Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle: Drawing Landscapes, Energy, and Matter

The structures and forms we perceive on the land are produced by forces that make order and those that upset it. Landscape architecture is one of these forces.

Borrowing the title from Stephen Jay Gould’s book on the history of geology, this course will deal with the temporal dimension of landscape. As Henri Bergson said, time is invention, creation of forms. As a result of the interaction of different forces, the environment is in a continuous state of transformation, a state of becoming of which we are not always aware. In this course, we will investigate these notions through lectures, discussion, and drawings on theories of ecology, geomorphology, evolution, and thermodynamics, all concerned with the kinds of order that emerge over time as different forms of energy—radiant, potential, kinetic, chemical, and so on—inject life and motion into matter and thus into landscape.

In addition to the collective discussion around these topics, each student in the course will choose and graphically investigate a vernacular landscape, i.e., a space on the face of the earth resulting from the intersection of human technology with a preexisting geomorphological configuration, which has evolved slowly through the cultural practices of those who inhabit it. In selecting these landscapes, we will work to collectively cover the broadest possible range of environmental conditions around the world: from the very hot to the very cold, the very dry to the very wet, the very high to the very low, the very steep to the very flat. With the impacts of climate change in mind, we will focus on landscapes that arise from extreme conditions, such as deserts, rainforests, tundras, deltas, and great mountain ranges. Through drawing, we will reveal their climatic and geomorphological processes and constraints and the specific technologies that intervene in them and from which they receive their forms. This representational inquiry will help us visualize the theoretical component of the seminar, allowing the class to engage in a more productive conversation about the metaphysics of energy and matter, time and life, the different propensities that exist on earth prior to human intervention, and how design and technology interfere with, accelerate, slow down or even eliminate them.

Students will be assessed on their graphic investigation and contribution to the class discussion. Strong graphic and representational skills are recommended.