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Barnett Publishes Emergence in Landscape Architecture

Cover of Emergence book

Prof. Rod Barnett, Chair of the Landscape Architecture program has published a new book on landscape design theory, Emergence in Landscape Architecture (Routledge, 2013).

Prof. Barnett describes the book as follows:
Emergence occurs when a landscape—a river basin, a street, an abandoned industrial zone or a coastline—is disturbed by something else, and begins to adapt or reconfigure as a result.  Responding to disturbance often causes a landscape system to move to a new level of complexity and become more resilient.

Emergence in Landscape Architecture attempts to describe how landscape architects can frame their practices in response to the increasingly dramatic disturbances of the 21st century. Emergence in Landscape Architecture charts the development of new realms of interaction in our cities, in forgotten industrial landscapes and across the farms, streams and woodlands of the countryside.

Many constructed landscape systems fail when disturbed, often because they have been designed to resist rather than to incorporate the new conditions that disrupt them. Levees are breached by floodwaters, whole urban precincts are wrecked by tornadoes, crops are infested by weeds and pests. And yet natural systems thrive on disturbance. It is at the basis of evolution. And ecosystems are healthier the further they are from equilibrium.

First, the book frames the history of western science and philosophy as a never-ending dance with disturbance, its shadowy other, and shows how history has always had emergence as a counter-theme, constantly enriching it by pushing it to new levels of complexity.

Then it looks at emergence in contemporary science and distils five critical aspects that characterize it in scientific debate. In a chapter called “Key Concepts,”  it invents its own nine-point guide to emergence, using terms from science, art, and design. The next chapter explores emergence in recent landscape architecture projects and practices, and another finds it in places you would not think of looking, such as rococo painting, urban coyote packs, the sacred groves of ancient Greece, and film noir. The final chapter suggests how emergence—or emergentist design—can help us reshape our cities to meet the great challenges that face them in this century.

It is not a how-to book, but rather lays out a set of propositions that it argues can reformulate the relationships between humans and nonhumans, and the world they share. Emergence in Landscape Architecture is published by Routledge and is available on