Melbourne Design Week

A Post-Landscape Handbook is published on Other Spaces exhibition as part of Melbourne Design Week.

Read the full essay below:

A post-landscape handbook

Post-landscapes are about seeking out ‘other landscapes’ [i]. They are a reminder to enquire beyond the places that we have been conditioned to construct, a prompt to question landscapes constructed for us, and an urgency to invent new relationships with worlds. Prevailing and dominant approaches to landscapes, including those experienced and produced in most places on the planet, represent a continued trajectory of centuries old, Western European priorities of imaging and commodifying land for the benefit of powerful individuals, organisations, and states. At a moment of intersecting environmental, health, and, economic crises, this 16th Century conception of landscape, that was conceived and has developed along with practices of capitalism and colonial expansion should be challenged.

This post-landscape handbook is a call to make radical change, not just to redesign physical environments but to simultaneously challenge the technologies, disrupt the ideologies, upend the politics, and reinvent the governance structures that inform daily life. On their own, physical designs of landscapes are too easily appropriated to exacerbate inequities of land ownership, distract from ecological destruction, or conceal social inequities. It is necessary, therefore, to expand our roles into areas otherwise left to engineers and economists, activists and politicians – to prioritise other landscapes, and establish more just relations. To work with landscapes is not only to engage with the material specifications of places. Instead, it is necessary to radically reconstitute relations that make worlds in order to realise ecologically just and spatially equitable lives.

To build other landscapes, we must contest prevailing practices: first, the dominance of visual imagery and pictorial representations as mediators of landscape practices; second, the ego-centered positions from which landscapes are viewed and transformed; and third, the controlling frames that enclose and restrict access and relationships [ii]. In ‘Landscape’s Agency’, the geographer Don Mitchell states: ‘So we need to talk (a lot) about what these post-commodities and post-landscapes might actually look like (literally)’ [iii]. The twelve points of this post-landscape handbook aim to respond to Mitchell’s call, ‘toward a new kind of post-landscape order, one being worked out on the ground.’ [iv].

[1] Question vision. To maintain pictorial images as the primary relations that we have with people, things and worlds around us privileges particular ways of seeing that can tend towards the illusory. Histories of landscape representations that can be celebrated for their technical invention need to be questioned for their fixation with painterly compositions over lived realities. Landscapes need to be studied for what is concealed from view and what is excluded from the frame – revealing other landscapes that have the capacity for more productive relations. Visual images have critical roles, but they are more powerful when they expose the complex and often contradictory constructions of landscapes and avoid the tropes of architectural competitions, travel guides and marketing brochures.

[2] Make things visible. Landscapes need to reveal otherwise untold – human and more-than-human – accounts of places. Landscape practices need to work with young people excluded from planning processes, residents displaced through gentrification, marginalised cultural practices, and unaccounted non-human labour. Simultaneously, landscapes need to make visible the agendas of commissioning bodies, decisions of government agencies, uneven distributions of land and resources, and species and habitats destroyed – while not overlooking commercial interests who may have the most to gain. Landscape practices need to look more closely and represent with more care in working with the cultural, ecological and technological forces that inform the constructions of other landscapes.

[3] Deny masterplans, get closer. Views from above, the recognisable forms of masterplans, render invisible lived experiences of neighbourhoods and undermine citizen concerns by focusing on spatial forms. Challenging masterplans is not to ignore the potential of visionary designs and the importance of urban strategies, but it is to give voice to the situated lives, histories, and aspirations that can inform more spectacular futures. Proposals at the scale of neighbourhoods have the capacity to mediate between lived experiences and government policies. But imbalances of power, compounded by the distance between where decisions are made and the places impacted by these decisions, tends to undermine more local concerns.

[4] Situate. Situate knowledge. Situate actions. Situate yourself. Listen to residents displaced, consider traders put out of business, and recognise children forced to change schools – frequent upheavals during renewal, redevelopment, and regeneration. Situating requires pause, care, listening, study. It necessitates reflection on our positionality, the biases we carry, conflicting ethics, and partial knowledge that informs our worlds. Practices of landscape make claims to being situated. But in contrast to ethnographic fieldwork and generational struggles over land, landscape architecture – and architecture and urban design – must stay longer, invest more, have more at stake.

