Middle Field has been communicated by charting its adaptive maintenance, but also exists as a 3-acre model of how one strategy — shadow mowing — could be utilized to spatially, ecologically and materially diversify a site while simultaneously reducing overall maintenance. As a model, Middle Field simultaneously serves as experimental ground for instructing a designer how landscape operations mediate concrete site conditions, and as a representation of what the experience and effects of those operations might be. Other practical applications include the care of vacant or foreclosed parcels by the shrinking municipality, the functional diversification of easement and infrastructural corridors as they stretch across the country, the regeneration of the decaying, post-war garden city, and the cultivation of novel ecosystems throughout the vast landscapes of resource extraction.
By identifying and understanding “the rules” of mowing, we can translate its formal logic into a design language that is rooted in the function and meaning of the operation. From Julian Raxworthy’s early comments:
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.
The Middle Field experiments are an attempt to incorporate this “tactical practice” into the design process, as a means of testing shadow mowing against the specificities of site and generating a generalized strategy for its deployment on other sites. A central tenet of this strategy is that during early-Summer, mowing only takes place on those areas most under threat from woody invasion, with the entirety mown at the end of the season. The following year, Middle Field is still a field, though its pre-existing spatial and material separation has become more defined. This entire approach is akin to mowing the edges of a vacant lot regularly and the interior intermittently — it’s still “just maintenance.”
This strategy can be (and already is) utilized to accomplish a variety of objectives when reduced resources do not allow for a complete mow. When applied to sites deemed “vacant” (such as the case in Southside Richmond), an early mow can be instrumental in communicating care, providing access and providing an aesthetic signature to vague terrain. For the late-Summer mowing, the previous paths can be repeated to create frames around the emerging urban wild or the entire site can be mown to provide a fresh canvas the following year.
In total, ten operations have been designed in collaboration with Brian Osborne, and are included in his publication surfaceFX. Each was originally drawn in plan based on the formal logic of the mowing typology and then drawn in axon to better communicate their spatial effects. Patterns were also explored parametrically to be able to quickly represent the scalar differences of various mowing instruments. All designs were modeled using an Onsrud CNC Router and then finally tested with a walk-behind, rotary lawn mower to understand feasibility, tolerances and material response at the body scale.