Q+A with Jury Chair Richard Weller

1. Can you introduce LA+ a little bit more, and what kind of design thinking and philosophy you would like to spread through this journal?
LA+ is motivated by an important contradiction; namely, landscape architecture claims to be and necessarily is an interdisciplinary field, and yet designers tend to talk to themselves. The mandate and method of LA+ Journal is to include voices from other areas on topics of interest to designers. It is the only interdisciplinary journal of landscape architecture in the world.

2.What is the thought behind the theme “ICONOCLAST”?
For society, an icon is a dominant and greatly valued symbol. To be iconoclastic is to challenge the authority of that symbol. In landscape architecture nothing is more of an icon that Central Park and we want to see what designers might do when its authority is removed. Simply, we are asking how would you design Central Park if you had the opportunity?

3. What role do you think Central Park could play in the future?
Well, we don’t know – that’s for entrants to imagine! Some obvious directions would be that it could represent a different kind of nature to the one it represents now. It could also become more high-performance both ecologically and socially. It could be visually very different. It could become more iconic! There is also, of course, a question of how much, if any, of Olmsted’s original is worth preserving or recreating in some way.

4. As we know, the LA+ ICONOCLAST competition has a very interdisciplinary jury; what prompted who you chose and what does this means for landscape architecture?
The interdisciplinary nature of the jury is very much in line with the ethos of LA+ Journal to reveal connections and build collaborations between disciplines. The ICONOCLAST jurors are all original and creative thinkers in their fields, prepared to challenge convention. We also think we will attract more interesting entries by including jurors from other fields, in addition to designers.

5. As the chair of the competition jury and the chair of landscape architecture department at PennDesign, how does the school’s teaching philosophy and belief reflect in the setting of this competition?
The pedagogy at Penn is not one thing, it’s many things – so the competition is not a symbol of the school. That said, at PennDesign we value challenging ideas, new aesthetics, and new relationships between form and function – all of which the LA+ ICONOCLAST competition implies. We also have a strong urban emphasis in our program and Central Park is as much about the figure as it is about the void.

6. The scale of Central Park is big and small at the same time. It is big enough to make us forget that we are in a high-density city, but as an ecological solution to many urban issues like air and water pollution and climate change, the impact that the Central Park can make is very small. Many landscape architecture students today want to save the world through the discipline, but some people think there is very little we can do with design. What do you think we can do and cannot do, as landscape architects?
This is a very big question. First, the profession can and must expand into new territory, beyond just parks and urban spaces in rich cities. That new territory should be directly relevant to the issues of climate change and social justice. How we do that as a profession in the 21st century is for individuals, practices, and universities to work out in their own ways. But it doesn’t mean just getting bigger: ecological and social issues operate at all scales and everything matters and everything is connected. Something like Central Park can change the way millions of people think and behave. What it looks like and what functions it performs can send a powerful message around the world.

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