Landscape Urbanism (aaschool - Architectural Association School ...

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Landscape Urbanism (

MA (Landscape Urbanism)

Eva Castro, Eduardo Rico, Alfredo

Tom Smith, Douglas Spencer

Conditions of sprawl, post
industrialisation, rapid urbanisation and ‘natural’ disasters
pose significant challenges to
normative design practices, requiring an approach that
operates beyond the quick fix or the local solution. In this context
Landscape Urbanism

has emerged in North America and Europe as a new design discipline responding to the
specific demands and potenti
als of these conditions. Here ‘Landscape’ is not understood
as a scenographic art, beautifying, greening or naturalising the city, but as a model of
connective, scalar and temporal operations through which the urban is conceived and
engaged with: the urban

is diagrammed as a landscape; a complex and processual
ecology. With this model the urban can be connected to local, regional and global scales
and understood in terms of its future orientation and performative potential, as opposed to
the nostalgic and s
ocially divisive strategies of the ‘new’ urbanist enclave.

Landscape Urbanism

is, by definition, transdisciplinary. Whilst drawing upon the legacy
of landscape design to address the dynamics of contemporary urbanism, it integrates
knowledge and techniques

from environmental engineering, urban strategy and landscape
ecology, and employs the science of complexity and emergence, the tools of digital
design and the thought of political ecology. Through these means the course projects new
material interventions

that operate within an urbanism conceived as social, material,
ecological and continually modulated by the spatial and temporal forces in which it is

The Landscape Urbanism MA programme is a 12
month studio
based course designed
for students w
ith prior academic and professional qualifications. It comprises a design
studio, interrelated workshops and a series of lectures and seminars that form the core of
project development.

Prototypical Urbanities 03: The Yangtze River Delta

China’s economic

boom, combined with migration from the countryside to the cities, is
boosting a high
speed urbanism that produces new cities in the shortest imaginable time
and is completely changing the faces of the older towns. This directional urbanisation,
from within the coastal zones into the countryside, has brought even the
smallest villages face to face with the phenomena of globalisation

and its foreign capital
and generic architecture.

At the same time, the pace and scale of the development, partic
ularly that of the mega
cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Shenyang and Wuhan, has made the interrelated
problems of massive migration, pollution and the loss of arable land evident. Arguably,
the pursuit of financial interests within the global market and
ultimately short
strategy for the country’s urbanisation has, at the very least, contributed to this situation,
failing to produce, at a large scale, a cohesive, integrated vision of China, and, at a local
scale, a mechanism of negotiation between
economic interests, cultural traditions,
developmental pressures and existing ecologies. At risk is the severe fragmentation of the
urban and the loss of any local capacity to articulate a socio
ecologically sustainable

Framework 09



upon a body of research established over the past two years of work in this field,
LU will this year maintain its focus on China’s ambitions to

four hundred new
cities by the year 2020

with 12 million people expected to move from rural to urban

as the basis for its brief.
Far from resisting this development, we will engage
opportunistically with the generation of ‘proto

for new large
agglomerations as a means of critically addressing the phenomena of mass
an sprawl.

Our testbed will be the urban agglomerations of the Yangtze River Delta

, Ningbo

with students focusing

on the emergence of three benchmark issues in this area:


Metabolic rurbanism: the emergence of ‘desakota’ (urban villages) in which urban
and rural processes of land use are combined, and th
e potentials it presents for the
origin of industrial ecologies


Tactical resistance:

where generic, top
down masterplanning collides with
informally developed urban cores, the potential to locate the fault lines of this
dynamic as a space from which a
tactical urbanism that is qualitatively informed and
territorially specific, might be produced.


Material identities: the inadequacy of attempts to provide new urban settlements with
an instant ‘identity’, through the application of either vernacular or we
stern styles of
building, in the context of ‘post
traditional’ urbanisation

These conditions will be addressed through a detailed reading of the specific territories
involved, a critical analysis of their performative potentials, and the development of
sign strategies through which these can be realised.

Design Studio

1. Indexical Models: mediation between typical organisational paradigms and local

The Autumn Term is based on a series of intensive workshops. It aims to initiate a
dialogue b
etween the techniques being acquired and their application in the development
of new organisational models.

This year, the genesis of these models will spring from both the analysis of various city
structures and the sensitive readings and analyses of the

existing conditions. Their modus
operandi will be structured upon a parametrically controlled internal logic with a latent
capacity to incorporate further external information.

The first term culminates in a field trip to China, providing us with the opp
ortunity to
engage at first hand with a real large
scale urban project and a body of consultants
consisting of local planners and architects.

2. Sensitive Systems: development of a prototype

The second term begins with a field trip to China, providing us
with the opportunity to
engage at first hand with a real large scale urban project and a body of consultants formed
by local planners and architects.

