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

 

Aarhus River Walk

A few days ago I carried out my fifth river walk – the 50km Aarhus River Walk together with my walking compatriot Thomas Juel Clemmensen. For a full fourteen hours we walked in and along the banks of the Aarhus River. From Astrup Mose through the undulating river landscape of farmland, forests, villages and hills into the Aarhus River Valley where the river runs into the Bay of Aarhus close to my office at the Aarhus School of Architecture.

The river was one of the main reasons for me participating in the 50th IFLA conference in New Zealand in 2013.

As our planned walk along Skjern River has been postponed to the spring of 2016 the Aarhus River Walk was a fitting sequal to our first river walk in May 2013, where we carried out the Aire Walk together along the banks of the Aire River from its springs in the mountains of France across the national border into Switzerland to where the river disappears underneath the city of Geneva.

During the final stretch of our Aarhus River Walk, walking a pitch black September night, we passed by silently what was once the minor site of one of the major gardens in 20th century Danish landscape architecture: Sven’s Garden on the northern slopes of the river valley.

From 1965 to 1980 Sven Hansen was Professor in Landscape Architecture at the Aarhus School of Architecture. In 1948 he co-founded IFLA. His garden beautifully exemplified how certain landscape architects in Aarhus have related their work to the city’s overarching narrative of water, topography and territory.

A narrative we are now continuing through the establishment of the Aarhus Landscape Laboratory placed in the valley of Dead Creek on the southern banks of the river directly opposite Svens garden. A garden that was closely linked to the territory we traversed on our walk.

So, to some extent our Aarhus River Walk was also a walk through time and Sven’s Garden

 

Let’s Walk Urban Landscapes

I have just returned home from the design research symposium Let’s Walk Urban Landscapes held in Hannover on Sep. 1st to Sep. 3rd where I had the great pleasure of meeting old friends from Germany again.

The symposium was arranged by Studio Urbane Landschaften and, as the title of the conference suggests, was based on the engagement of the symposium participants in order to discover and discuss new pathways in design research and practice. Divided into six different workshops we were encouraged to co-create the symposium by walking different areas of Hannover in teams.

I had the daunting but surprisingly wonderful experience of walking Roderbruch, an urban district in Hannover namely dubbed Roderbronx, with a team run by Emanuele Braga from Landscape Coreography. Braga took us for a collective, and intuitively coreographed, walk through the urban district of Roderbronx with the aim of discovering, and conveying, forgotten, hidden or otherwise unnoticed spatial relationships in the urban fabric of the Bronx.

Despite (probably) looking ‘out-of-place’ from an outsiders perspective we encountered microworlds of water fountains, hidden creeks, invisible boundaries and in-between spaces by immersing ourselves ‘in-it’. Encounters that could have been ‘overlooked’ if we had used other, more traditional, mapping techniques.

Skjern River Walking

In late August I will walk for several days along Skjern River with my colleague and good friend Thomas Juel Clemmensen. We will walk some 100 km from the source of the river towards the windbeaten west coast of Denmark where the river flows into Ringkøbing Fjord and the North Sea.

Our walk will begin in Tinnet Krat and end in the Skjern River Delta.

For a river walker Tinnet Krat is a special, almost mythical, place. Here both Skjern River, Denmark’s largest river in terms of flow, and Gudenåen, Denmark’s longest river, begin their watery journeys only a few 100m from each other. The two rivers are seperated by the watershed running along the topographical spine of Jutland. While Skjern River flows westward crossing the flat plains of western Jutland, Gudenåen flows northeastward through the hilly and forested countryside of the Danish lakeland district towards the east coast.

After three days of westbound walking we expect to reach the Skjern River Delta, where the largest, and most advanced, drainage and land reclamation project in Denmark’s history took place in the 1960es. Thomas has been working extensively with the nature restoration of the river delta, which was initiated only a few decades after the completion of the land reclamation in 1968. In his research, some of which was recently published in the Journal of Landscape Architecture, he has questioned how nature is referred to as ‘the nature’ or simply ‘nature’, as if it was something objective or selfevident:

[…] who defines, or decides, what nature is, and what kind of nature should be restored? And is not ‘nature restoration’ a contradiction in terms with regard to our deeply cultivated landscapes?” (Clemmensen, 2014)

Some of his research builds upon the renaturalisation of the Aire River outside Geneva, which we visited together for the second time in 2013. Here we walked the river from its source in Mont Saléve to Geneva. During this walk I completed my Aire Walk Series, the first of several series of photographs on rivers – and the highly cultivated landscapes they traverse. So walking Skjern River together with Thomas seems to be a fitting sequal for our shared river walking and a photographical continuation of my expanding river series.

Two rivers, two watersheds, two walks.

 

 

 

 

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.

Designing landscapes through walking

According to German landscape architect Henrik Schultz walking can help to intensively perceive and understand traversed space, to generate knowledge, to stimulate intuition and grasp single spatial elements as ensembles, to recognize and exchange perspectives and ideas.

Based on more than 100 experimental walks in as diverse territories as the Swiss Alps, the Scottish Highlands, Patagonia and metropolises like Berlin and London Henrik Schultz asks how we can walk to design? How can we make sure that all the prospects of walking can be operative? Are there any rules for “how to walk”? Can we learn to apply walking to the tasks of large-scale landscape design? How can the findings be transferred in order to make them applicable for large-scale landscape design?

Henrik Schultz will discuss this and more in his lecture Designing large-scale landscapes through walking on March 4th, 3 pm. in the Main Auditorium at the Aarhus School of Architecture…

…and everyone are welcome!

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.

A River Walker

I am a river walker.

For a full day in October I have been following the water of Hansted Creek through the tunnel valley of Store Hansted – shaped over millenia by ice and water – to where it runs into the estuary of Nørrestrand and Horsens Fjord a few hundred meters from where I live.

It is my fourth walk following the water of creeks and rivers. The Aire Walk along the moving garden of the Aire River in Geneva being the first – with more walks in urban watersheds to come in the future.

Hansted Creek does not only run through a major part of my everyday landscape being the rolling hills north and west of Horsens placed as it is south east of Gudenåen where I grew up. It also runs through Egebjerg Meadows, which was one of the last wetland areas to be drained through state funding in Denmark and – coincidentally – one of the first areas to be restored in the late 1990es.

From Egebjerg Meadows and onwards to the bird sancturary of Nørrestrand the creek runs through old seabed making my walk – once again – a walk through time.

I am a river walker.