Stress induced landscapes

diving diagram
diving diagram

Within my research group at Wageningen University we have discussed an interesting viewpoint regarding living system design. Not everyone within the group of students agrees with it, because it appears to be counterintuitive and even opposite ecological reasoning.

The subject is living system design and we intend to broaden the predominant ecological prospect (e.g. increase of biodiversity), by including productive aspects that are of service to human civilization. We are therefore discussing design strategies for a living system design that include profitable agriculture, energy harvesting, water purification and expressive qualities that are aesthetically revealing. The development of design strategies is beneficial for the evolving body of landscape design theory – that is at the moment widely eclectic and fragmented (Murphy 2005; Thompson 2009; Deming and Swaffield 2011).

The subject of stress popped up. Stress in an ecological perspective influences the development of biotopes and is normally interpreted as a negative event that disrupts the natural growth of a balanced community of species and abiotic characteristics (soil, water and atmosphere). However, stress is to most cultural landscapes a necessary tool to prolong a certain type of plant growth. Take for instance heather. In many Dutch situations heather will grow into a forest if not intensely grazed by herded sheep. In other words stress is what humans put into a natural system to keep it from developing.

Stress can be a tool to steer living systems to a state of off-balance that is expressed by a certain type of flora and fauna that is unique, profitable and in many cases: containing a biodiversity that is greater than its harmonizing natural mirror image.

So a conclusion to our discussion was that stress should be intently designed. Moreover, continuation of stress can be deeply gratifying for humans: to herd your sheep, to develop seasonal rituals that operationalize stress by community involvement, to experience an interaction between human action and the response by a living system… (Roncken 2011)

Some stress is not a negative disruption, it is rather a positive stimulation that serves to tickle living systems into almost playful response. Playful as life is supposed to be.

In this line of thinking the second law of thermodynamics is appropriate, stating that no energy can be created. Energy can only be ‘captured’ within increasingly complex systems that tease and play with the many alternative forms of energy (Stremke, Roncken et al. 2012). In this way energy is made expressive in ever more complex forms that need maintenance and specific conditions. Without stress, energy would very rapidly become entropy and deadened in its potentials.

Within our group I now have a reason to categorize types of stress that are beneficial to productive nature. What kind of involvement is needed and how can humans interact? In what rhythm and sequence should what types of stress be made operative? Such exciting questions are invigorating and enable to think architecturally about landscapes without the classical Euclidean form relationships. We feel landscape architecture maturing within our grasp.

Without stress, no life.
Merry Christmas and I wish you days of playful stress to increase your energy expressions!

Deming, E. M. and S. Swaffield (2011). Landscape Architecture Research, Inquiry, Strategy, Design. Hoboken, New Jersey, John Wiley & Sons.
Murphy, M. D. (2005). Landscape Architecture Theory: An Evolving Body of Thought Long Grove, IL., Waveland Press.
Roncken, P. (2011). Agrarian Rituals and the Future Sublime. Images of Farming. W. Feenstra and A. Schiffers. Heijningen, Jap Sam Books: 102-113.
Stremke, S., A. P. Roncken, et al. (2012). A designerly way of understanding landscape machines in the light of
evolutionary thermodynamics. Designing nature as infrastructure. München.
Thompson, I. (2009). Rethinking Landscape, A Critical Reader. Oxford, Routledge.