SYMP 24-6
Past, present, and future design of infrastructures for a resilient society

Friday, August 9, 2013: 10:40 AM
Aditorium, Rm 1, Minneapolis Convention Center
Pierre Belanger, Harvard University

From the overexertion of technological engineering and the inertia of urban planning, the revival of geography and the recent emergence of ecology across the design disciplines are redrawing the contours of current design practices, and opening new territories of research—from landscape architecture, to landscape urbanism, to landscape infrastructure. In response to the predominant challenges facing urban regions today, this new geographic optic opens the potential for the design of "infrastructural ecologies", involving dynamic configurations of live, soft, biophysical processes in relation to the basic, hard, technological management of waste, water, energy, food and mobility systems that underlie urban economies today. Operating as urban infrastructures, these design of these new landscape geographies provide synthetic, and contingent strategies that can shape, influence and respond to the most pressing challenges of 21st century urban culture, ranging from changing climates, resource flows, and population migrations.


Infrastructure is taking an ecological turn. With recent advances in visualization and the global exchange of data at the turn of the new millennium, the field of urbanism is experiencing a digital revolution enabling contemporary practices to engage large scale challenges that lie beyond the exclusive footprints of cities and respond to the pressing challenges of our time. The ecological pressures exercised by population flows, changing climates, and spatial decentralization that were characterized as urban  problems during the rise of environmentalism in the second of the 20th century, today offer fertile ground for the development of new methodologies and new strategies. Unlocked by the proliferation of geospatial knowledge, aerial photography, and live information exchange, the paradisciplinary nature of landscape infrastructure practices is opening important levels of spatial innovation, social interactivity and intellectual entrepreneurship. Capable of integrating multiple scales of intervention that were once akin to the disciplines of planning, urban design and architecture, the flexibility and scalability of landscape methodologies capitalize on growing bodies of data while transcending the weight of legislative mechanisms and fetishism of spatial form that have so far, been over-privileged, or over-emphasized. Alternatively, landscape architects are developing modes of practice that are more interactive and responsive to the risks, hazards, and complexities of urbanization. Capable of more rapid, more precise visualizations and comparative scenarios, the digital dexterity of landscape architecture today offers a cultural relevance whose wide-ranging, poly-disciplinary expertise can be mobilized swiftly, and adapt to growing ecological complexities, emerging market demands, and creative cultures. From this widening ecologic and geographic optic, the agency of landscape architecture is opening new areas of knowledge and scales of intervention where the design. With the inertia of urban planning vis-à-vis the pace of urban change and the overexertion of civil engineering and cities today, the geographic optic of landscape architecture today is cultivating an urban agency that is well positioned to direct and coordinate the design of infrastructures as urban ecologies. This geospatial agency, that may have once seem intangible or unattainable, has become a central focus for contemporary geographies of urbanization today.