Subsequent to the field trip, the organisational models acquire a sense of local ‘urgency’
informing both
down strategic intentions and allowing for a fluid negotiation with
up local conditions. This process aims to drive the development of their
mechanics by zooming into individual cells and opening a discussion of their relevance,
materiality and
performativity. Central to this phase will be the development of a
prototype, a malleable model capable of continuous transformations. This development
will be carried out in accordance with progressive testing in relation to one or several
assigned assess
ment criteria. Complexity will thus emerge from a gradual specificity
acquired during the process and its responsiveness to variation and differentiation.

During the Easter break, we will conduct an intense workshop in Barcelona in
conjunction with the M
etropolis Foundation. The objective here will be to synthesise the
prototype’s formative process and investigate its scalar limitations.

The students are expected to take an active tutoring role during this experience.

3. 4. Network Urbanism: global beha

During the third Term work is directed towards developing different logics of
proliferation, hence also mastering degrees of self
differentiation, specificity and
responsiveness within the field. These properties then contribute to the robustness of

strategically integrated systems of transformation of the territory at many scales and
times of implementation.

At this point, the projects will have acquired a certain relevance based on a tangible
argument and will be clearly positioned within the field
, thus initiating a clear
contribution to the (re)definition of Landscape Urbanism as a discipline.

The maturity of the proposals should be reflected in the
Projects Review

presentation and
exhibition, which will be held at the end of the term.

Over the su
mmer, the aim is to establish the expanding rationale under which the projects
must operate. Students will seek mechanisms of validation within their theses derived
from a direct feedback loop of the assembly between the projects and their localities, and
the potentials that this generates, thus promoting a continuous reassessment of the
strategies deployed.

During this period the work will develop a grounding logic directly related to the existing
political framework, thus assuming the character of a time
based plan.

Investigations developed during the year will be presented as a final Design Thesis in a
public review at the end of September.

Seminars and Lectures

Douglas Spencer, Autumn & Spring Terms

This unit is designed to synergise with the course
’s workshops, projects and field trips
whilst forming the theoretical core of the programme overall. Over its two terms it
introduces the student to the transdisciplinary origins of Landscape Urbanism whilst
defining its unique configuration and potential
in the context of contemporary urban
conditions. It is taught through two lecture series, but also includes a seminar programme
through students are assigned reading and required to contribute group and individual
presentations. Additionally the series is
supplemented with contributions from other
specialists, researchers and former students of the AALU programme.

In the Autumn term, the lecture series, ‘Models, Methods and Histories’, addresses the
definition of Landscape Urbanism through an analysis of t
he models and methods
employed in the discipline, and also attends to relevant historical perspectives in the
history of urbanism and landscape.

In the Spring term, the lecture series, ‘Networks, Mobility and Strategy’, focuses upon
contemporary urban co
nditions and the social, economic, technological and
organisational contexts in which they are implicated. On this basis it critically examines
current architectural and urban design practice and explores the possibilities for strategies
adequate to these

Machining Landscapes

Tom Smith, Autumn & Spring Terms

Félix Guattari, in his essay ‘On Machines’ proposed that the concept of the ‘technological
machine’ be expanded to one of the ‘machinic assemblage’. This 'machine', he writes, ‘is
open to
the outside and its machinic environment and maintains all kinds of relationships
to social components and individual subjectivities’. Following this proposition, this new
lecture series, which introduces students to a range of construction techniques rela
ted to
the design of landscape projects, adopts a ‘machinic’ ethos to technical practice. Rather
than a remedial or problem
solving approach, then, it addresses the generative potential
of technical methods and their capacity to produce new territories ope
nly engaged with
environmental, social and subjective conditions.

The unit will address a range of practices, principles and conditions

such as wetland
generation, microclimatic strategies, slope stability and landscape ecology

and will
include the cr
itical analysis of a range of sites, case studies and built examples.

Ecology & Environment

Ian Carradice & Ove Arup Associates, Autumn Term

This lecture series by experts from the Ove Arup Environmental Unit addresses
environmental concerns, introd
ucing a wide range of techniques aiming to ensure
sustainable management and design. Water management, environmental architectural
principles, energy provision, water and air pollution, the impact of transportation
networks and climate are some of the proc
esses that will be studied.

Opportunities will be provided for students to meet with specialist consultants to discuss
problems that arise during their study of the site.

Landscape Urbanism Guest Lecture Series 03. Spring Term

As the Landscape Urbanism
programme continues to develop and refine its own
transdisciplinary approach it invites, each year, an international and diverse range of
speakers to offer new perspectives on the issues that concern its practice. These lectures
are open to the public and
are offered as means to engage the tutors and students of the
LU programme in a productive dialogue with other practitioners, theorists and
researchers within an open forum.

Past speakers include:

Charles Waldheim, Andreas Ruby, Kelly Shannon, Richard Wel
ler, David Cunningham,
Matthew Gandy, Douglas Spencer and Gareth Doherty



Eva Castro, Alfredo Ramirez, Eduardo Rico, Autumn Term

This workshop initiates a long
term discussion about the critical role of drawings and

in city planning and design. Students will be introduced to the
conceptualization of urban conditions through diagramming, revealing the underling
logics, singularities and complexities of urban networks, exploring various representation
techniques to est
ablish clear and specific readings of the urban supra
organization. The
workshop will start with a research on a set of study cases proposed by the staff, followed
by individual tutorials discussing the use of diagram in each specific case. It will
e with individual presentations by each student to an external jury.


