ON HYPERNATURE

WHAT DO YOU SEE WHEN YOU’RE NOT LOOKING?

Art Piece by Bethan Laura Wood (http://www.bethanlaurawood.com/work/hypernature/)

I first came across the term- ‘Hypernature’ as I read an interview conducted with Landscape Architects Michael Van Valkenburgh, Laura Solano and Matthew Urbanksi, as they discussed their approach towards the design of the Allegheny Riverfront Park in Downtown Pittsburgh.

The Allegheny Riverfront Park is sat on a long thin slice of land, 35' wide and almost 1 mile long, that runs along the southern bank of the Allegheny River, adjacent to highways at 2 different elevations, which would experience periodic flooding.

Allegheny Riverfront Park (https://www.mvvainc.com/project.php?id=5)

It was interesting to begin to explore through their interview, the many nuances that make up approaches to Landscape Architecture, where space and climate are major ‘constraints’. The Interviewees discussed how many of the site’s unique challenges of size, the emerging floodplain as well as it’s adjacency to busy highways at 2 tiered levels led to a choice to treat the site design and landscape interventions from the point of approach that is Hypernature.

Hypernature seems to be a version of curating the constructed natural environment such that it is ‘exaggerated’ with concentrated species variety, sizes, shapes and textures of the reconstructed natural environment such that is almost forces recognition and acknowledgement. It is an intentional method of ‘turning up the volume’ on the natural flows and species within a sub-site of the larger natural environment such that it can be recognised and appreciated where it is often ordinarily lost in translation by everyday inhabitants and passersby, through the use of contrast and concentration of unique landscape elements.

Allegheny Riverfront Park (https://www.mvvainc.com/project.php?id=5)

Matthew Urbanksi, in the interview, described Hypernature as- “Presenting it to the viewer so they really get it.”

Although I have just come across this concept, it does not seem to be new.

In the interview, it was repeatedly mentioned that the essence of Hypernature in Landscape approach was extolled by many of the principles of Pioneer of American Landscape- Frederick Olmstead. With a little digging, I found that much of Olmstead’s Landscape theory was rooted in principles of studying and creating landscapes in nature, that can be experienced and enjoyed- beyond just the curation of a beautiful space that alienates the viewer in a bid to ‘idealise’ landscape design.

Allegheny Riverfront Park (https://www.mvvainc.com/project.php?id=5)

Some other principles of Frederick Olmstead, which seemed to me, as providing supplemental insights into the strategy of Hypernature are:

  1. Respect the ‘Genius of a place’.

Landscape interventions ought to stay true to the essence and character of their contextual origins.

2. Subject the Details to the Whole

That details within a Landscape ought to be tools that feed into the overall perception/function of the Landscape design- and not individual elements as things of ornamental/exclusive exposure in themselves.

3. Aim for the Unconscious

Landscapes and designs can influence the actions, movements, moods, perspectives of the people who engage with it, even at a subconscious level.

4. Avoid Fashion

Although certain landscape design trends and popular specie picks of the day may well be marketable and appealing, the improper incorporation of fashionable elements into a Landscape (just for the sake of fashion), the more intrusive and divisive, than helpful to the essence and purpose of that Landscape, they may be.

5. Design for Sustainability and Purpose

Landscape, beyond just being parts of the physical environment, has the ability to and ought to be designed, with the intent to stand for something. In the spheres of Sustainability, Social values, Environmental justice, Racial equity, the opportunities for purpose in design are vast and limitless if only they will be sought. Olmstead, himself, developed a set of social values that gave meaning and purpose to his work.

Not to speak for the general public, I myself often tend to move through my everyday environment barely seeing the forest for the trees. In most urban cities, landscaped spaces are far and few between, and where they are- they are rolling lawns, sparsely populated- underused and unappreciated. Even worse is that often times, these landscapes offer nothing back to the environment that they take from- rendering what could be ecological wellsprings, redundant and lifeless.

Allegheny Riverfront Park (https://www.mvvainc.com/project.php?id=5)

I can’t help but think that an intentional approach in the use of Hypernature alongside proper consideration of most of Olmstead’s principles in the design and planning of landscapes, may be strategies well worth exploring- especially in the increasingly densifying, urbanised and climate-sensitive world that we live in.

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