The Ethics of Form
Designing new landscape histories through an alternative pedagogy
Landscape Research Record
no.8, (2019): 389-401
Undoubtedly a concern for the environment remains a major motivation for designers today, but so too are new ethical imperatives. It is increasingly common to hear designers speak about social justice, economic inequality, gender discrimination, racism, and the rights of nature for example, none of which would have concerned Kent or Brown. Indeed, as Raymond Williams has provocatively written, at times the English landscape gardeners were practicing in ways and supporting a social system which we would find objectionable, yet unfortunately, at times still common today:
Significantly, also, the history of English landscape in the eighteenth century has been, in the standard accounts, foreshortened. Reading some of these histories you might almost believe – you are often enough told – that the eighteenth-century landlord, through the agency of his hired landscapers, and with poets and painters in support, invented natural beauty. And in a way, why not? In the same ideology he invented charity, land-improvement and politeness, just as when he and his kind went to other men’s countries, such countries were ‘discovered’. (1973, p. 120)
And here then we arrive at a central question of this studio: if the organic style, otherwise called designing with nature, is the best physical expression of an environmental ethic, what designed forms can other ethical imperatives take? Or even more generally, our question is, how do formal design strategies express ethical values? What are the relationships between physical form and social or moral function?