Contemporary land sculptors like Richard Long and Michael Heizer, whose notable works included similar inscription of the land (see a Line made by Walking by Long, and Double Negative by Heizer), had shown us various artwork through sometimes dramatic gestures in scale, which is effectively spatial design.
In many discourses today, especially in the realm of “sustainable passive design”, the integration of landscape features was deemed functional and supplementary, as in some cases, “biophilic”. The limited understanding of landscape as simply “greening”, or providing the premise of bringing nature closer to home, somewhat dilutes the potential of landscape design within the architectural practice. In the Five points of Architecture, Le Corbusier introduced the concept of a roof garden, as a physical replacement of the land the building has displaced. His proposal reveals the inherent relationship of spatial design with the environment, attempting to even account for a fragment of ecology displaced (vegetation in this case), which is different from viewing the architecture as an isolated object in the environment. In essence, architecture is the environment.
This is not a farfetched argument. Humankind and its predecessors were known to inhabit crevices and voids on faces of stones, or within the earth enclosure formed with the very mud displaced from under their feet. Various aboriginal vernacular housing types have shown us the inherent link between construction methods, with the material extracted from the environment in its proximity.
The premise of spatial design is built upon the fact that the environment is organized and altered to accommodate programmes, regardless of functions, and this could be accomplished without “architecture”. The land sculpture mentioned above by Michael Heizer, appropriately titled Double Negative (see photo), explores the notion of man-made and nature. A 15metre deep ditch was excavated on a site located on Moapa Valley, Nevada, which extended across the natural curvature of the cliff, to form a linear incision in the landscape. The first negative (man-made ditch), was superimposed on the second negative (the natural void of the valley), resulting in the juxtaposition of space in the two realms. It also brings us to the point that spatiality is the common denominator in the entirety of these discussions, and there is much to share when it comes to how these spaces are manipulated and ordered.
There are various contemporaries displaying attempts in disintegrating the boundaries of landscape and architecture, from ecological interventions, to landscape urbanist intervention, but I would like to bring to attention the work of Madeline Gins and Shusaku Arakawa. The Site of Reversible Destiny (see photo), constructed in Yoro, Japan, is an experience park intended for visitors to “rethink their physical and spiritual orientation to the world”. Brushing aside its “cultish” impetus, the park is designed with elements that are disorientating and almost psychedelic, and one could argue that it is not architecture due to its lack of function. The rolling hills within the park mimics the surrounding mountain ranges of Yoro mountains, and almost suggesting nothing was done in the designing of the site. The denial of architecture and landscape in such a designed space, playfully toys with the discourse of the vagueness of the two fields. Such attempts has also delivered interesting outcomes. In designing a non-architectural space, Gins and Arakawa created spaces of deep human experiences, and in designing a non-landscape space, they created one which resonates harmoniously with the surrounding.
Putting the bewildering attempt to distinguish each of these fields aside, the works of various land sculptors has shown us various examples in describing spaces and in the designing of it. Similarly, the respective fields of architecture and landscape design share equal fervour in the designing of spaces. If we were to put aside specialisation and vocations aside, we have got a lot to learn collectively.