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Historically, design has offered the tools to dominate unpredictable nature and optimise natural potential – in the form of minerals and raw materials, processes, energy sources and food. Design, in other words, had to restore the ‘shortcomings’ of natural processes, organisms, products or environments, in the service of humanity.

However, success went hand in hand with failure. Every innovation turned out to be the source of a new ecological or social problem. With the panacea of DDT, lice, mosquitoes and other nuisance insects would soon be a thing of the past. Plus, an effective remedy had been found against the spread of diseases such as typhoid fever. While the children of post-war reconstruction happily played on the streets, and while the wheat grew tall and herds were grazing, tons of DDT were sprayed over the landscape. It didn’t take long before the unrivalled power of destruction became clear, and DDT was banned in large parts of the world. However, the damage had already been done, and the remaining barrels could still be used in countries with lax regulations.

For centuries, the garden has been the ultimate manifestation of a long-standing desire for control and optimization. From the medieval medicinal herb garden, to the baroque gardens of the Sun King, to contemporary testing grounds for genetically manipulated crops: there is always a goal behind the design. Nature is no longer the uncontrollable primal force it used to be. Climate change is proof that human action is the dominant force today, although it is hardly possible call it controlled.

Dissident Gardens questions the consequences of striving for optimal landscapes and a perfected nature during an ecological crisis. The black tulip, Dolly the sheep, the milk lake and the immeasurable, and almost dehumanized, rationalized greenhouse landscape: are they only the prelude to Elon Musk’s playground on Mars? Who and what will have access to that space garden? What will be its purpose and its outcome?

Think Vertical!

For a long time the idea prevailed that the countryside was running out. The protection of undeveloped areas of the Netherlands was promoted to one of the most important urban design tasks. But while that realization grew, new industrial estates were still being built in all kinds of outlying areas: clusters of pizza boxes scattered over many square kilometres of scarce landscape - to the annoyance of nature conservationists, residents and the first Government Advisor for the landscape, Dirk Sijmons (2004-2008), who ensured that no room was available for such developments in the Hoeksche Waard.

The Dutch pavilion for the Hanover World Fair (2000), designed by MVRDV, was a lyrical plea for a vertically organized urban, technological, recreational and agricultural landscape. The stacking of landscapes, crowned with a landscape of windmills, once again demonstrated the importance of imaginative thinking. If this nation had been able to make land during its history, why would it now – helped by an evergrowing arsenal of resources, knowledge and expertise – be unable to realize a modern country? A country that, in the absence of surface, is looking for a vertical future?

How quickly can thinking change? With the emptying of the countryside, all attention is now focused on new ideas about urbanization. Although half of the population still lives outside the city, this group seems to have become uninteresting for policymakers. That part of the Netherlands is suddenly called empty, and the question is what role the human scale still plays in the current scenarios around these areas.

Emptiness creates the ideal condition for future energy landscapes. For mega farms and controlled horticulture, which until now has been concentrated in greenhouses. The height and design of these greenhouses were at least still attuned to the people who work there. In the automated landscape of modern horticulture, workers are no longer a factor, and the dimensions will be geared to optimization of a completely ‘human-free’ productivity.

A combination of technology and economies of scale is apparently the only answer that the world's fourth largest export nation can come up with for the growing demand for food. With its playful versatility and the linking of functions, the Hannover pavilion was an explicitly cultural answer to a future issue. It will take some much-needed imagination to provide the latest vertical food landscapes with a valid cultural alternative.

Gert Staal, March 2018

Hetty Berens, Guus Beumer, Marten Kuijpers, Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, Maurizio Montalti, Suzanne Mulder, Marina Otero Verzier, Mark Wigley
Frank Bruggeman, Overtreders-W, Andres Jacques
Boy Vereecken, Bardhi Haliti