AARCA – research in the Anthropocene

My work at the Aarhus School of Architecture on and along the Aarhus River in both my research and teaching has led to the development of AARCA – a research based and artistically driven project in which I address the challenges and potentials confronting landscape architecture and urban planning due to the entanglement of urbanisation and anthropogenic processes.

The project utilizes the Aarhus Bay Watershed as an area of interest with a strong focus on the Aarhus River Catchment Area (AARCA) as a specific territory of urbanisation. The Aarhus River itself is 40 km in length and the catchment area is 354 km2. Apart from being the reason why Aarhus, the second largest city in Denmark, is located where it is, along the East Jutland coastline, Aros, the original name of the city, literally meaning ‘at the mouth of the river’, AARCA is also the territory in which the Aarhus School of Architecture is situated.

Read more about about AARCA here and follow AARCA develop and unfold on AARCA.DK

 

Urbanism in the Anthropocene

On May 9th I will begin a three week long course with 40 3rd year students at AAA on Urbanism in the Anthropocene.

The course takes its point of departure the fact that natural scientists think of our contemporary age as a new geological epoch. The Holocene has given way to the ‘Anthropocene’ as human activities have significant impact on the transformations of our planet, its ecosystems, and geology. Concurrently, urban researchers think of our age as ‘the urban age’ since more than 50% of the population of the Earth now lives in cities. The percentage is expected to increase in the coming decades.

In short: the future of humanity most probably will be fundamentally marked by both urbanization and the human impact on the planet Earth.

The course kickstarts with a two day international public seminar, which addresses the challenges confronting urbanism (urban design and planning, landscape urbanism) due to the entanglement of urbanisation and anthropogenic processes. The speakers are Simon Marvin, Professor in Geography at the Urban Institute at Sheffield university and good friends Jens Christian Svenning, Professor in Biodiversity at the Aarhus University, who participates in the development of the Aarhus Landscape Laboratory, and Thomas Sieverts, Professor Emeritus in Urbanism, who supervised my PhD.

On May 10th I I will present my ongoing work on the Aarhus River Valley and the establishment of the Aarhus Landscape Laboratory on a former waste deposit right next to the river, only a short walk from the future location of the Aarhus School of Architecture. An area which is also the focus of the 3rd year students participating in the course.

 

Mikael Hansen in the Aarhus Landscape Laboratory

I have once again had the great pleasure of working closely together with Danish landscape artist Mikael Hansen on a week long landscape course for 150 1st year students at AAA. Something which I have been looking very much forward to since we ran a similar course in 2014 and 2015.

The course took place in Eskelund, the new site for the Aarhus Landscape Laboratory, where the students, in almost constant rain, hail and sleet, had to propose and build an intervention that qualified a certain spatial quality in the landscape laboratory.

Despite the enduring challenges of bad weather the result is 15 wonderful, crazy, ephemeral, beautiful and quiet interventions that are being exhibited in the area from April 29th to May 20th.

Waterways

While walking along Dead Creek with landscape artist Mikael Hansen in April I met a man waist deep in the creek. Drawing. He was mapping the flow of the water. Immersing himself in the creek. Walking its invisible bottom. Of Dead Creek and other waterways of the Aarhus Bay watershed.

After a good talk about walking in water and how Dead Creek has shaped the landscape of the valley over millenia and itself been re-shaped over the course of the last decades Mikael and I continued our walk along the creek to explore the possibilities for our second landscape workshop to be held in the landscape laboratory the following May.

Here Mikael gave me the book Gå. Eller kunsten at leve et vildt og poetisk liv (2007) (Tramp. Or the art of living a wild and poetic life, translated to English in 2010) by Norwegian writer – and walker – extraordinaire Tomas Espedal, who eloquently writes about walking and mapping:

The best maps can not be bought, they are drawn by people you meet on the way. And people you meet on the way are both more welcoming and precise. It applies to all countries. The best maps are communicated orally and with gestures, sometimes with a pen and a piece of paper. Occassionally the one who show the way will follow suit and show you where the road splits in an unmanageable way, a difficult turn, and that is how you become familiar with the landscape and the roads by a method, which is both direct and precise; A shortcut, a secret trail, we all know these roads that no one else knows. They are our roads, our own trails that criss-cross what the map and the main roads tell you.

I think that roads and waterways like Dead Creek are alike in so far as they in similar ways are steeped in stories and local rites, some visible in the lay of the land, others hidden from plain sight. If that is the case then Espedals words about roads goes for waterways like Dead Creek as well;

The best maps on rivers and waterways can not be bought, they are drawn by people you meet on the way. That is how you become familiar with them by a method, which is both direct and precise: A shortcut, a secret creek, we all know these waters that no one else knows.

