What is Landscape Urbanism ?



Taichung Gateway Park proposal by Stoss. ©Stoss

W H A T   I S    L A N D S C A P E   U R B A N I S M   ?

The aforementioned condition put forward the importance of landscape as the new approach in urbanism. Stan Allen, Dean of the School of Architecture at Princeton University states:

“Increasingly, landscape is emerging as a model for urbanism. Landscape has traditionally been defined as the art of organizing the horizontal surfaces … By paying close attention to these surface conditions – not only confguration, but also materiality and performance – designers can activate space and produce urban effects without the weighty apparatus of traditional space making.1

To see why this is important for our future urban design practice, we have to understand the current four main approaches which Jon Lang has described in his book as “attitudes”2.

1. The New Pragmatism
This approach comes to satisfy the high demand from the market in the city development. The profitability of the design should be the basis of the generation of forms. This highly pragmatic approach leads to several consequences such as highly-segregated society, traffic jam (as the construction of transportation facilities mostly seen as unprofitable), or the overriding of social / environmental issues for the sake of profit.

2. Urban Design as Art
The approach comes from the idea that urban design should be a work of art, the celebration of the architect’s idea. They tend to focus on the aesthetics of its geometries as the basic consideration. It could create a monument or something inspiring to the city. But at its worst, it would precludes the search of real problems, such as the users’ real needs, social / environmental issues or creating a sense of alienation in a given context.

3. The New Empiricism
This approach offers the application of the empirical knowledge, such as research or on-site observation, in the design process. With this way, the prime goal of the project can be achieved better from a deep and meticulous research on the subject. However, this tend to give a nostalgic way of designing, where the designer thinks the proven argument from the past can be reapplied and therefore trapped inside, instead of looking for a new way of designing.

4. The Community Design Movement
This approach involves the community in the decision-making process. This operation could create a high sense of belonging from the local community, therefore it would be beneficial in solving social issues. However, if the designer is not being capable enough, they would give what the community wants instead of providing better solutions that would offer more beneficial solutions for them.

We think that there is no approach which entirelly right or wrong. Each can serve in a specific context in a given time. However, we would like to argue that none of those approaches put the landscape as the main consideration in urban design process. It illustrates that the harmony between city and nature is still not seen as important issue, eventhough there is massive rise of ecological awareness around the globe. Therefore, we think it is necessary to propose Landscape Urbanism as the new approach, especially for a problematic megacity like Jakarta.

In 1990, Jens Jensen, Chicago landscape architect, has predicted, “Cities built for a wholesome life…not for profit or speculation, with the living green as an important part of their complex will be the first interest of the future town-planner”3. We agree with this statement as we belief that this green infrastructure will bring happiness, health, natural ecosystem protection and economic development to the city, if seriously taken into consideration.

Green infrastructure should be seen more than an aesthetic, or recreational spaces, but also in its capacity to function as a productive landscape for the people, as hydrological and stormwater system; and as an opportunity to give back to the nature through maintaining biodiversity for what has been taken by us throughout our petty-minded urban development.

We need to change our present paradigm into landscape urbanism. This approach will drive the creation of urban formation from landscape perspective. It is an effort to balance the development between urban green and grey infrastructure, to create a multiple ecosystem services and exploring the potential of landscape for the population and the city’s economy.

Landscape urbanism fits the needs of post-industrial cities for a space to absorb the indeterminacy of its urban condition. It deals more with forces and process that shapes the city, rather than the creation of an fix object in a specific site. It is not proposing a “fix” design, but rather an open system which is adaptable to future changes and potentials. As James Corner says,

“Unlike architecture, which consumes the potential of a site in order to project, urban infrastructure (landscape) sows the seeds of future possibility, staging the ground for both uncertainty and promise. This preparation of surfaces for future appropriation differs from merely formal interest in single surface construction. It is much more strategic, emphasizing means over ends and operational logic over compositional design.4

Just like the nature itself, landscape urbanism will create urban pools where these forces might meet, take shape and rebirth into a new urban element. Phasing, with perspective toward the future change of seasons, needs or socio-economic-political condition, become an important step needs to be considered instead of designing for the here and now.




Lower Don Land proposal by Stoss. ©Stoss


S I T E   A N A L Y S I S   I N   L A N D S C A P E   U R B A N I S M

Landscape is the surface, is the context, is the site, which potentials has to be unveiled in every development. As landscape will start to direct the process of city-making, we sort few aspects that has to be analyzed within the preliminary design process.

1. Topography
2. Biodiversity
It includes mapping local flora, local fauna, their habitat requirements, food cycle

3. Blue-Green Network
Blue network includes natural water (river, lake, etc) and urban water system (water treatment plant, sewage system, artificial canals, etc). Green network includes park, open spaces, green roofs.

4. Movement Framework
It includes transportation nodes, types, direction, street framework.

5, Urban Community
It includes future and existing users demographics, density, culture and lifestyle



1. Allen,Stan, “Mat Urbanism: The Thick 2-D” in Landscape Urbanism by Charles Waldheim. Landscape Urbanism Reader. 2006
2. Lang, Jon, “Urban Design: the American Experience”. 1994
3. Jensen, Jens, “Siftings”. in Terra Fluxus by James Corner. Landscape Urbanism Reader. 2006
4. Corner, James,”Terra Fluxus”.Landscape Urbanism Reader. 2006

Would you like to comment?

Leave a Reply