The architect’s scope is often considered as building “from the ground up.” The assumption that site is a tabula rasa , or blank slate, is quickly disproved through an engagement in the unpredictable processes of designing and constructing. Design necessitates a complex engagement with the site and the forces embedded within it. In landscape design, where the site serves as both the material and context for design, this relationship is particularly complex. Site is shaped by more-than-human forces over time: rivers flood, slopes erode, vegetation regenerates, and stone weathers. Site is simultaneously altered by human forces: water is channeled, land is appropriated, vegetation is burned, and rock is quarried. Site is inextricably related to time; it bears witness to human and more-than-human histories and actively participates in their futures. Design provides an opportunity to support and leverage these dynamic forces. How can we design with the complex entanglement of natural and social forces that make up a site?
A conceptual divide between nature and culture has shaped relationships with the land in North American Settler culture. Within this framework, humans are separate from the environment: resources are extracted; energy is harnessed; property is divided; wilderness is delineated and conserved. Contemporary scholarship across disciplines has begun to erode this binary, reconceptualizing the environment as a meshwork of human forces and biophysical systems. Emerging scientific and social theories such as the “Anthropocene” and “Capitalocene” have acknowledged the impact human forces have had on geologic and biosphere processes.3 At the same time, many human communities are attempting to adapt to shifting climates and landscape hazards, underscoring the impact natural forces have on human ways of life. While the “environment” can be defined as our “physical surroundings”, it can also be understood as an entangled web of relationships.4 This messy co-mingling provides an unstable ground from which to reconsider hybridizations of architectural, landscape, and ecological systems that build upon relationships grounded in site and its complex entanglement of human and biophysical forces.