and alternative transportation.

An big thank-you to the ASLA-Northern California Chapter with April Phillips and Sarka Volejnikova for sponsoring the lecture series; and to each of the esteemed panelists for donating their time and energy and sharing their expertise.  

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  1. Pingback: describing, packaging and synthesizing the new role of landscape as organizer: Judith Stilgenbauer (video) | Landscape Urbanism

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  3. Pingback: making sure landscape performs: Jim Stickley on landscape urbanism at various scales (video) | Landscape Urbanism

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