first we change the river, then it changes us…

Abstract of talk held at the Delta Cities in time of climate change conference in Rotterdam.

FIRST WE CHANGE THE RIVERS, THEN THEY CHANGE US.    JORG SIEWEKE

What type of adaptation is next?

De-regulating and diverting of rivers
Recent programs for the deregulation of rivers in Holland (room for the river) or the restructuring of the Mississippi with additional spillways (Davis, etc) in the southern Louisiana delta compensate for earlier mal-adaptation at a regional or national scale. The neglecting of large spatial contexts such as the hydrological regime or autopoietic geomorphological processes results in consequences at precisely these scales. We become aware of the neglected interactions of micro and macro interventions facing conditions of natural dynamics as they manifest in costly and partially dramatic ways. First we change rivers, then rivers change us.

Threefold critique of the concept nature in the project of modernity
Examples will point out the necessity of reflecting on immanent characteristics of landscapes. Three conflicts within the concept of nature and landscape in Modernist thought are identified. The paper will critique and suggest a reassertion of measures of modernity.

A) Functional separation: „hybrid“ versus mono-functional
B) Mechanical time: „cyclic“ versus linear
C) Rational Objectification: „producing“ versus produced

Hybrid, cyclical, and producing are the defining terms for a contemporary landscape concept which is aimed towards rehabilitating the utilization of “producing” nature as natural infrastructure. Since we can no longer afford outdated infrastructure with low adaptive capacity in the future, neither in economic nor ecological terms, we require new strategies to reconfigure static and centralistically organized systems in a decentralized, redundant, and flexible manner. Mono-functional infrastructure projects are eroded by the cyclical and producing character of nature. They resemble discontinued models of an outdated product line within a society that is becoming aware of the limitations of this aspect of the project of Modernity.

The paper argues that Landscape architecture as one of the few remaining generalist disciplines has the capacity to design adaptive strategies aimed towards stability in the context of an environment, which continues to change in a dynamic way. Processes of urban growth and shrinkage can be guided along a natural infrastructure of landscape-related conditions and potentials. The landscape of River Deltas are exemplary for this approach due to their illustrative and narrative capacity. In order to adhere to this task, an adjustment of how we conceptualize landscape is necessary. In this regard, J.B. Jackson’s „prototypical“ landscape definition is helpful: “A landscape is a space deliberately created to speed up or slow down the process of nature.“ (1)

It is decisive that future adaptations occur as conscious, reflexive actions in order to avoid even larger accidental, yet predictable maladaptations. In the future, as alternative to investing billions in further flood barrier projects with limited half-life, strategies of landscape architecture are needed that evoke „alliance techniques collaborating with a befriendable nature.“(2) Recognizing and utilizing the co-productivity of a “producing” nature is the basis for organizing space along the dimension of time when conceiving future infrastructure systems. A renewed appreciation of landscape is thus not a project of formal aesthetics, but represents the choreography of natural processes.

(1) Jackson, J.B. Discovering the vernacular landscape. New Haven 1984, S. 8
(2) Bloch, Ernst: Das Prinzip Hoffnung. Frankfurt/M. 1977

published: Delta Cities in Times of Climate Change , Rotterdam September 2010

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