mowing succession

In place of traditional research on maintenance convention, a maintenance palette will be developed, beginning with the most elemental tactics of mowing, hedging and spraying. These tactics will serve as the foundation of the maintenance series, as they are the most closely associated with “landscaping”—with human control over nature being the connotation—and thus by demonstrating their potential to create landscape, they can be instrumental in representing the generative capacity of maintenance.

mowing succession

Of course, while developing a maintenance palette, convention still serves as an important resource — with the calibration of mowing height and grass species a particularly revealing example. Although the mow height is usually adjusted based on which species have been seeded, it can also be used to maintain for those species, giving the landscaper the potential to create his plant palette through process. This may have considerable ecological merit because the resulting vegetation will inherently possess increased genetic diversity and be more closely adapted to local conditions, minimal disturbance during establishment. Aesthetically, vastly different material and spatial qualities can be juxtaposed and cycled with an ever evolving alliance of plants.

Foreclosed, undeveloped suburb: green clover where mowed, grey/gold warm-season meadow elsewhere, scrub/shrub along old fence lines

While a variety of landscape architects and artists have dabbled in maintenance, nearly all focus on ephemerality and subversion, with few attempting to construct through its instrumentalism.  This is a major source of criticism for maintenance design practice: the connotation that any such design is temporary at best. The counter argument—which I am partial to of course—is that all design is ephemeral, entirely dependent on its capacity to generate desire and thus maintain itself, but that a design created through maintenance has the unique advantage of emerging from the spatial practices of site. While ephemerality may be germane to the material quality of the landscape medium, it can be viewed as a collaborative opportunity in design, not merely as a poetic garnish.

Parc du Sausset, designed by Michel Corajoud, a clear example of how maintenance can be an integral and sustained component of design

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8 thoughts on “mowing succession

  1. CONVENTION
    Don’t forget that the convention has developed due to tactical practice. Reminds me of Peter Connolly’s definition of typology or conventionality as a triangle with FORM, FUNCTION and MEANING on each corner and where something always has all three. Convention is economical and for maintenance this is a key logic at all levels, because the landscape/plant will respond in the most economical manner possible, and we can extend this into a Darwinian level too. First and foremost a mower is a dynamic between human power, weight and surface area.
    PRECEDENT
    Don’t forget the big daddy Gilles Clement and also Pascal Cribier of course, whose mowing project is published in Page Paysage – Ive also written about this project. I found this nice piece of Clement today, check it out: http://www.geog.ucl.ac.uk/about-the-department/people/academics/matthew-gandy/files/ijurr2.pdf

  2. This form/function/meaning triad has been really helpful to me in imagining how convention might be tweaked (i.e. the grass height parameter), albeit using slightly different terminology in my head. I’m not trying to dismiss convention in any way but skipping the obligatory overview to be more specific based on each experiment. The relation of economy I think is variable however, with the american front yard being one example of how a generally low-maintenance landscape (lawn, tree, foundation shrub) could be twisted into such a demanding space based on an evolving image of the perfect clean lawn (which was of course impossible before hour chemical revolutions). Although the individual landscaper will always be taking the plat of least resistance if you will, the ingrained-cultural aesthetic produces a very uneconomical maintenance regime.

    Thanks for the precedent, I’m pleased to see a fairly coherent aesthetic is emerging, (fortunately one I like), especially by how far it shifts designs from the contemporary spic-and-span, manicured, polished, massaged, anal-retentive towards the carnal, semi-apocalyptic, authentic, messy-ecological style.

    • Economy of operation, not in a sustainability sense. It’s a performance question: how to get the surface as economically as one can, not whether it’s good or bad.
      And of course in a sense convention is not innovative, but it’s actually evolutionary, so it is innovative. It’s like an operational meme. The French LAs are great at seeing the potential for reinterpreting these things. Corajouds notion of territory gets form, practices, infrastructure together, as well as climate. Framptons idea of Critical Regionalism is similar. French would be milieu, and of course Corner discusses this too.
      Because the LU discourse is so focused on novelty, but not in the sense that I am using it, we do need to find form language for this stuff, because design discourse is now so focused on the unbuilt, the representational. In a way the Tumblr thing, or the Muf thing of recasting the everyday, of turning it like the uncanny, is maybe the secret for the Radical Gardenesque (we have to find a brand for it.. – it can’t have urbanism in the title though).

  3. Your description of complicity in sunburnt I think is really helpful for moving past the ____ urbanisms (of which my yard urbanism was mocking of course), where “accepting the situation” and operating within the current context (as opposed to unending speculative vision) has greater potential to being realized but also cultivating (for lack of better word) innovation formal outcomes. Critical regionalism is certainly something I’ve been wrestling with as a long-time northwesterner transplanted to the south, both because of the accumulated knowledge that comes with from continually practicing in a specific place, but also because of the specific aesthetic that comes out of that. Perhaps this idea is even more important in an American territory with its mythical unified melting pot and settlement. In another 1000 years, when our dialects divide into languages, perhaps we’ll be comparing schools of practice instead of chasing after the freshest fashion to come out of the ivy league. I, unfortunately am no good at branding as evidenced by the titles on this blog….

  4. so glad to be finally catching up to this work. in the Raleigh-Durham exurbs that I’m from there are a number of unfinished communities with a few houses and a bunch of open lots. I was doing a little work there over the summer (hosing-off-the-deck-and-sidewalk-near-the-poolhouse-type work) and noticed something strange. Most of the unbuilt lots were being hayed. The area used to be an agricultural zone, and now a lot of the well-to-do folks living around there have horses. So while the company that owned the lots was waiting for them to sell they were letting the grass grow all season and then a guy would come an cut and bale the hay. I’m not sure of their specific arrangement, if one was paying the other, but it seems that the company saved a ton by not trying to maintain a lawn while also projecting an image of pastoral, bucolic beauty (and it was beautiful) while the guy got hay locally, and probably very cheaply.

    this isn’t exactly what you’re working on, but there were similarities. the sensitivity to scales of operation- time and space scales- was exciting and in a place that planners and landscape architects normally like to dump on. It would be interesting to take that situation as a starting point, and make some architecture, or new landscapes over time…

    • That anecdote highlights one of the more tangible aspects of the housing crisis — the suburban landscape transformed through maintenance regimes of a larger scale than convention. Moving forward, I absolutely hope to look closer at these landscapes because I think that subtle maintenance decisions will produce drastically different outcomes. It’s revealing to compare your Raleigh-Durham example to the lower 9th swallowed in invasive wild, while Detroit wavers between meadow and forest. In all cases, maintenance emerges as infrastructural, and perhaps could be a more accessible landscape instrument than what the design professions are using these days.

  5. Pingback: field model | lndscpr

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