[5] Draw together. Make composite images. Form collective visions. Challenging ego-centred approaches to landscapes suggests shared concerns, collaborative designs, and inclusive processes of making. Western histories of landscape reveal the positions of individuals – almost entirely men – overseeing the enclosure, distribution, and transformation of land. Working with human and more-than-human others requires negotiating disagreements and reconciling divergent priorities. Talking about places, collaging experiences, and making drawings together can work with and across contrasting landscapes – effectively combining scientific knowledge with subjective experience – even if these landscapes remain in tension.

[6] Write more manifestos. Make demands. Post-landscapes need to be written – forcefully combining both vision and precision. As we reinvent visual images we must also look to other languages. From building specifications to house rules and from visionary declarations to traffic regulations, crafted words can make change. Combine ambiguity (to open up questions) with specificity (to make explicit) as we write post-landscape manifestos. Don’t wait to be commissioned, write declarations, take action, and draw lines in the sand.

[7] Accept partial knowledge. Recognising that knowledge is always partial can be the basis for determined inquiry and listening more. This incompleteness is the basis for open conversations and asking questions, seeking knowledge rather than presenting solutions.

[8] Make thick edges that can bring people together. Frames that regulate landscapes range from garden fences to picture mounts, from police patrols to designed layouts, from poor doors to national borders. The urge to control landscapes through enclosures precedes only the desire to commodify common lands and claim individual ownership. Frames are the basis for putting things in their place and claiming others out of place. Thickening edges, blurring boundaries, opening access, reimagining borders is only the beginning of reconceiving landscape relations otherwise controlled by frames.

[9] Overthrow. Contest power. Post-landscapes are not enduring passive entities handed from one generation to another, but exist in tension, contradiction, and struggle. Whether common lands, civic squares, or private gardens, landscapes are political, and they need to be fought over. Reposition. Occupy. Topple.

[10] Decentre. In the context of the unfolding climate crisis and the need for more ecological thinking, questioning the singularity of human agency and recognising the capacity of non-human entities to make and remake landscapes is fundamental. Tensions between engineering solutions to flooding and less predictable storm patterns, conflicts between industrial pollution and the legal rights of rivers, and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the way individuals and communities relate to their neighbourhoods, all highlight the role of more-than-human entities. Landscape thinking has long recognised the presence of climatic weathering, patterns of tree growth, and even the capacity of diverse ecosystems. But landscape thinking has also maintained humans at the centre of these relations. Decentre landscape practices if you want to research, design, and act ecologically.

[11] Move. The static nature of adopting (and often defending) positions from which to view and frame landscapes ignores that they are always on the move and that knowledge is never fixed. The desire to settle and belong – within the flux of worlds that tend towards unsettling – requires designers to protect the vulnerable from displacement while simultaneously working across multiple positions and adopting perspectives on the move. Movement is inherent in landscapes, but the resources settle and the freedom of mobility must be within reach of everyone.

[12] Never stop. All landscapes are open-ended. Frames that allude to permanence must be challenged by open-ended processes as well as overlapping and discontinuous temporalities. The open-endedness of landscapes requires that they are never finished so landscape practices need to persevere. Finally, if landscapes are never finished, maybe their drawings should never be complete. Let them live through many hands, from historic accounts to construction documents and from presentation drawings to maintenance schedules. Post-landscapes are always to be continued…

Ed Wall, 2022


[i] See Barbara Bender’s description of ‘other landscapes’ in: Bender, B. (1993) Landscape: Politics and Perspectives. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan. pp 2
[ii] For an introduction and background to the conception of post-landscapes, see: Wall, E. (2017) Post-landscape or the potential of other relations with the land. In: Wall, E. and Waterman, T. (eds.) Landscape and Agency: Critical Essays. Oxon: Routledge. pp144-163
[iii] See more in: Mitchell, D. (2018) ‘Landscape’s Agency’. In: Wall, Ed and Waterman, Tim, (2018) Landscape and Agency: Critical Essays. Oxon: Routledge. pp192
[iv] Ibid. pp192


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