Do Architects Draw Trees? – Shifting the Perception of Urban Landscape Form

Derbyshire, Alan Keith (2010) Do Architects Draw Trees? – Shifting the Perception of Urban Landscape Form. In: Sustainable Architecture and Urban Development. CSAAR Transactions on the Built Environment, 2 . CSAAR Press, Jordan, pp. 67-79. ISBN 978-9957-540-01-2

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Architects are beginning to embrace the notion of landscape and,moreover, to acknowledge the conceptual scope of a dynamic and creative synthesis of ecology and materiality. In so doing, the conception that architects could not (or should not) draw a tree, is being consigned to the landfill site of antiquated practice.
There is an increasing acceptance amongst planners, urban designers and governments that the greening of urbanity is necessary to, and indicative of, a viable, sustainable future. However, whether or not the traditional design rationale (modernism) delivers the necessary innovative
outcomes is open to question. The visual homogenization of urban developments within our cities is symptomatic of both hackneyed design orthodoxies and a tokenistic approach to sustainable practice. Advocates of ‘landscape urbanism’ (Waldheim, et al 2006) offer a more progressive
supposition for change, such as the use of natural processes to engender ecological diversity. However, in reality the paradigm shift necessary for redefining the nature of ‘acceptable’ spatial and structural constituents,
within urban developments, is a challenging process.
The paper debates the proposition that traditional design values and practice contribute to the fragmented adoption of genuine sustainable ecological applications within the urban landscape. It contends that rather than enriching, civilizing and sustaining urbanity; the reliance on time-honoured practices contributes to the establishment of bland and fundamentally unsustainable public spaces. As the demarcation between landscape and architecture becomes less profound the role of ecology is also viewed as integral to ‘placeness’. The fusion of spatial form and ecology serves as a valuable addition to sustainable development. Whilst
grass roofs and living walls are examples of this, a more proactive approach to bridging the cavity between the aspiration of greener urbanity and its successful implementation is urgently required. The complex or ‘wicked’ problems that hinder sustainable innovation have in
part led to the reliance on unchallenged prevailing design traditions. For any urban development to maximise its claim to sustainability, architects, landscape designers and planners need to demonstrate a more dispassionate approach to implementing change.

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