Eva Castro, Teruyuki Nomura, Bridget MacKean, Autumn Term

The workshop understands mapping and diagramming as both exploratory and
propositive, having an active a
nd crucial role in the design process. The aim is to develop
the students’ capacity for reading information from fields and then decoding,
synthesizing and systematically processing it into indexical models. Introductory sessions
will look at different tec
hniques of mapping territories focusing on networks, fields,
dynamic behaviours and topographic conditions. Students will attend tutorials on
different software packages (Maya, Rhino, Land
desktop, Space Syntax, etc.) enabling
them to process and diagram s
uch information.


Eduardo Rico, Clara Oloriz, Spring Term

The purpose of the workshop is to explore different scripting techniques as a means of
creating flexible design tools that are capable of accommodating change and a degree of
determinacy within the design process. Paradigms of self
organized systems,
distributed networks and uprising complexity will be introduced though ruled based
design techniques, setting up counter models to conventional urban planning. In this
workshop, th
e student will be asked to generate variations of material components,
linking them to a research on infrastructural, environmental and other spatial
performance. There will be intensive scripting tutorials and individual reviews leading to
a public presen
tation of results.


Eduardo Rico, Enriqueta LLabres, Spring Term

This workshop will deal with the mediation of bottom up readings and strategic decision
making concepts.

The overall arrangement of the material components produced in th
e previous workshop
will be adjusted and further articulated to respond locally to specific conditions and
globally to relational strategies. This phase of the design studio will proceed with an
introduction to the software (excel scripting and paracloud c
oding), followed by a set of
individual tutorials and a public presentation.


Eva Castro, Jorge Ayala, Spring Term

This workshop explores the different digital fabrication techniques beyond their
representational capacity a
nd into their creative potential. The purpose is to acquire an
instrumental deployment of these tools and to create a feedback loop between the digital
and the physical to overcome the traditional bi dimensional reading of the city.


a Castro, Eduardo Rico, Alfredo Ramirez + Fundacion Metropoli, Spring Break

This is the third of a series of workshops to be held each year during the spring break in
conjunction with different LU collaborators. Its aim is to serve as a quick and intense
testing bed for the application of the techniques acquired into a real project within a new
political context. The work will be developed in a multidisciplinary team formed by the
LU team and the local experts and consultants. The workshop will conclude
with a final
public presentation of the project to the body of clients.

Landscape Urbanism Director

Eva Castro is the director of the Landscape Urbanism programme and has been teaching
at the AA since 2003. She studied architecture and urbanism at t
he Universidad Central
de Venezuela and subsequently completed the AA Graduate Design programme with Jeff
Kipnis. She is cofounder of Plasma Studio and

She is winner of the Next Generation Architects Award, the Young Architect of the Year
, the ContractWorld Award and the HotDip Galvanising Award. Her work is
published and exhibited worldwide. Plasma and GroundLab are currently lead designers
for the International Horticultural Fair in Xi’an, China a 37ha landscape with a wide
range of buil
dings due to open in 2011.

Landscape Urbanism Staff

Douglas Spencer has studied design and architectural history, cultural studies, and
critical theory, and has taught history and theory at a number of architectural schools. His
research and writing on
urbanism, architecture, film and critical theory has been
published in journals including The Journal of Architecture, Radical Philosophy, AA
Files and Culture Machine. He has contributed chapters to collections on urban design,
utopian literature and cont
emporary architecture, and is currently researching for a book
which formulates a Marxian critique of contemporary architecture and ‘control society’.

Tom Smith is a landscape architect and urban designer whose expertise ranges from
detailed landscape des
ign to large complex masterplans. His work over the last 11 years,
since joining EDAW AECOM, has been diverse, ranging from masterplanning for the
Chelsea Flower Show to developing networks of rural communities on the Portuguese
coast to large
scale multid
isciplinary landscape, engineering and architecture projects.

Over the past five years Tom has been instrumental in the design of the London 2012
Olympic and Legacy Masterplan. He is currently focusing on leading the design and
delivery of the Olympic and
Legacy Parklands, as well as the development of the Legacy
masterplan framework.

Alfredo Ramírez is an architect and co
founder of Groundlab, He studied Architecture at
the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City and subsequently completed the AA
te programme Landscape Urbanism. He has practised in Mexico City, Madrid and
London, where his work ranges from architecture to urban scale projects. Alfredo is also
collaborating with Fundacion Metropoli, where he is involved in the design and

of several large urban scale projects.

Eduardo Rico studied civil engineering in Spain and graduated from the AA’s Landscape
Urbanism programme. He has acted as consultant and performed research in the fields of
infrastructure and landscape in Spain and
the UK.
Currently he is involved in the
development of infrastructural strategies for large scale urban projects

within the Arup engineerig team as well as being part of the collective Groundlab.