Integration of academic and artistic work
Intégration des travaux académiques et artistiques
The following is an attempt to describe an academic method for the analysis of urban landscapes with the aim of defining architectural problems and significance. It is done through contextual reading of the architectural language. This process is seen as the opposite of the artistic, to arrive at the language of the work from the architectural problem. Every project begins with formulation of the problem and the questions. This applies both in preparing an academic analysis and in preparing an artistic project. These two tasks could and should be seen as connected. Both require research into existing knowledge, determination of theory and background and choice of analytical or artistic method as well as evaluation and conclusion. Both genres, the academic analysis and the artistic project, concern argumentation and documentation of an investigation, of a professional problem. The purpose of analyzing landscape architecture is thus both to learn, understand, recognize and experience - and create spaces and works. In order to say anything sensible about urban landscape and its landscape architecture, whether the aim is to understand, recognize and develop the artistic experience or to transform, improve and renew it, one must define the landscape-architectural, architectural, and artistic problem.
Every project begins with formulation of the problem and the questions. This applies both in preparing an academic analysis and in preparing an artistic project. These two tasks can and should be seen as connected. Both require research into existing knowledge, determination of theory and background and choice of analytical or artistic method as well as evaluation and conclusion. Both genres, the academic analysis and the artistic project, concern argumentation and documentation of an investigation, of a professional problem.
The purpose of analysing landscape architecture is thus both to learn, understand, recognise and experience à and create spaces and works.
In order to say anything sensible about urban landscape and its landscape architecture, whether the aim is to understand, recognise and develop the artistic experience or to transform, improve and renew it, one must define the landscape-architectural, architectural, and artistic problem.
When one is presented with a solution, one should not simply determine whether it is good or bad. One should remember to ask what the initial problem was.
When I evaluate a thesis, an academic article or a dissertation I put the following questions to the work:
What are you asking? That is the formulation of the problem.
Why are you asking? That is the professional aim of the investigation.
To what are you asking? That is the field of the investigation.
With what are you asking? That is the theory of the investigation.
How are you asking? That is the method of the investigation.
What is the answer? That is the result of the investigation.
Landscape-architectural projects are about giving the urban landscape a new aesthetic, structure, significance, dignity, identity and function.
In the planning phase this must take place in such a way that a democratic discussion with the user, àor his representatives is possible. To determine the conditions upon which the project is carried out, we have the programme. To equip oneself for solving a programming task all possible and impossible investigations can be carried out. Programming a planning project demands as a minimum: investigation of the planning conditions and of the users or the developer's requirements and wishes, investigation of the local context and investigation of the main idea and outline; that is the concept. Initially it is important to establish precisely what the project is about, where the problem is. The user can see the problems. It is therefore he has delegated the task and asked for expertise. But frequently he is unable to see the possibilities. As a rule he cannot define the architectural problems. Therefore the problem formulation as well as choice of theory and method is an important part of the programming process. To see a city- landscape- and garden space is always an interpretation of the local landscape conditions à of qualities and problems à possibilities and conflicts, as they can be read from the site. Therefore a specific description of the potential and problems of the site cannot be dispensed with.
There is comprehensive literature on the analysis of landscape. For description of architectural, spatial, aesthetic conditions a method for analysis of a work is needed. I will return to this. Under the heading, main idea and, outline; that is the concept, the problem solving and the language is presented and determined. Since solving the architectural problem is an important part of the project, definition of problems and suggestions for their solution should be part of the programming process. In this way, the point becomes a kind of solution to the previous considerations. By means of a circular working procedure the programme can form the starting point for more detailed investigations which thus become more and more focussed.
The concept can be compared to a theory in academic work. The concept is a rough draft. But in contrast to a rough draft that is thrown away, a concept is signed and filed.
In the next phase; the proposal phase, the framework and project proposal is worked out. The framework proposal is a motivated proposal for the solution of the task and the project proposal so worked through that all principle decisions have been taken. Further work consists in arranging, organising and composing to the extent that is necessary for understanding.
If we set aside investigations of a technical-scientific kind, we can imagine three points of departure: one that has the vision and aims of the producer as object, another that has the user's experience as object and a third that has the work as object. If we ask about the aim of the producer or the view of the user we will know more about the producer and the user. We will be no wiser concerning the characteristics and the artistic quality of the work or the relationship between man and nature.
We need a method and a theory.
A theory is a conceptual comprehensive view that gives an explanation, an overview, an idea of how things are connected. It is a way of seeing the world. In fact the Greek word for theory means viewing or understanding. Concrete reality is so complex that one can only understand it by relying on theories. If one approaches objects, works and sources without theories and draws conclusions from empiricism to theory one will still arrive at a preconception. It is important to recognise that choice must be justified and that results are never final. Theories are the point of departure and the finishing point. They are used to ask questions and give answers.
