fourth natures – mammoth // building nothing out of something

fourth natures

“Fourth Natures” is an upcoming conference at the University of Waterloo School of Architecture, which sounds like it will be quite interesting:

…landscape theorist John Dixon Hunt elucidate[d] three categories of landscape first defined during the Renaissance: ‘first nature’ being wilderness, ‘second nature’ being the cultivated landscape, and ‘third nature’ being the garden, a combination of nature and culture.

One might argue that over the course of the twentieth century, a ‘fourth nature’ has been evolving which expands both the scale and complexity of our landscapes. From the territorial to the nano-scale, mutant environments which fuse natural and artificial, technologic and infrastructural have been proliferating. Natures are monitored and controlled, ecologies are amplified or manufactured and interior landscapes are conditioned, with the intent of augmenting performance and responsiveness, controlling the flow of resources, monitoring data or redressing environmental imbalances. In the current scenario, the dialectic is no longer nature versus city, or natural versus artificial, but positions within a spectrum of mediation and manipulation of nature, landscape and built environment.

The built and natural environments are increasingly defined by the infrastructures that sustain or monitor them, and more often than not these systems are seen as being ‘unnatural’ and imposed upon the built landscapes. Yet, it can be argued, that it is necessary to view augmenting our environment as a merging of artificial efficiency and natural logic. With that, there has been a rise in architects, landscape architects, urbanists and ecologists offering infrastructures as catalysts for organizing and defining the constructed environments, proposing scenarios in which the boundaries of built and unbuilt, mediated and natural are growing ever more complex and ambiguous.

A solid and diverse list of speakers includes Sean Lally (WEATHERS) on “The Air on Other Planets”, Janette Kim (Urban Landscape Lab/All of the Above), Ila Berman on “Synthetic Natures and Living Machines”, Martin Felsen (Urban Lab) on “Growing Water”, Liat Margolis, Lola Sheppard (Lateral Office/Infranet Lab), and more.

The conference, which is on February 4th and 5th, is free and open to the public.

3 Responses to “fourth natures”

  1. namhenderson says:

    Not to simply engage in semantics, but isn’t the contemporary ‘productive’ or complex, monitored and controlled landscape a simple expansion of the concept of Dixon’s second category?

    What would be the difference between a constructed environment or cultivated landscape…

    One thing that i think is important to note. The contemporary discussion(s) of landscape (whether Dixon’s or a new fourth) seem to have much to do with the contemporary notion of second or third (etc) natures. Wherein, landscape and nature and the boundaries between their original condition and contemporary Anthropocene culture have been ambiguously eroded.

    • rob says:

      From one perspective, I think that’s absolutely correct — the distinction between second and third natures also being somewhat tenuous if you think too hard about it. (And, of course, it’s not too hard to make a persuasive case that “first nature” has more or less been eliminated, as even the most remote locations are under direct human influence through our affect on global climate.)

      But, from another — maybe looking more closely now at differences than similarities, there is definitely a contemporary condition of the landscape which is sharply different than anything which would fit in the first, second, and third natures. This might be particularly easy to see if you note that the classical understanding is that second nature is agricultural cultivation, exemplified by somewhere like rural France or rural China (and not right now, but a century ago) — a tamed nature with a constant human presence from small farms. Even contemporary agricultural landscapes are quite dissimilar from that.

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