Site Seeing: Interpreting Site in Landscape Architecture

Albans, Alex J. (2016) Site Seeing: Interpreting Site in Landscape Architecture. Doctoral thesis, Birmingham City University.

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Abstract

In landscape architecture, sites are commonly portrayed as being the inspiration behind practitioners’ ideas; lending a sense of legitimacy to projects seeking to connect people and place, and strengthening local identity by ‘coming from the site’. In landscape design theory, a site’s history, genius loci (spirit of place) and its physical and cultural contexts are considered to be highly significant shapers of material form in contemporary landscape architecture. Furthermore, professional practice renders the site survey as an exercise in data-gathering and/or as searching for the site’s ‘je ne sais quoi’. Students are encouraged to conduct these investigations neutrally and objectively before any analysis or interpretation.
Such conceptions appear to rob novice designers of the confidence in their own decisions because they presume the site must ‘tell’ them what to do. Primarily benefiting students and early-career practitioners, the thesis challenges established ways of understanding and working with sites, as revealed through the embedded knowledge and expertise of experienced designers. It is an investigation into the circumstances and motivations that shape how landscape architects interpret sites and make design decisions, applicable to education and career-development.

A pilot study of 109 award-winning landscape schemes and twenty four in-depth interviews demonstrates how sites are interpreted in light of a complex web of factors and ideas, and not simply ‘known’ through surveys or consulting the genius loci. It shows that the ideas, experience and knowledge brought to each landscape project are key to a landscape architect’s creativity. The study also reveals that sites are interpreted collaboratively, and that stakeholders have very different ideas about sites, all of which can impact working relationships and design decisions. Communication and listening are found to be key factors in professional practice. This research acknowledges the professional importance of the genius loci but reframes it as a name for the process of interpretation and decision-making undertaken by practitioners, based on their skills, knowledge and experience.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: K100 Architecture
K300 Landscape Design
Divisions: REF UoA Output Collections > Doctoral Theses Collection
Depositing User: Kip Darling
Date Deposited: 22 Jan 2019 15:47
Last Modified: 25 Feb 2019 17:04
URI: http://www.open-access.bcu.ac.uk/id/eprint/6891

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