defining infrascape

In naming this blog, I chose a contraction of two topics that greatly interest me: INFRAstructure & landSCAPE. These are the basic premises for my nascent design practice and my teaching. For me, infrascape’s are occupied territories surrounding and permeating our cities that are shaped by eco-technical systems *. These systems aren’t just dumb concrete pipes or taut wires stretched from pylon to pylon, but are dynamic organizations that respond to changing inputs and stimuli. But this hybrid ecology and infrastructure is a concept that is far from reality in most places.

In most cities, there is a binary opposition between infrastructure and landscape. Most infrastructure is uninhabitable, except by urban explorers and squatters. A few get occupied through an mechanized interface such as highways and cars, or railway tunnels and subway cars. Most infrastructure is not intended to host an ecological community, but to provide a shortcut to keep nature away from our buildings as David Gissen explores in Subnature.

Riverbank State Park, NYC – a great example of an infrascape.

A few infrascapes exist, such Riverbank State Park (pictured above) , a 28-acre green roof above the North River Treatment Plant adjacent to Harlem. Another bigger example is the soon to be Fresh Kills Park. Other examples that come to mind include include hybrid treatment wetlands with parks, urban farms, vegetated roof plazas, and detention basins that double as parks.

Many post industrial landscapes – brownfields – are being reclaimed for recreational and ecological uses. Duesburg Nord, the Don Valley, the Highline, and Promenade Plantee come to mind as infrastructural places that now are occupiable landscapes by mortal folks.

Many Utopian concepts are being batted around like vertical farms fall under the umbrella of infrascape. The proposed Freeway Park in Los Angeles is another scheme I’d love to see realized that is an infrascape.

One of my students recently asked me to discuss what makes a landscape multifunctional and sustainable. That is a core piece to my urbanist agenda. Cities thrive when there are limits to the amount of space dedicated to single uses. Too many cities have been strangled by dozens of highway lanes that bulldozed neighborhoods. But a complete street or Jane Jacob’s premise of a street has many uses that can happily coexist. But when was the last time you tried skipping rope in the middle of cloverleaf interchange? I also came a cross a book titled ‘sustainable cities’ recently that was focused not on ecological sustainability, but sociological continuity of neighborhoods (and there was an illuminating chapter on public toilets too). Multifunctional can extend outside the anthropocentric realm to include creating habitat. When was the last time the side of a freeway was planted with something other then easy to maintain shrubs and grasses? Designing a landscape just for a lawn mower and cheap maintenance does not count.

If we are to move towards the deep green sustainable inhabitation of this planet by humans, we need to reintroduce ecology into every available niche. Ecological systems need to permeate our cities to compensate for the environmental impacts elsewhere and to make our cities more humane. That is the ultimate goal of where I want to take this blog, my teaching, and my practice. I’ll let the architects chase after creating zero energy buildings, while I chase after bringing our cities and buildings to life.

* Okay, what’s an eco-technical system? I have to credit Herbert Giradet with the term. But it has a lot of resonance with my practice, in describing the realm that I’m operating in. But still, what is it? Well, we humans have gotten very good (or bad) at impacting the ecological systems that surround us with all our engineered stuff. For example, stormwater management in most places is now an extensive system of pipes that have a much greater density then the streams and wetlands that they replaced. Those pipes are the technical system – but somewhere before the catch basin and at the outfall there is a fragment or two of an ecosystem tied together by those pipes. Another example would be the network of agriculture & food.

Creative Commons License
Infrascape Design by Barry Lehrman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

1 thought on “defining infrascape

  1. Love this line

    Multifunctional can extend outside the anthropocentric realm to include creating habitat.

    Another term a friend used to use alot was non-human nature. In order to emphasize the fact that we belong to nature as well.

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