Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle: Landscape, Evolution, and Thermodynamics

The structures and forms we perceive in the environment are produced by the simultaneous action of forces that make for some kind of order, and forces that tend to upset it. Landscape architecture is one of those forces. Borrowing the title from Stephen Jay Gould’s 1987 book on the history of geology, this course will focus on the temporal dimension of landscape and landscape architecture. Time is, as Henri Bergson put it, invention, the creation of forms. As a result of the interaction of the forces exerted by different agents, the environment is in a continuous state of transformation, a state of becoming, of which we are not always aware. In today’s landscape architecture, notions of time, process, change, and transformation are often associated with ecology. In this course, we will investigate the origins of these notions through an examination of the history of ecological ideas, but also by looking into the theories of evolution and thermodynamics, which emerged almost concurrently with ecology in the mid 19th century and have been of great influence on ecological theory ever since. 

With readings, lectures, and discussion of ecology, evolution, and thermodynamics, we will set up the base to interpret different environmental tendencies, some oriented towards the transformation and preservation of gradient and differentiation, some others towards the dissolution of order into states of equilibrium and homogeneity. Students in the course will be asked to investigate a landscape of their choice, and the course as a whole will aim at covering the widest possible range of environmental conditions across the globe. Through drawing and modeling, we will aim at deducing the geomorphological, climatic, and technical processes and constraints through which these landscapes receive their forms. This constructive and representational inquiry will allow the course to engage in conversation about the agency of landscape architecture in regards to living and non-living forms and processes, and about the metaphysics of time and life, of energy and matter.