Saturday, February 16, 2013


By: Jaime Correa

The rules have changed. The contemporary urban design project must concern itself with the recollection of unique traces on the horizontal surface (the choreography of the ground plane), the vertical dimension (the geography of natural and man-made topographies), and the aerial view (the cosmology of the roof plane).
[1] In addition to these three Ptolemaic dimensions, the neglected dimension of time must also be included, not as a source of nostalgia or memorabilia, but as a source of transformation, change, dynamic experience, interaction, negotiation, and continuous evolution. The juxtaposition of these three surfaces (ground plane, vertical plan, and rooftops) and the time dimension shall constitute the preferred field of operation for the contemporary urban designer. If understood correctly, this strategy will cultivate a brand new type of designer - one who gets involved in the understanding of the city not just from its most pragmatic approach but from its conceptual reality.

The strategy here proposed will blur the current boundaries between urban design, architecture, landscape and conceptual art: from the sidewalk to the street to the buildings to the blocks to the roofs to the neighborhood to the entire infrastructural matrix. In the words of James Corner, “it suggests contemporary interests in surface continuities, where roofs and grounds become one and the same”.
[2] This is the most contemporary attempt to create an environment that is not so much the object of formal contortions but the focus of an ecological and cultural approach to systems and elements setting in motion a diverse network of interactions.

In a context like this, green space may or may not have public access; green space may be built or un-built; green space is more than farms, homesteads, sport fields, wetlands, natural reserves, tree corridors, vegetable markets, or plot gardens; green space is more than just a city park, a protected area, a picturesque garden, an extensive woodland, a greenway, a river corridor, a lawn, a courtyard, or a flower box;
[3] green space is much more than LEED and, under current conditions, it may not even get the lower level of LEED certification; green space is not parsley around the pig; green space is, in fact, the continuous surface of the earth to the maximum extreme of its extents – including all sentient beings, landscape,[4] the contemporary metropolis, and its problems of urbanization and sub-urbanization.

A new strategic framework suggests a reconsideration of conceptual, operative, and representational techniques. We can no longer diminish our imagination potential with pragmatic concerns or political compromise. At the end of the day, there will be lots, buildings, and neighborhoods; but, their oversimplification is a contagious American disease -one which prevents us from dreaming. I am convinced that a new breed of elegant designers will be able to reconcile the complexity of vast regional scales and the importance of the everyday and its small pieces of territory.

The physical realm of the city, its representation, and our human imagination are not three separate worlds. The ambitious project for the reconstitution of America must not exclude any of them. As a visionary endeavor, it shall be one in which opportunity, experience, imagination, speculative thickening, art, philosophy, religion, and science are rediscovered to form a brand new ecology within a world of possibilities. Green space, understood as the totality of our current situation, must become the contemporary ecological disturbance which will produce and enrich a truly new American civilization.

[1] For a detailed discussion see Denis Cosgrove’s introduction to the Ptolemaic concepts of Cosmology, Geography and Corography at: Cosgrove, Denis. Liminal geometry and elemental landscape: construction and representation. Recovering Landscape: essays in contemporary landscape architecture. James Corner, ed. Princeton Architectural Press, 1999. [2] Corner, James. Ibid, 2006 [3] See Perez Joachim and Jaime Correa. Agricultural Urbanism Along the Transect. A 2010 Annual Canin Research Award report between the University of Miami and Canin and Associates in Orlando, Florida. [4] I used the term “landscape” as a loose synonym for “untouched wilderness”. In the contemporary condition, cityscape and countryside have lost their boundaries and their true meaning. We are now confronted with a boundless metropolis encroaching on what seems to be a wild landscape. As part of our current difficulty, there is a definitional paradox: how can wilderness be defined in a planet where almost every piece of its territory has been modified by mankind?

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