latest update: 5 November 2013

LAR 501 A | B  Landscape Architecture Seminar I

Spring 2014 | Clement

Example of a more thorough content outline, for discussion leadership:

LAR 501 A     Content Outline | Discussion Guide                                                    March 3, 2011 Jena Biondolilo and Kylie Harper

Theory in Landscape Architecture: A Reader

Gray World, Green Heart (1994) by Robert Thayer


About Robert Thayer:

         1969 - Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Design from Cornell University

         1971 - Master's Degree in Urban Design from Stanford University

         1994 - Thayer received the President's Award of Excellence for his book Gray World, Green Heart: Technology, Nature, and the Sustainable Landscape.

         Formerly a principal partner at the California based planning and landscape architectural firm CoDesign, from 1983-2000

         Currently Emeritus Professor of Landscape Architecture and the founder of the Landscape Architecture Program at the University of California, Davis

         Avid paddle sports enthusiast, rides a solar-charged electric motorcycle, and has an "in your face" approach to sustainable landscapes.

Gray World, Green Heart

         Importance of Sustainable Landscapes

o    A few solar panels, bike paths, organic farms, and recycling systems are not enough to save the world. A greater change in institutions is necessary to make a difference.

o    Reality vs. Fantasy: "Sustainable landscapes are ... the antidote to a runaway world of consumption and fantasy where technology is destroying nature and making a lifeless replica..." (p.189, 3)


         The transition to a sustainable world depends upon ordinary people observing, experiencing, comprehending, and implementing sustainable techniques and technologies in their local landscapes. (p.189, 1)

         Thayer's personal house tours in his solar neighborhood


         "Landscapes that create an illusion of a better world while depriving us of the actual means of  achieving it are not sustainable." (p. 189, 3)

         Imbalance of perceptual function and practical dimensions of technology

         "Air conditioners powered by fossil fuels create the illusion of coolness in one place by making the entire planet hotter through their contribution to global warming."

(p.189, 3)

Can you think of any other ironic examples of perception being incongruent with reality?

         Transparency and Visual Ecology

o    Transparency: "The ability to see into and understand the inner workings of a landscape" (p. 189, 4)

o    Transparent landscapes reveal incongruities, whereas opaque landscapes hide them.

o    " Opacity and fakery in the landscape ultimately only serve to perpetuate the unsustainable status quo..." (p.190, 1)

o    Visual Ecology: Acquiring feedback from the environment by revealing ecological processes that guide constructive action

o    "That which is not seen is often viewed with fear and exaggeration. The first step toward building a sustainable world then is to open up out landscapes to view." (p. 190, 1)

o    Humans = Symbolic Animals

  "The feedback we receive from the environment is, of course, laden with symbolic meaning."

(p. 190, 1)

Can you give an example of a time when you included a symbolic meaning in a design?


o    "The natural tendency of humans is toward consistency between emotions, thoughts, and actions. This should be the natural, normal tendency of our landscapes as well...the opposite tendency toward surprise, contradiction, simulation, and fundamentally wrong." (p. 190, 2)

Do you agree with this statement?

o    Surfaces (perception) vs. Core (reality)

  "...the emotional state provoked by the landscape's surfaces should be congruent with and not contradictory to the manner in which the core properties of the same landscape provide for our functional needs and well-being." (p.190, 3)

  Example: Air conditioned building  (p. 190, 3)


         Boundary Between Fantasy and Reality

o    Designs can include imaginative landscapes, but there must be a clear distinction between fantasy and reality.

o    "In today's world saturated by entertainment and illusion, the danger is not as much in the amount of fantasy itself but in the blurring of the line between fantasy and reality...landscapes should give strong cues when one is leaving reality and entering the realm of fantasy and entertainment." (p. 191, 1)

What are possible design strategies that cue people that they are leaving reality and entering the realm of fantasy?


          The Style of No Style and The Importance of Creativity

o    Belief that postmodernism is only a phase because the "style attempts to 'deconstruct' or make a mockery of all former, form-giving influences and assumptions." (p.191, 2)

o    Sustainability as a common underlying "truth" in every landscape

o    Form follows [ecological] function.

  "Sustainable landscape form and content will seek to reveal this ecological order through an interplay of surface and core unique to both place and culture. Consequently, there may be no distinct style, since 'style' itself necessarily separates surface from core..." (p.191, 4)

o    No Style doesn't mean No Art

  "Artful interpretation is necessary to offer alternative visions and to explore and make sense out of the unseen." (p. 192, 1)

  It is the job of landscape architects to, "interpret the relationship of human beings to their environment in spatial, visual terms." (p. 192, 1)

In what ways do landscape architects visually describe the relationship between human beings and the environment?


         Encouraging sustainable practices through conspicuous nonconsumption

o    Complexity impedes the rate of adoption, whereas observability speeds up the adoption rate.

(p.192, 2)

o    "Sustainable technologies and landscape features like natural storm drainage and visible solar collector systems symbolize "conspicuous nonconsumption" and are essential markers along the road to a more sustainable world..." (p. 192, 2)

Do you think it is more important for sustainable landscapes to be visually appealing or to keep the sustainable technologies observable?


         Sustainable landscapes to transform culture

o    "Ultimately, the goal of sustainable landscapes is the transformation of culture - the taming of technology, the emergence of a new environmental ethic, a measure of life quality, and a substantially broadened sense of community including not only humans, but all life." (p.192, 3)

o    "We may, quite literally, need to design and build the cultural elements necessary to accompany and actualize new sustainable landscapes as we build the landscapes themselves..." (p. 194, 1)

How does this relate to our Denver project?


         Environmental Guilt and Taming Technology

o    The transformation into a sustainable world is a slow process, so there is still much inconsistency.

  "By and large, landscapes are getting more opaque as society entangles itself further in the veil of technologically aided simulation, avoidance, and fantasy." (p.194, 2)

Do you agree with this statement? Are landscapes becoming more opaque or more transparent?

o    Environmental guilt: "The sense of dissonance we feel about technology's impact on the land"

(p. 194, 2)

Do you have any environmental guilt?

o    Nature vs. Technology

  " The evolution of nature, technology, and their confliction interrelationship demands movement toward resolution...The sustainable landscape is a natural step in the transformation toward resolution; we cannot kill the technological tyrant, only tame it." (p. 194, 4)

o    Three attitudes toward technology and landscape

  Topophilia: the love of place

  Technophilia: the love for technology

  Technophobia: the fear of technology

                      How do we tame the technological tyrant? How do we decide which technologies to use and

which to avoid?

         Taking Action

o    "We must make sustainable landscapes to know how to make them, and we must make them in order to know what they really are." (p. 195, 2)

o    Process

  Set limited number of achievable goals

  Strive to reach at least one or two goals

  "Learning  will take place in the attempt, even if all goals are not reached." (p. 195, 3)

o    "While the experiential qualities of sustainable landscapes are critical, without functionally contributing to actual environmental solutions, supposedly sustainable landscapes degenerate into mere simulations."

(p. 195, 4)



o    "What you do may seem unimportant, but it is terribly important that you do it. " -Gandhi (p. 196, 1)

o    "The conflict between nature and technology ... is a dilemma of love." (p.196, 2)

  "Humans have an immense capacity for love, but as any lover knows, affection and commitment often require painful prioritization." (p.196, 2)

Do you agree that the conflict is a dilemma of love?

o    "Our infatuation with technology is a brief, distracting affair, but we are wedded to the earth for life."

(p. 196, 3)

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