Having reached what one architecture critic described as the midpoint in my career, I feel I have nothing to show. Or at least nothing that resembles the seductive images in architecture books, nothing reminiscent of photogenic models, nothing that could be compared to the paradisiacal computer-generated images that clutter the trade journals. My work requires few objects—ideally none at all—and only ordinary materials. It does not entail any heroic feats of execution or any extravagance. So it is distinguished by a certain poverty. It is not a deliberate desire for an architettura povera, but rather the option of rusticity. It is a rigor that stands out in my mind. A structurally unrewarding youth. I do not feel any frustration about it. This was not always the case, and I sometimes resorted to appurtenances that were likely to give my efforts the status of works of architecture: the use of layouts or familiar objects, for example. This provided me with a very fleeting reassurance. The demanding architects with whom I work take over a significant part of my budgets, compelling me to the aforementioned poverty, and I am strangely grateful to them for this.
I like the way our materials defy “outcomes,” as if a young landscape could not be “picturesque,” could not resemble any model image. The saplings, which are reminiscent of nothing and yet cover the ground with their dead leaves, immediately transform the most artificial materials into dusty undergrowth. Poverty requires innovation, in the sense of an architecture that is, at the least, visible. To commandeer farming techniques and practices suddenly makes a space legible. This does not entail any theoretical minimalism, but rather a kind of patience and resistance: to stand fast and refuse to give in to easy opportunities. To refuse to get bogged down needlessly or prematurely give an illusory “polish,” out of a lack of confidence about the “landscapes in development.” To refuse to destabilize, sully, or upset the stages of these maturation processes. Also, and above all, to refuse to show this work through stereotyped images.
Having arrived at the midpoint, I note that I have observed and analyzed hundreds of hectares, planted tens of thousands of trees, moved small hills of earth, aided in setting up kilometers of roads, railways, and canals. I see an overabundance of projects. More than 40 sites are now being transformed, including some that have been in the works for more than 17 years. They must be considered with rigor and serenity—patience. They are not objects, but some are already settings that are developing and that escape, to a certain extent, from their creator. They are living organisms—the vegetation, the environments of course, but also the works of architecture and their successive states. In my contribution to this production, there is a primitive pleasure that differs from the pleasure of construction and that consists of combining, domesticating, and directing living systems. It is a pleasure well known to gardeners. And then, to cap it all, to build up districts and participate in the organization of cities can seem like pure perfection.
We landscape architects believe that the transformation of the landscape is a precedent or a phase in the creation of neighborhoods. Enhancing a site does not mean prefiguring the road network or the traffic islands. I like this idea of intermediate nature, of a transformed landscape whose primitive characteristics of spatial orientation, incline, and moisture are the preconditions with which town planners and architects will transform the city. I like the long time frame of landscapes and cities. I especially like the play with time: the highlighting of successive phases, the emphasis on early phases, the coexistence of different stages of development that concentrate and condense, in a short period, processes with historical rhythms. Several experiments entail devising vast vegetal structures comprising tens of thousands of trees.
The dimensions of these “organisms” exceed those of cities. This is architecture on the scale of the site, on the geographical scale. Farmers and forest rangers work with areas that are, in a different way, much larger, but those areas are not architectural. These intermediate natures are architecture—rough, temporary architecture under development. How can this be shown? I think it is important to hold out against clichés, to play with the multitude, with the successions. There is no “beautiful” image, nor should there be, except by accident. Each of the images is taken in a larger series and a larger space.
We are interested in the res publica. Much more than a distortion or a specialization, it is almost a necessity. We contribute to the formation of a common territory. We transform landscapes produced by society. We draw inspiration and sustenance in the traces of society’s activities. Above all, we aim to help this society envision other ways of occupying and constituting the area. I aspire to give an area meaning, or at least legibility. Would it be worth it to make the environment intelligible and understandable?
I am fascinated by the people who know their land perfectly, who take obvious delight in mastering the precise physical reality but also the history and the processes at work—unlike those who navigate the abstract space of technocracy and signalization, and who consume the images. No nostalgia, however, because what fascinates me is above all their ability to change.
I am thinking of the architects from Ticino and the way in which they knew how to play with vernacular architecture and agricultural practices in order to introduce Germanic modernity with great accuracy, over 50 years ago. To see, to make legible—this is a necessary precondition but one that cannot take the place of a kind of “interior necessity.” The showcasing of traces is not enough. To content oneself with that would be like doing restoration work. But to commandeer these traces, to invert or distort them—therein lies the innovation.
I like poplar groves, orchards, artificially planted forests. I like to perceive these spaces whose conventional order is forgotten so that they are only densities, variations on density. Neither full nor empty, these squared spaces are sieves of a sort, where paradoxically life moves in—traps for an intermediate nature.