Proud about ideas

collage by author

Of course there are sparse moments of self-pride. Even with the average self-esteem of landscape designers, some ideas and deliveries are worth wallowing in. An instance of the purest sublime by an act of creation: for, as if instinctively, our soul is uplifted by true elevation; it takes a proud flight, and is filled with joy and vaunting, as though it had itself produced what it has heard (Longinus, pp. section XXXIII-2). Take for instance this idea I consider brilliant.

A commission for one of the biggest park operations in the Netherlands was opened to three teams. A 1100 ha park with the budget that not even allowed to sow and manage one giant meadow. In other words, the park had to be self sustaining and even profitable in financial terms. Important note is that this was a situation during the pre-European crisis period (2002). At the time there was no incentive to aim for outspoken social co-creation. On the contrary, everybody still believed the government should pay and take care of such huge undertakings. Even more ludicrous was the idea that the suggestion to have such a giant park had to be weighed against other, perhaps more serious demands. Let alone involve local people and entrepreneurs to partake in the initiative. No, this was a downright  up-straight and rather simple matter of best stylistic design practice and least of political noise. So our idea did not win the closed bet and went home frustrated and disliked.

What was our idea? One that I personally consider to be one of the rare brilliant ideas in landscape design? It was provocative and futuristic without the bling bling of James Bond gadgets. It was ahead of its time although that is always an overstatement for designers because they necessarily design for future use and appreciation. It was ahead of its time for a more design philosophical reason. (1) We suggested to include the local landowners in the transformation process, because there was a rumbling of societal discontent that was ignored by the governmental parties; (2) we proposed to not focus on creating a cliché park with focus on recreation closed nature reserves that would be too costly and devastating to the current land use and lack future maintenance guarantees; (3) we proposed to split the 1100 ha amongst three agrarian entrepreneurs who are historically confident with large scale operations. For the time being we suggested to invite Argentinean cattle farmers, the home country of our new princes and future queen of the Netherlands (now Queen Maxima). Their roaming cattle would manage the various grounds to become new wilderness like farm-reserves with excitingly designed farmyards, barns and guesthouses. A profitable landscape service that produces from the lands it manages and is capable of both adapting to landscape morphological diversity and the incidental (peak) demands of public involvement and enhanced landscape experiences (that include human labour and agrarian rituals).

According to our commissioners, this proposition proved that we were bad for business and out of our league considering what landscape designers should be doing. One the main characters on the commission is at this moment the National Landscape Advisor. I sometimes wonder how this profession will grand itself to be more inclusive of divergent ideas. At times there seems to be a death squad at work to nullify those that sidetrack and risk the profile of this profession as if it is undermining an eternal successful 19th century cliché character. In my most desperate moments I am being watched by big brothers that demand to obey the law of stylistic precision, the law of unquestioned expertise and the law of being nice as butterflies in spring. To me, these laws have been corrupted towards the wastefulness of over-used (hard) landscaping materials, the insecure questioning whether landscape architects can make a difference and the stupidity of believing that every bit of green matters and can cure people, help world peace and humble us to a more appreciative type of earth inhabiting species.

What I like most about our park proposition (besides the pride of having been on the right track in a ten year retrospect) is the taboo of including foreign entrepreneurs in developing large scale landscape services. Somehow the somewhat religious belief in genius loci enforced upon many to abide to the principle of indigenous conservatism. This means that only local plants and biotopes ought to be stimulated, remaining artefacts and once pastoral land divisions have to be prioritized and globalizing influences are to be reduced. Common’! I would love to include Saoudi’s in developing the technological examples of post carbon energy landscapes and I would love to see Chinese frankness to develop new mesmerizing estates. As I would love to include Argentinean cattle farmers to bring in the cowboy roughness. Or the Muslim vibrancy of kasbah trade directly attached to family housing.

What was your most brilliant idea that should have rocked this place and shaken the profession to wake up? Please leave a reply so we can see what is in your designers mind. The best ideas will be forwarded to the Dutch National Landscape Advisor!