Urban Culture To The Nature


The practice of urbanism has evolved throughout the history parallel to the relevant economical activities. The city, by definition is a permanent human settlement, and the activities of humans have shaped the planning and the construction of these settlements throughout different eras. If these eras are to be categorised under three titles, the leading economic activity would be providing the names. The agricultural era, the industrial and the informational.

Our urban civilisation of today, seems to have alienated us from the nature. We have to make journeys inside our urban environment in order to access pieces of natural land, that are enclosed with fences in our concrete habitat. For long years, the conviction was that the urban society does not make part of the natural processes. The only solution for the individual to “turn back to his roots” was to leave his urban environment to discover the “wilderness” of the unspoiled land. Today’s ideological shift on understanding man’s presence in nature, helped designers to develop new solutions on how to design the post industrial city. Man, therefore his activities, are indeed part of the natural processes. Therefore, how do we integrate the complex living systems of the ecology into our contemporary urban culture?

In the agricultural era, there was a clear distinction between the man-constructed land and the natural, where the human tamed nature existed mainly in the rural for the sole purpose of fulfilling the demand for the cultivation of agricultural goods. Inside the walled city, the congested fabric of the chaotic settlement models prevented the possibility to develop an urban experience that is in contact with the ecosystem. The urban Roman house typologies dating back to the second century CE, were mainly closed on four sides creating an inner courtyard, rigidly separating the human living space and the piece of natural land.

Moving on to a century of industrialisation, the clear boundaries of the cities disappear, where cities become nodes of mass production. In the age of a machine technology that abuses and pollutes the natural resources, unregulated laissez-faire policies on growth, production and consumption creates a worker based economical model, rapidly expanding the unhealthy environment of the industrial city to its natural surroundings. As the fruit of such experiences on the concepts of technology and the growing urban industrial culture, the epoch’s environmentalists ended up demonising technology, writers, artists, and philosophers ended up valuing untouched nature as an escape from the polluted industrial city.

In the 19th century United States, an influential body of thought called “wilderness” arises. Across the American public, this valuing of unspoiled nature, brought by the wilderness thinking, has affected the era’s art, literature, philosophy and clearly, architecture and design. This cultural dualism and the appreciation of the unspoiled land, had a crucial effect on the work of the era’s landscape architect.


“In contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape…

as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where

man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

Wilderness Act 1969


Frederic Law Olmsted, commonly referred to as the founding father American landscape architecture, instead of valuing the extra-urban uncorrupted nature as an escape, he suggested to make nature accessible to the urban citizen. Olmsted, and his work, have been tremendously expedient for the acceptance of this emerging discipline and its differentiation from gardening. Through the design of Central Park, in which the idea of “designing the nature” stems, the necessity and the importance of the landscape architect is commonly accepted and his objectives are defined. While bringing the nature inside the city, provoked a new urban experience, the only advantage of this experience compared to the ones of the early wilderness thinkers, was that the journey from the urban to the nature is shortened, yet the relationship not redefined. Throughout the Olmstedian landscape architecture ideology, the dominant idea is to create a “natural oasis” in the middle of the city, which still aimed to be an escape from the undesired urban condition. Regarding his practice, it would not be unexpected after long years of inveterate wilderness thinking, the aim is to hide the constructed character of the landscape. The critic in this sense, is that an imitated pastoral vocabulary tries to bring the “wilderness” to the urban, but fails at creating an alternative contact between the long separated ideas of the manmade and the natural.

“The dystopia of the megalopolis is already an irreversible historical fact,” states Frampton, underlining the progress from a nature abuser form of technology to an environmentally conscious one. United Nations projects that by 2050 86% of the developed world will be living in urban environments. Therefore, the circumstance is the inevitable expansion of the cities as a global network of human activity hubs. Moving on from a “…worker based economical model to an entrepreneur based one” as Guallart states, the post-industrial city becomes the reflection of the age of technology and information. The environmentally-cognisant costumer, directs the market and the technological achievements, in the search of their eco-friendly and sustainable substrates. With the public conscious becoming increasingly acceptable of the remedial potential of the technology in healing the nature, it is about time that the urbanism of the post industrial city, to plan and construct with nature. By the emergence of landscape urbanism, the fundamental practices of the planning of the contemporary city, is defended to strategically function through time, if they can integrate the living systems and the constructed – through the medium of landscape.

Corner states that “The debate is not only concerned with bringing landscape into cities but also with the expansion of cities into the surrounding landscape.” Bringing into attention, the context and the condition in which the idea of working with the landscape has been developed. Waldheim puts this area of focus as the “ex-urban middle,” where he gives the definition “between the traditional city centre and greenfield suburb beyond.” The absence of the industrial activities in this ex-urban middle, results as abandonment, in which cities like Detroit, striking vistas of the nature taking over the man constructed, underlines the importance of landscape in redesigning the post-industrial city. Opposed to the primary ideas of the destruction of the unused West High Line of New York, the approach via landscape urbanism, is to value the ex-industrial site as heritage and blend their strong constructed character with the twenty first century notions of what it means to live with nature. The transformation of the unused West High Line of New York into the distinctive High Line Park of today, is possibly one of the most suitable examples to revise the theory of landscape urbanism. Hard surfaces mixing and melting into the soil proposes an elevated ecological journey inside the concrete, blending of the constructed character with the natural one. The quality of the space, points out the opportunity of an unused infrastructural construction to be transformed into an alternate public space, which provides a new urban experience that is integrated with the natural. It would not be misleading to say that, this contact of the man constructed and the nature, in the context of the ex-industrial – or the ex-urban, is somehow a reflection and a celebration of our passage from an ecologically polluted, industry based urban civilisation into an eco-responsible, information based one.

Through this new possibility of planning our cities by building profound human-nature contacts, the perception of the urban park that we visit in our daily lives, transume into an enclosed floral zoo that we visit, but then leave to turn back to the reality of our low eco-quality built environment. The urban park of the industrial city provided for the needs for the era, created an oasis-like escape from the intensity of the urban condition. The modernist planning of the 20th century models rigidly allocated the diverse activities of the city, trying to functionalise the urban land by hierarchic categorisation – just as in the idea of an enclosed nature available for the citizen only on the specific lots of the city. Landscape in this point, thrives to be the recoverer of the failing plans and the integrator of the urban culture to the nature.



Corner, James. “Terra Fluxus.” The Landscape Urbanism Reader. 2006 ed. N.p.: Princeton UP, n.d. 13-33. Print.

Waldheim, Charles. “Landscape as Urbanism.” The Landscape Urbanism Reader. 2006 ed. NY: Princeton UP, n.d. 37-51. Print.

Guallart, Vicente. The Self-sufficient City. New York: Actar, 2014. Print.





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