They are our waterways.

Rethink Urban Habitats

On March 5th I will participate in the conference Rethink the City organised by Centre for Strategic Urban Research. Here I will present the two interrelated projects Rethink Urban Habitats and Aarhus Landscape Laboratory.

Early in the morning, prior to my presentation, I will walk with walker extraordinaire Henrik Schultz from Studio Urbane Landschaften. We will walk from the landscape laboratory in Dead Creek Valley along the water of the tributary into the valley of the Aarhus River to where the water meets the harbour and the Bay of Aarhus.

A fitting way to prepare for a presentation: River walking in good company.

Associate Professor

Today I officially begin my Associate Professorship in landscape architecture at the Aarhus School of Architecture.

Together with my good colleagues at Platform Urbanism & Landscape I will be building, dreaming, drawing, talking, walking and writing (occasionally simultaneously!) landscapes of the past, present and future. But most importantly I am humbled by the fact that I get to stand on the shoulders and follow in the footsteps of brilliant teachers in landscape architecture before me. People that have shaped my understanding of landscape architecture as an aesthetically and ecologically grounded discipline in which the sensuous goes hand in hand with a fundamental care towards our common surroundings.

Most importantly my own teacher Preben Skaarup who is not only an incredibly gifted teacher and landscape architect, but also, during my own studies, gave me the most important advice of my career and to whom I am deeply grateful.

In her Fantasiens Have (1993) writer extra-ordinaire Malene Hauxner describes how the Nordic modern garden, in the talented hands and minds of G.N. Brandt, C.Th. Sørensen, T. Erstad, A. Andersen and more, offered:

[…] openness, resurrected sensuality fulfilling the wish for fellowship with animals and plants, and an anti-authoritarian life, which would leave room for individuality and imagination and thoughts unbound. The point was that nature, once brought into the garden, could be used not only to demonstrate something but to encourage users to think for themselves.

There are many good things in this small quote, but especially Malenes last point is important. It is, I think, a prerequisite of beauty: That it is open towards the possibility to invest one-self in it and that it makes room for engagement, imagination and participation.

It is, maybe more than ever, the responsibility of landscape architects, among others, to ensure this openness and thus to approach nature, in all its forms and variations, not only in terms of what nature can be used for – or what it is worth for us – but as some other thing in which we invest ourselves as a way of giving something back to our surroundings. In his Forests – the Shadow of Civilisation (1993) Robert Pogue Harrison reminds us ever so eloquently that nature, after all, is a profound part of what it means to be human in the first place.

Later today I will walk along Dead Creek and the urban habitat we are in the middle of developing. Everyone who wants to join me in my walk – despite the cold and snow – are more than welcome to meet up at Ormslevvej 55, 8000 Aarhus C at 2 pm!

Approaching Landscape Laboratories

For five great days from December 2nd to December 6th I visited the good people at the Faculty of Architecture at Liege University to talk and walk experimental landscapes and discuss Scandinavian experiences with the landscape laboratories in Alnarp, Snogeholm, Sletten and soon-to-be-Aarhus.

I was in the good company of passionate people like Catherine, Rita, Paul, Roland, Erik, Jitka, LarsOla, Martin and many more who are all engaged in critical thinking about and practicing new urban habitats.

Apart from giving two presentations of our new and ongoing landscape laboratory experiences in Aarhus I walked the Meuse Valley along the Meuse river and visited both the former and current botanical garden of Liege. The first garden being just outside the doors of the Faculty of Architecture, the latter being on the forested slopes of the Ourthe valley south of the Meuse River.

Also, I had the great pleasure of walking old terrils in Martinet near Charleroi close to the border of France and, driving home through a winter cold Germany, the former military airport of Kalbach Bonames, which has been converted into a new urban habitat just outside Frankfurt.

Landscape Experiments and a walking exhibition

I have had the great pleasure of working for a full week with good colleagues, almost 150 bachelor students and the land artist Mikael Hansen on what has been the first workshop in the Aarhus Landscape Laboratory.

Together with good man Martin Odgaard I have been working for more than half a year on creating the foundation for the landscape laboratory and there are still a lot of work to be done. So it was a humbling experience to see so many students among the hawthorns, hazels, heat pipes and muddy waters along the Aarhus South Highway in Dead Creek Valley!

The students worked in collaboration on 15 landscape experiments and the beautiful results were exhibited in a week long walking exhibition, which was a first possibility for the public to see the Aarhus Landscape Laboratory from the perspective of students.