A dilemma for landscape architecture: suburbs and utopias

Russell-Clarke, J 2010, A dilemma for landscape architecture: suburbs and utopias, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Architecture and Design, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title A dilemma for landscape architecture: suburbs and utopias
Author(s) Russell-Clarke, J
Year 2010
Abstract For computer software programmer Ward Cunningham, inventor of the Wiki, problems are enlightening while difficulties are unhelpful distractions. A dangerous dilemma can arise from confusing this distinction. For Karl Mannheim, who distinguished a utopia from an ideology, Fredric Jameson who recognised that utopias allow for consideration of things otherwise inconceivable, and Thomas More who coined a term charged with the paradox of a good place that is no place, utopian endeavour constitutes work on exactly such useful problems. So does design.

Suburbs, utopias and landscape architecture share histories of similar important and revealing problems. These evolving problems, however, now face a new dilemma. This is not another framing of difficulties marking a further evolution of the useful problems that have always existed, but the attempted abolition of problems altogether. This is being pursued in two ways: through a strictly focused enumeration of de-politicised practical difficulties urged by bi-partisan calls for climate change adaptation and global economic resilience, and by the uncritical positioning of change itself as logically inescapable, essentially apolitical, and therefore utterly unproblematic to begin with.

Arguments regarding what might be necessary for an understanding of suburbs, utopias and landscape architecture today appear irrelevant. Just as these three problematic terms have been discarded in favour of fresh vocabularies, the problems they promise have been made redundant too. They have been transcended. Such transcendence leaves suburban dwellings, utopian dreams of dwelling and the landscape architectural design of places to dwell, bereft of possibility for either escape from or error in conception of correct construction of our futures. The aporia inherent to discussions of suburban development, utopian ambition and the design of nature, have become apodictic pronouncements on suburban sprawl, dystopia and sustainable design, or alternatively, complex apologia for having no position at all.

Part I introduces the major areas of research, their contemporary suburban context and an argument for design as a necessarily critical practice and, inevitably, utopian endeavour. A variety of disciplinary and other literatures competing for a place of significance in understanding suburbs and design are examined in Part II. Part III provides examples of these contests through an evaluation of recent work in two well-known areas of suburban imaging and imagining: the visions of real estate advertisement and the frameworks of urban design legislation.

The work concludes with an appeal to rediscover a utopian impulse, to uncover lost potentials and prior states of utopian optimism, not in order to find the right, lost way or to fix an agreed direction, but to enjoy and realise their multiplication. Faced with intractable problems, the imperative of design to make strange in order to discover new purpose is becoming design estranged from purposeful making. The encouragement of more proposals for projects, not the abolition of the necessity for them, is required to resist the ever-recuperating standardisation, normalisation, and trivialisation of happiness and the good life.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Architecture and Design
Keyword(s) Landscape architecture
design critique
critical design
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Created: Fri, 26 Nov 2010, 15:56:50 EST by Guy Aron
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