towards an experimental maintenance practice

Maintenance is usually seen as a collection of mechanistic techniques to preserve landscape in a fixed state. Originally from Middle French, to maintain means literally “to hold in hand,” an expression which can be interpreted two ways: to hold a mute object in place (like a stone in our palm), or alternatively, as an alliance between actors (like two friends walking hand in hand). In essence, maintenance is to enable a condition to continue in being, and therefore operates as an assertion, a constant negotiation with the ephemeral to recreate a condition at the expense of other forces.  LNDSCPR investigates how maintenance mediates and generates landscape and how maintenance operations might be utilized and represented as design instruments in landscape practice. Just as the creation of a garden is not immediate, only coming into full existence through gardening, this research proposes that landscape is equally constructed through maintenance, from the individual actions which aggregate into a vernacular, to the large-scale infrastructural services which we rely on for society to function.

Initially focusing solely on mowing, 1:1 physical experimentation is used to explore a design process where existing conditions generate design intent, the specific materials of site become the maintenance palette, the formal logic and economy of tools mediates the design, and intervention is adaptive, incremental and attentive to schedule. Drawings and photos showcase experiments in Morven Farm and Charlottesville, Virginia which attempt to model how mowing could be used as a design instrument to guide visual and physical access through a site, increase ecological diversity, and give an aesthetic signature to vague terrain. The first charts a rotational mowing strategy to spatially, ecologically and materially diversify “Middle Field” while simultaneously reducing overall maintenance. The second uses the logic of conventional mowing paths to pattern plant succession in vacant lots, balancing the tension between care and neglect, cleanliness and biodiversity.


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