INTO THE ANTHROPOCENE
Why is the Anthropocene important or relevant to design, and more specifically, landscape architecture? The central axiom of the Anthropocene theory- that humans have geological agency- is a paradigm shift of human-environment relationships. This paradigm shift challenges and disrupts centuries of ontological and epistemological theories and philosophical values regarding how we see ourselves relative to the environment. With evidence found within the climate record, geomorphology, land use patterns, nutrient cycles and other processes, the Anthropocene paradigm asserts that humans are no longer separable from nature; to the contrary, humans have become nature. Such evidence of human geological agency now radically destabilizes and calls into question the nature-culture construct; a construct that has served for centuries as the foundation of garden (and park) design as well as the basis of modern environmental ethos and policy. Therefore, if the Anthropocene presents a fundamental paradigm shift in how we see ourselves in relation to the world, then we must ask how this shift can catalyze new considerations of the environment and the human-mediated landscape, especially those landscapes at the intersection of dramatic human alteration and environmental crisis. In this manner, the agency of landscape architecture in the Anthropocene is to not only use our creativity and design methods to seek new solutions to paradoxical socio-ecological challenges, but to first use this creativity to ask a different set questions about these challenges so we may envision new futures of the Anthropocene landscape.
This world of pervasive human influence across all scales of the global landscape presents the central dilemma for the 21st century. Landscape architects are not insulated from these issues as the human transformation of the landscape, including urbanization, resource extraction, auto-based settlement and others, are often used as markers of the Anthropocene epoch. The studio originates from the understanding that landscape architecture has agency and that tomorrow’s landscape architect will be required to operate within contextual grounds and new territories that include, but extend beyond, the programmatic, the aesthetic or the spatial tropes of the 20th century and engage larger global concerns and abstract processes of increasing complexity and scale. It is already evident that critical design practices will emerge from this context whereby design and planning engage cultural and social beliefs that are profoundly different from worldviews of previous generations and the 20th century landscape architectural canon. Given the scale of the paradigm shift, one can anticipate that these practices will require a new professional discourse, disciplinary lexicon and speculative tools to project and realize alternative future conditions with increasing urgency.
Utilizing a professional practice model, the studio contemplates how the Anthropocene is an opportunity to see our world anew and how we can begin to explore potential theories, concepts and modes of practice suited to our strange new world bound by human geologic agency. What new imaginations of the MIssissippi River may emerge from a broader Anthropocene awareness of human hydrologic agency? How might emergent theories of hydrosocial cycles and territories influence how we think of the MIssissippi River and the broader cultural relationship to water? In what ways has a cultural perception of water resulted in a "grey epistemology" of landscape infrastrcuture that distances humans from our relationship to water? How might less technocratic and more relational approaches to water influence the future of the Mississippi River?
For Fall 2018, we will examine these questions through the intertwined social, political and environmental histories of the Mississippi River and interrogate how anthro-geomorphologies, hydro-infrastructures, geochemical processes, and socio-economic structures have shaped the culture, identity and physical geography of the river. We will then utilize emergent theories of the hydrosocial cycle, hydrosocial territories and the other Anthropocene-related research to imagine and propose more ecologically and socially equitable futures that elevate the discourse for the future of the Mississippi River in the Anthropocene.