Azzurra Cox: Landscape as Narrative
Azzurra Cox: Landscape as Narrative

Hi, everyone. Okay, so I’ll start. Design is humanistic. Design is political,
and at its core, design is a narrative act. With each decision,
the landscape architect engages the narratives
that live in a site. We are interlocutors. As we continue to craft our
roles as spatial and relational thinkers, then, our
task remains to first listen to and understand the
socio-political narratives that shape our cities,
territories, and imaginaries, and to then broaden
and challenge those narratives that we
consider worth expressing. At a time when so many
scales of conflict from climate change to
segregation to police brutality are tied to systems of
spatial organization, the landscape embodies
our many legacies, and landscape architecture
becomes a key tool for advocacy and action. By listening closely and
by being intentional, the landscape
architect can telescope from the very
personal stories that live in place to the colorful
collective identities of a community to the
broad strokes that paint our urban and
national histories. I propose design as
critical ethnography and I propose that we
work where the value of ecological recovery
can be deeply related to a commitment to
social investment and a stand against systemic
violence of any kind. Because the same city
that to many of us is about gardens and parks
and restaurants and cafes and waterfronts is
for other people about barren, decimated
public space and stunted trees and cracked sidewalks
and cycles of disinvestment. So in such contexts, we bear
a particular responsibility toward crafting memorable
sensory experience, fostering environmental
stewardship, and evoking something
simple yet radical: a meaningful engagement with
place and fellow citizens. For when we design, we
not only reveal histories, but ignite futures. Spatial quality engenders
new forms of interaction. The unexpected
promotes openness. Poetry fosters stewardship. We must allow for
continued accretion of meaning through
time, all while speaking to the legacies both joyful and
painful embedded in a place. As Robert Smithson
observed of Olmsteds work, the most powerful landscape
projects are never finished; they remain carriers
of the unexpected and of contradiction on all
levels of human activity. I propose that our task
for the next century is to craft those vessels
for human experience, to foster a life that is
not only good, but also aware, dynamic, and joyful. Thank you. [Applause]

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