INTO THE ANTHROPOCENE: A Provocation for 21st Century Landscape Architecture

CELA 2016: Dilemma:Debate
Paper prepared for the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture Spring 2016 Conference. 
Salt Lake City, UT

Matthew Tucker
University of Minnesota

Anthropocene, paradigm shift, nature, socio-ecological narratives, climate change


Our future generation of landscape architects will inherit a world unprecedented in known human history. It will be a generation born into the new Anthropocene epoch with complex issues of climate change, sea level rise, food and water scarcity, mass extinctions, environmental justice,and others. Landscape architects are not insulated from these issues as some have claimed that the state of our global socio-ecological challenges are a consequence of the design profession’s activities (Wu and Wu 2013). This world of pervasive human influence across all scales of the global landscape presents the central dilemma for the 21st century. In just over a decade the emerging Anthropocene paradigm-and recognition of the extent of human influence on Earth Systems-has catalyzed transformations in scientific and humanistic discourse. In the sciences, these transformations advance our ability to measure complex systems and forecast environmental change with disturbing results (Steffen, etal. 2011). Similar transformations have occurred in the humanities, such as further rupture of socio-cultural binaries while exploring new conceptual frameworks of socio-ecological relations through the concepts found in anthromes (Ellis, etal. 2010), hyperobjects (Morton 2013), manufactured ecologies and post-environmentalism (Wapner 2010). Central to such interdisciplinary concerns is the upheaval of the prevailing notion of nature and culture as essential counterparts, but ultimately separable.

Since its inception, landscape architecture has echoed and reciprocated principal socio-cultural attitudes and their shifts across time. However, ubiquitous socio-ecological issues disrupt the concept of human-environment relations and the nature: culture binary that has largely provided a foundation for landscape architecture discourse. Paradigm shifts now expose questions that challenge the validity of current knowledge and skills while also accelerating alternative and undiscovered modes of practice. However, to date no meaningful discussion within the discipline that situates landscape architecture within the Anthropocene has occurred. As a case in point, this abstract alone presents more “Anthropocene” keyword references than the total keyword references (four)* in all previous Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA) proceedings and abstracts.

If the Anthropocene paradigm presents a fundamental shift in human-environment relations, then our discipline and profession must seek a new discourse relative to this shift. To assert timely relevancy, we must begin by opening a 21st century debate into the question: what is the potential impact of the Anthropocene paradigm on the future of landscape architecture education and practice? In response, this paper provides a formal invitation for landscape architecture discourse to expand into the Anthropocene paradigm. The first portion of the paper provides a summary of the nascent Anthropocene discourse from multidisciplinary perspectives. The second portion of the paper provokes necessary renovations to landscape architectural pedagogy and practice as situated within the Anthropocene paradigm. Some renovations are underway, including landscape performance quantification research and instruction of evidence-based design; newfound landscape architectural agency in urban resilience infrastructure planning, or efforts to reimagine the future metabolic city. Other renovations are on the horizon, including responses to the robust science of novel ecosystems and feral ecologies; exploration of waste-to-resource extractive processes such as phtyo-technologies; projective design strategies for the manufactured ecologies found within the dredge cycle; reimagined environmental politics and abundant futures; and the emergence of a postnatural environmental lexicon. These- and other provocations are essential to re-orient and re-assert landscape architectural agency in imagining new territories of scholarship, pedagogy and practice for the discipline and profession in our
strange, new world of the Anthropocene epoch.

1. The first portion of the paper provides a summary of the nascent Anthropocene discourse from multidisciplinary perspectives.


  • Wu, J and Wu, T. “Ecological Resilience as a Foundation for Urban Design and Sustainability” in S.T.A. Pickett et al. (eds.), Resilience in Ecology and Urban Design: Linking Theory and Practice for Sustainable Cities, Future City Series Volume 3. New York : Springer 2013

  • Steffen, W; Grinevald, J; Crutzen, P and McNeill, John. "The Anthropocene: Conceptual and Historical Perspectives." Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 2011 369, 842-867

  • Ellis, EC ; Goldewijk, Kk ; Siebert, S ; Lightman, D ; Ramankutty, N. “Anthropogenic transformation of the biomes, 1700 to 2000.” Global Ecology And Biogeography, 2010 Sep, Vol.19(5), pp.589-606

  • Timothy Morton. “Hyperobjects : philosophy and ecology after the end of the world.” Minneapolis  University of Minnesota Press 2013

  • Paul Wapner. “Living Through the End of Nature: The Future of American Environmentalism, Cambridge: MIT Press 2010

* Author review of CELA Conference abstracts and/or proceedings, 2003-2015