Open source landscapes

There’s an exciting movement that appears to be gaining critical mass: open source is changing architecture. Using parametric design, a CNC and an open mind, it’s so exciting to see what what groups like Architecture 00 are doing. Whilst open source has been a powerful movement for years, with organisations like Opendesk publishing designs for practical furniture that anyone can take to a workshop and build, projects like the Wikihouse are the next logical step. Lots of designers, builders and users coming together to share ideas and skills and approach challenges we come across every day from new perspectives.

When you build in organisations like Authentise, open data from Ordnance Survey or scalable science like Dan Chitwood’s research and citizen science, the high performance, distributed future seems very close.

Wikihouse under construction

So where does landscape architecture fit in? In my MA dissertation back in 2008 I researched the potential for landscape architects lead community engagement by teaching landscape design skills as part of an open source movement but the idea hit stumbling blocks: as designers we like to retain control (after all, a lot of what we do can also be done by ecologists, civil engineers, planners or architects), the complexity of site conditions means that it’s difficult to roll out typical details and standard forms, the software we use is specialised and of course you can’t roll out pre fab landscape units in the same way that a factory can produce timber cassettes and SIPS. Nonetheless, the movement is growing and landscape architects need to be a part of it.

Pen yr Ole Wen & Llyn Ogwen, Snowdonia North Wales, created using Open Data by Owen Powell

Two recent developments point to the future for open source landscapes. The first shows that flickr accounts can be used to guide design, whilst the second uses open access publishing to share what works and doesn’t in conservation. Knowledge building is one thing is the start of the process: applied design will surely follow.

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