shadow mowing

The last week has been consumed with studio group work unfortunately, leaving just enough time to develop a proposal for the first maintenance exhibition. The original plan for these exhibitions was to experiment first and document the findings after using various media and technology, but of course in order to get approval to work on the land of others, I have to represent my intentions first.

The concept is simple: the experiment distinguishes between shaded and exposed field as the basis for different maintenance regimes. Because most grasses prefer full sun, shaded edges often contain different assemblages of plants and are prone to invasion from vines, shrubs and other brush. Over the course of a one month, zones under shade at 4pm will be regularly mown at 3” to encourage shade-tolerant fescues, while the remaining area will be left as an unmown meadow.

The goal of the exhibition is to learn how quickly these two maintenance regimes aesthetically and botanically differentiate from each other, but also to learn the basic formal logic of the lawn mower. While the first path has already been charted, the actual path of each mowing will be documented to better plan the path the following week, and for other designs in the future.

Despite disrupting my theoretical design sequence, the exercise has been valuable and of course is essential.  While I may have feigned ignorance, riding up on my soon-to-be-acquired lawn mower, there is always some element of a plan nestled in my subconscious. With the lawnmower, the formal action is usually to circumscribe the territory and then cover the interior as efficiently as possible.  This can either be through a continued circling (regular, even space) or linear path (usually based on topography, but also when hugging an irregular edge).

Because the shaded zones have no regard for rational geometry, even topography or spatial continuity, the tool path turned out to be more complicated than expected with continual broken lines as shadows open and close on an uneven, treed slope. The primary impulse is of course to generalize or diagram the path, but by honestly attempting to delineate the ideal path, the proposal serves as an important documentation of design intent as mediated through orthographic projection (primarily plan), and thus is an important artifact to compare the actual path of least resistance during the first pass. By continually charting and revising the tool path (as well as viable alternatives that emerge from mower-boredom), these plans thus serve as a film strip of landscape process to inform future maintenance designs.

maybe a little biomorphic but always totally rational

The sad fact is that most designs resist the formal reality of a site, although the designer may acquire additional wisdom from each trial. On the other hand, a maintenance design practice is inherently evolutionary, responding to the particularities of site. Even after designer concludes their commitment, the landscaper may continually resist design inadequacy based on the essential operating parameters.

While shadow may seem like an odd parameter to begin with–especially since its form could have been determined through the abstraction of an aerial or model– it has several important characteristics that are important for maintenance experimentation: shade is a principle governing factor for many plants and particularly grass; it’s presence is perhaps the most frequent of the ephemeral landscape, to the point that it becomes a component the permanent landscape, and thus an essential component of landscape experience; through its constant change it can serve as an instrument to continually record landscape process using the simple direction of “mowing the shaded territory.” But perhaps most important for this exhibition, it serves as a simple formal device to compress contrasting maintenance regimes against each other to compare their effects


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