Image credit: “Delving deep: a ganat system in an Iranian desert tunnels deep into the mountain profile,” from The Humanity of Infrastructure by Dane Carlson. NASA image created by Jesse Allen, using data from NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and the U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team.
We are excited to announce the launch of the latest issue of the Landscape Urbanism Journal – Scenario 3: Rethinking Infrastructure! Crafted by Editors-in-Chief Stephanie Carlisle and Nicholas Pevzner of the the newly-named Scenario Journal, Issue 4 looks at the pressing questions of how infrastructure of the next century will be imagined and built. As the co-editors write,
“Infrastructure underlies and shapes urban growth, yet for the most part exists outside the realm of design discussions, tucked below ground or hiding in plain sight. Long fascinated with complex, dynamic powerful systems, designers are finally turning their attention to the potential of infrastructure as fertile conceptual territory.With the pressing issues of climate change, financial malaise, unemployment and failures of governance, it is clear that the old approach to infrastructure — heroic but expensive, brittle, and difficult to maintain — will not be possible for too much longer. How do we ensure that the urgent conversation about the design and conception of infrastructure is a multidisciplinary project? How do we move beyond the buzzwords of green infrastructure, soft systems, and eco-engineering, in order to create a landscape infrastructure that is robust enough for the challenging times ahead?”
These questions framed the past six months of research and work by Stephanie Carlisle and Nicholas Pevzner in the latest issue of the Landscape Urbanism Journal, Scenario 4: Rethinking Infrastructure.
Scenario 3: Rethinking Infrastructure — The Essays
Despite all the newfound attention, the definition of infrastructure is still very much in flux. Scenario 3: Rethinking Infrastructure brings together a group of pieces that take on the design of infrastructure from a number of scales and disciplinary perspectives. This issue highlights how practitioners and theorists are expanding the definition of infrastructure, analyzing its component parts, and proposing new kinds of infrastructure projects.
In his essay The Humanity of Infrastructure: Landscape as Operative Ground, Dane Carlson looks beyond the discrete infrastructural objects that underlie contemporary cities and their peripheries, so as to recontexualize the landscape itself as the infrastructure for human inhabitation. Even pre-industrial landscapes have long operated infrastructurally from a biophysical perspective, he argues, and people have long merged constructed elements with natural functions.
Meg Studer’s project NaCl: Operations Enabling Emptiness explores the systems and networks of exchanges by which millions of tons of road salt transform the roadways of the Northeast corridor, mapping the flows of a vast anthropogenic material infrastructure and tracing the unexpected causal relationships that link landscapes of extraction, distribution, commerce and consumption.
In Feedback: Designing the Dredge Cycle, Rob Holms and Brett Mulligan examine the implications of another set of anthropogenic and logistical landscapes, describing the sedimentary infrastructure that links the degradation of costal landscapes, the expansion of international shipping networks, the development of coastal communities and the creation of new, constructed landscapes. They recast dredge material as both an inevitable byproduct of global market forces, but also an exciting, albeit challenging, material for a whole new genre of coastal landscapes.
Michael Ezban’s Aqueous Ecologies proposes the integration of a closed-loop aquaculture system with local development, imaging the economic and cultural synergies between productive landscapes, wastewater treatment and urban development that enhance surrounding natural ecosystems.
Applying the idea of synthetic landscape infrastructure systems to a city in which typologies of infrastructure-supported dense development have proved unsustainable, Jill Desimini, in her essay, Wild Innovation: Stoss in Detroit, offers an alternative model of design and decision-making, in which zoning, regulations, productive landscapes, and blue- and green infrastructure are all combined into a strategic landscape planning process.
Scott Muller explores the role of markets and community actors further in his piece,The Next Generation of Infrastructure, arguing that in a unstable global investment climate, we need to focus much more on the process by which cities and societies make decisions about large infrastructure projects, and on growing an effective social infrastructure that can empower citizens and policymakers to put their cities on the correct decision pathways.
In Contemporary Infrastructure, an interview with Ksenia Kagner, Marcel Smets talks about the importance of design investment in the public realm for constructing high-value urban areas, why transportation projects are particularly compelling areas of investment by government, and about how to get designers more integrated into the decision-making process that produces infrastructure.
Margie Ruddick’s Queens Plaza project offers a critique of the traffic-first approach to city streets, and provides an example of landscape architecture offering both a transportation design and a high-performing public space solution.
In Skeleton Forms: The Architecture of Infrastructure, Laila Seewang looks at how applying architectural parameters to a city’s infrastructural objects — by focusing on boundary, form, and symbolism — a historical reading can emerge that captures the interplay of forces that have driven that city’s development.
In Made in Australia: The Future of Australian Cities, Richard Weller and Julian Bolleter grapple with the pressure of accommodating the rapid growth of Australia’s urban population. The authors argue for the need to rethink local settlement patterns that encourage sprawl, and put in place megaregional infrastructure projects capable of steering growth trajectories and of supporting the development of new high-quality, liveable cities.
Laura Solano zooms in to focus on the constructed nature of urban soil. Her essay, Reconsidering the Underworld of Urban Soils, points to the many ways in which the quality and treatment of soil on a site determine the success or failure of urban landscape projects, and all the urbanistic goals that rest on them; in her view, soil is the microscopic infrastructure for the performance of the city above.
In his essay From Landscaping to Infrastructure: The Scope and Agency of Maintenance, Michael Geffel presents the often-overlooked processes of landscape maintenance as a design opportunity, whether at the scale of the lawn, the power-line corridor, or massive coastal dune creation. If considered as an infrastructural service underlying entire landscape systems, he argues, the redesign of maintenance regimes offers designers a tool for effecting change at a vast scale.
In Yangtze River Delta Project, Catherine Seavitt examines the infrastructure of coastal defense in Shanghai, noting the increasing pressures on hard-engineered coastal protections from changing weather and rising seas, and proposes an adaptive, resilient landscape-based approach to flood protection.
In Productive Filtration: Living Systems Infrastructure in Calcutta, Stephanie Carlisleuses the case study of a sewage-fed aquaculture wetland that developed over a century of local experimentation and negotiation. The piece uses dynamic system modeling to explore the interconnected biological, social and economic components that balance the wetland’s multiple functions, allowing for the testing of future development scenarios.
The pieces represented in this collection have all grappled with the pressing question of how infrastructure of the next century will be imagined and built. We hope that you enjoy this issue of Scenario Journal and that you find it useful in expanding the dialogue on the creative and critical potential of infrastructure in your own work.
Scenario 3: Rethinking Infrastructure can be found at https://scenariojournal.com/journal/.