WRAP: 2018 AILA International Festival of Landscape Architecture by Sacha Coles

ASPECT insights
WRAP: 2018 AILA International Festival of Landscape Architecture by Sacha Coles
The 2018 AILA International Festival of Landscape Architecture: The Expanding Field sets out to challenge, prod, and reimagine what contemporary practice in the field of Landscape architecture could and should be in the age of the Anthropocene.

Each of the thoughtfully curated sessions was framed around the notion of expansion and examined through six sessions: Pushing Boundaries; Synergising Technologies; Expanding Territories; Cultivating Cultural Intersections; and Navigating Political Terrain. Significant discussion explored the underlying dialogue around how each of these concepts affects contemporary practice in Australia, as we grapple with reconciling our specific colonial history and its societal impacts as well as the shared global and environmental impacts of a changing climate.

Whilst this confronting dialogue was not easy listening, the Festival curators from TCL had thoughtfully composed sessions which brought together intentionally challenging content from speakers whose ambition was to extract landscape architecture practice out of the pleasant picturesque, to engage in work that has direct impact on the state of society and the health of the planet.

Given the breadth of speakers assembled from the fields of design, farming, environmental science, art and indigenous knowledge, these messages were delivered in a variety of tempos and proclamations. Our people across our studios attended the annual AILA International Festival of Landscape Architecture, to openly engage and absorb the intellectual dialogues presented by the curators and speakers of the festival.

In addition, our Director, Sacha Coles, moderated one of the challenging sessions which explored the topic of ‘Synergising Technologies’.

We’ve gathered a snapshot summary and provided our commentary on the discussion by select speakers who represent the broad fields discussed above.

‘Pushing Boundaries – Designing a Planet?’

Elizabeth Meyer: Landscape Architecture Department Chair, Director of the Graduate Landscape Architecture Program, University of Virginia

Landscape Architecture as defined by Elizabeth is in an incredibly well situated and skilled position to influence behavioural change. We as designers need to explore and design with "multi-species collations" in mind as our industry faces growing influence on society and people interaction through our public spaces and experiences. We as landscape architects and designers have the ability to alter our users' perspectives on how they inhabit and interact with space, place and people.

Always remember to consider; "To what end and for whom?"

Richard Weller: Meyerson Chair of Urbanism and Professor and Chair of Landscape Architecture, University of Pennsylvania

A thought-provoking, and at times despairing outlook at the challenges we will face as climate change becomes increasingly prevalent and the population surges 10 billion. A grappling and endearing way to kick off the 2018 AILA conference – a wakeup call if you will, which made us all the more attune to talks of positivity from Charles Massy and Liberty Lawson.

The intent: we as an industry, have the potential to tackle the challenging and confronting issue of climate and population change in a positive and impactful manner, and take real action.

We’ve listed a couple of examples of how the varying typologies and how they are being addressed across the globe:

  1. Econoclasts – Topotek + BIG – Superkilen – fun
  2. Cyborgs – Gardens by the Sea – structure vs surface- theatrical
  3. Indeterminist – Freshkills- Succession with no end point
  4. New-materialists – Museum Park Louvre – micro-biological material
  5. Post-colonial – Deconstructing conceptual landscapes
  6. High-performance – Oystertexture + 'A New Urban Ground, NY - Nature-based strategies- form follows function
  7. Digital Natures – Mapping sand deposits- Holland
 

‘Expanding Territories – Regenerative Agriculture and Landscape Design’

Charles Massy: Farmer & Author 'Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture - A New Earth'

An astounding talk about a farmer's environmental "road to redemption.", explaining his incredible hardship financially, and personally, to come to terms with what he had been doing for years, may not be the right approach. Through his experiences, Charles armed us with incredible knowledge about the way our land works, the processes and natural systems involved. Charles highlighted how we can impact our natural environment in a positive manner by having greater awareness and sensitivity to natural systems. Charles identified that desertification is one of the biggest threats to Australia's ecosystem, economy and our collective livelihood. Survival strategies and self-organisation of the landscape should be supported through the promotion of regenerative naturalistic landscapes – providing nature with a helping hand to self-sustain, rather than trying to control it.

In Charles’ words, "it’s not enough to be sustainable any more, we must be restorative, regenerative”.

Our team left feeling encouraged by his thought-provoking presentation (our team also left with the desire to become farmers themselves) and we all left knowing that there were things we could do to make a difference in our lifetimes."  

‘Cultivating Cultural Intersections’

Fiona Foley: Founding Member, Boomalli Aboriginal Artist Co-operative

A subversive discussion on the power of public art and the treachery of colonialism; whereby the repercussions of identity and belonging continue to plague indigenous Australians from generation to generation. As Fiona said herself, don't get hung up on terminology. We are still in a colony. Don't you forget it. The truth about our past is difficult and uncomfortable.  

Foley brought balance to the other, largely positive and forward-looking indigenous voices. Her experience as an ostracised indigenous female artist is the vehicle of her worldview, which is that she moves through a largely colonised space and that we are all responsible for the decolonisation of Australia’s institutions and built environment.

‘Expanding Territories – In the Mud: Collaborations in Research, Design, and Outreach’

Sean Burkholder: Director, Landscape Affairs Group | Assistant Professor, University of Pennsylvania.

Who would have thought - a fascinating presentation on the mechanics of gravity and silt. Sean’s discussion explored a deeply researched, practice based and light-hearted look at watersheds, the sedimentation deposited downstream and its ongoing management. An inspiring observation on how to best utilise design and systems to harness often very what is considered dry engineering philosophies, to create beautiful, ecologically valuable and sensitive places.

‘Navigating Political Terrain – Conflict and Harmony in the Public Space’

Martin Rein-Cano: Principal & Co-Founder, Topotek1 Martin played the role of international design agitator and was positioned in stark contrast to the prevailing attitude of the festival (environmental/cultural sustainability/sensitivity, action on climate change).

An irreverent commentary on international design cultures. Rein-Cano chastises the Anglo-Saxon world for our ‘moralising’ and suggests that our industry tones down the amount of sugar that we dish out with our medicine. Falling largely under the same banner as Weller, Rein-Cano challenges landscape architects to push beyond ‘polite’ landscapes. In Martin’s words - "it is my belief that the current role of landscape architecture is to blunt the impact of poor urban design." Martin showed us an alternative to the 'real photoshop' and faux natures that we are often preoccupied with creating. An inspiring alternate take on our role in the aesthetic of the public domain, although interestingly he avoided the question when challenged on what the measure of success was for his work.

‘Synergising Technologies – Think Like Coral: Redesigning Ecology and Conservation for the Anthropocene’

Liberty Lawson: Doctoral Candidate, University of Sydney, Editor, Holographia Journal

Corals colonising plastic waste. Researching and trials for regrowth of dying coral reefs which can be applied to an organism which has a non-linear, hyperbolic curve style of growth.

What a way to end the conference; Liberty anchored her talk in real world examples of coral reef restoration from a personal perspective that left the audience knowing that there are incredible people out there in the world who are taking (sometimes deceptively simple) steps to build up our resilience in the face of climate change and pollution. And we can too!

Finally, congratulations to AILA and the festival curators at TCL for a thoroughly enriching and thoughtful festival which left us focused on the actions that we as an industry need to further advocate and employ in order to create positive impact and effect real change. Our team are eagerly anticipating another year of learning, growing and development at the 2019 festival.

Thank you to Bianca Pineda, Lauren Nissen and Timothy D'Agostino for their input.