My academic work is based on the theory that quality, truth and significance cannot be judged according to opinion polls or declarations of intent. The â€˜truth' lies in the work. If we take a point of departure in the aim of the producer we still end in the work. For either the aim is realised and is thus unimportant. Or the aim is not realised and is thus irrelevant as no more than a piece of biographical information about a failed project or a project that has succeeded for other reasons. It would be wrong to be interested in the aim of the artist when we wish to reveal the significance of the work. The work should speak for itself. Many works are thus not described. Historical works, anonymous works or works created in times when the concept was not given such great weight, are not described. They certainly are of equal importance. They should be experienced to the same extent and be equally capable of analysis.
A number of theoretical traditions have inspired and influenced my academic work. Mostly Structuralism, New Criticism and Semiotics.
A provocative description of the structuralist conception is that it rejects the relevance of human subjective understanding Nevertheless, structuralism is a good place to begin. The most important point in structuralism is that explanation and interpretation lie in the work and its structure. It lies neither in biography or psychology. The importance of knowing this theoretical tradition, that comes from linguistics is great in a time where the science of landscape architecture can disappear in biographical, psychological, technical and functional explanations. The aim is to look for the skeleton of the phenomenon, its elements and the relationship between these elements, its structure, or with Saussure's own expression, its system, as opposed to situation. Even if the ideological superstructure of structuralism, that the context of the work is uninteresting is rejected, some useful techniques will remain.
The Anglo-Saxon literary New Criticism can be called a structuralistic or formalistic tradition. In Literature studies the method was developed in the 1960's. Russian formalism and Die Neue Sachlichkeit movement in 1920's Germany was structuralist in spirit. A formal structuralist analysis of the work can be followed by a New Historical analysis, a hermeneutic interpretation and a semiotic analysis of significance.
Semiotics is the study of signs. A sign is something that for someone stands for something. Interest was revived with Charles Sanders Peirce's pragmatic semiotic. Peirce brings a particular method of determination he calls abduction. Abduction is the everyday decision-making form, the qualified guess, the general opinion, the most likely and the detected form.
Hermeneutics is the study of interpretation. From a modern perception all understanding is the result of interpretation as problem solving. From this point of view every analysis is basically hermeneutic. This applies to structuralism, new criticism and semiotics, whether one wishes to understand language, texts, pictures, architecture, gardens, landscapes, human actions, mind, historical or cultural events. Hermeneutics can also be narrowed down to a German tradition that culminated with Hans-Georg Gadamer. The basis for his understanding and knowledge is that one must find the spirit of the whole in the parts, and understand the part through the whole. In practise this means that to understand, it is necessary to analyse the part and synthesise to a whole. Hermeneutic historicism or new historicism is the idea, that we interpret historical development by understanding people and human societies in their specific and unique historical context. Man is considered creator of history and created by history. Even though the object of history is the past, it is the process of development that is the kernel. History is both the past and an idea of the past. Interpretation of the past can be used to develop representations and understanding of the present. A representation takes something from an interpretation of the past, an understanding of the present and a future expectation. History gives insight into change and understanding of complexity.
Considered as works, urban landscapes, town-, landscape- and garden spaces are autonomous, things in themselves. This condition demands reading of the work itself. This reading aspires to an objective character, which encourages a universal interpretation. The method is an analysis in the sense that the individual parts are separated from each other. But it is also a synthesis because the parts are reassembled. In this part of the method the layers and structures are not separated according to function and material. Observation takes place in physical spatial wholes.
Taste cannot be disputed since it is subjective. It resides in the observer. But qualities can be discussed because they reside in the work.
It is not about «What I like». It is about what the work shows, tells and discusses. It is important to avoid being normative and negative. It is not about saying what could have been different. It is important to be curious, open, inquiring and ask question such as â€˜Where is the logic in this?' instead of â€˜this is illogical'. It is important to ask the work what the problem is a solution to? It is about experiencing what one did not know instead of substantiating what one knows. It is necessary to obtain a model or drawings where that which is not to be investigated does not obstruct what is to be investigated. In choosing what is to be investigated remember that the method builds on the theory that it is language; morphology and syntax that lead to what it is all about.
The practical working method consists first and foremost in a close reading of the architectural language. Distinction is made between morphology, i.e. components, structure, texture and spatial factors and syntax understood as the order that keeps the components together, expressed in geometry and composition.
Morph means form and logos, discourse à hence morphology, the discourse of form. I use the word morphology which in biology and linguistics means the science of form. Syntax is from linguistics and deals with the position of words in sentences. The urban landscape, architecture and landscape architecture distinguish themselves by consisting of spaces. Therefore the spaces must be a significant question in interpreting architecture as an art form. The spaces are formed by buildings, stones, water surfaces and plant works. The physical character of the material, its tactile characteristics are important to the floor, walls and ceiling of the space. One can see from the structure of the space whether it is divided or whole, closed or open, whether the walls are broken through, whether the floor is flat, terraced, dented, sloping or perhaps folded. One can see on the surfaces whether the materials are hard, soft, shiny, rough, grey or green. One can look at invoices, at the treatment of materials. Individual components also come under morphology such as beds, paving, trees, masts, planting, pools, walls and buildings. They are furniture in both the literal and metaphorical sense. One can in the same way look at the characteristics of the components, their structure and texture. As components we include elements that have an independent identity and character, forms that distinguish themselves from the rest. The chosen components can be analysed syntactically. What is chosen as components is therefore important for producing an analysis model. When you throw a bunch of onions in the air it can happen that they are spread according to a certain order. Those in the middle are closer to each other than those on the outside. The forces behind this order are a combination of a law of nature and a human action. This form of order will be encountered repeatedly in landscape architecture. G.N.Brandt pointed out the difference between the two orders he called â€˜the principle of the planted and that of the grown'. Brandt explained how components such as trees could be composed according to systems, for example when planted in a nursery. They could also follow an order as if they have grown by themselves according to their inner nature. In physics one speaks of forces and in biodynamic cultivation it is â€˜vital forces' that hold the components together. Words in sentences and stars in the sky accord with a particularly significant order. Order is thus both a human activity and a natural phenomenon. There is a great difference between components, rules and order in games such as dice, chess, dominos and pick-up-sticks. For the sake of clarity one can consider the work as a game frozen in time. The board is the floor of the space, the pieces or counters are the components and the rules of the game the syntax.
When the insightful, precise, concrete description of morphology and syntax is finished the turn comes to exegis, which can be considered as a conclusion to the description.
The exegis is an account of what it means that the space is built up as it is and that the components stand as they do. The language can refer to rationality, repetition, eternity, multiplicity, uniformity, order, disorder, clarity etc. A grid can refer to equality, democracy, eternity, rhythm and anonymity. It is only in a context that it is possible to interpret the significance. Exegis is about what the work will show us about itself, what it will discuss with us, what the work in general or abstract form is about. In the exegis one must be able to answer the questions that were put to the work. It is thus neither the producer's intention or user's experience it is about. A work can show an endless number of things depending upon what one allows it to show, that is what questions one asks it. If during the work of exegis one begins to criticise the work one blocks off further understanding.
The space is always there, but first becomes meaningful in relation to the people who inhabit it. The point of view is therefore of decisive importance. If one looks around in a landscape, at people in a street environment, one defines the space depending on where one is standing. One measures and evaluates up, down, right, left, in front, behind in relation to oneself. The egocentric vertical axis and gravity's horizontal axis is the latent background. Even if the perspective changes, the space is still the same. It is rewarding to study the space from above, from a helicopter and from below like a frog.
As an autonomous work of art it will also contain a protest against the community, or at least a break with the known. Knowledge of the time and circumstances of the work are preconditions for an interpretation. Even though there is no law that says there is a connection between language and significance, it is however a presumption that there is a connection. The same language can, however be understood in differing contexts. What is unforeseeable is that works with completely different significance can have the same architectural language. Conversely the same language can have different significance depending on their context. Therefore a work must be seen in context, in the light of the socio-cultural background, the time and space it is set in and the genre to which it belongs. Works that have significance for us today can be of historical interest and thus tell us something about change and teach us something in that way. That we have a dream that significance is eternal is another story. For the same reason we continue aiming for the highest quality. Deep in our soul we believe that quality lasts longest.
In a dialectical process, spiral or circular, one can move from empiricism, factual information and data to interpretive hypothesis back to empiricism and improved interpretation. In addition one can circulate between the work and its context and between detail and the whole work. The idea that the architectural language can lead to significance builds on the assumption that it is not a matter of taste, that we seldom are alone with our choices, but are in communities with the same thoughts and paradigms. That in a time with the same thoughts speech has the same language.
Urban landscapes are not exclusively autonomous works. They exist in relation to the society, the time and the place in which they are created. One can call it a socio-cultural community, the context or the situation. This means that one must carry out a critical reading of the external determinants. If the aim is to elucidate architectural, formal qualities the exegis is the aim. If the aim is to understand the significance of the work it must be read in context. Was the work created in the eighteenth century or yesterday? Was it created at a time of crisis or upswing? What did the developer want, a car park or a cemetary? The same aesthetic expression can be understood differently in different contexts. Thus a garden created in a time that believes in democracy can resemble one created under nazism.
Under this heading the external factors affecting the work are described. That is the time and the place, the circumstances it is created under and the social, cultural, technical and economical conditions that have influenced the work.
When the context is known, an interpretation can be attempted. But an interpretation can never be carried out without the work. Interpretation builds on description and exegis. The questions can be.What is it good for? What architectural problems is it a solution to? What does it speak about? Can it tell us about anything that lies beyond the work itself . can it tell us about nature and man's attitude à view of the world? But remember to distrust your own interpretation. It has a tendency to say more about the known in yourself than about the work you do not know. The deeper into the work you get, the less important do you and your opinions become à which were so important at the beginning. When an interpretation seems wrong it is usually due to empirical failure, and not a over lively imagination. Through their content of significance works tell us about all possible worldly conditions. It requires much elucidation and interpretation to arrive at a thesis, at the complete expression and significance of the work, that is not explicitly formulated in the work. But it is worth the effort.
Urban landscape, Artistic project, Academic analysis, Works signifance, Space language
Professor of landscape architecture at the Department of Parks and Urban Landscape, the Centre for Forestry, Landscape and Planning, the Faculty of Life Science at the University of Copenhagen.