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Sublime flooding of the Maniny brownfield

Graduation work by Zuzana Jančovičová

This work aims to recreate the imbalanced relationship between the city and its river by providing sustainable flood mitigation and a brownfield redevelopment solution. Through an intuitive exploration of natural processes and psychosomatic concern of an individual, the appearances of designed elements afford an embodied landscape experience of prevailing potential of flood danger. It is supposed that the performance of the sublime appearance has the best ability in altering one´s perception and psychological state and thus provoke those who encounter it to become more sensitive to what landscape affords in their immediate everyday atmospheres

Philosophical standpoint When we look at the design challenges current landscape architecture has to deal with (e.g. climate change, soil degradation, depletion of natural resource, social inequality etc.), it is no wonder that the ecological approach to design dominates our discipline today. It might seem that ecological restoration and elimination of human impacts on the environment became the main tasks of landscape architecture. However, it is important to expand the sustainability concept beyond the ecological realm into cultural sphere for landscapes to be truly sustainable (Meyer, 2008), because culture changes landscapes and culture is embodied by landscapes (Nassauer, 1995). We are in a dynamic relationship with our environment where the constant action and reaction between bodily and mental conditions take place. Our responses to it are determined by the individual landscape experience and its felt quality is an instrumental in motivating, maintaining, changing and terminating our everyday interactions with landscape (Karmanov, 2009). As many experts argue, ultimately human behaviour has to change in order to reduce the environmental impact (Jacobs, 2012). Therefore aesthetics, as performance of appearance and culture at the level of the individual comes into scope.

Our design decisions directly influence people’s life in its all states of being, from physical and political realms to the realm of inner reality of an individual. The landscape’s psychological effects on human beings and its metaphysical reference to things behind time and place should not be ignored while referring to the sustainable designs. It is important to consider design as a tool which can help with restructuring priorities and values by challenging human perception because appearance of landscape communicates. The consideration of individual aesthetic experiences in the sustainability discourse can help to design in such a way to alter individual consciousness and thus to lead to recognition, empathy, love respect and care for the environment (Meyer, 2008).

Fig.1.: Simplified diagram depicts the process of aesthetic appreciation

Understanding of the contemporary sublime

Fig.2.: The schematic illustration of the Kantian distinction between the aesthetic categories of beautiful and sublime. The figure refers to the position between an object (a source) and a subject (an appreciator) of aesthetic appreciation.

The concept of the sublime has been in evolution since the classical era, as our relationship with and attitude towards nature has been changing. Because of the elusive character of the sublime, there exist variations in its interpretations and notion on the source of such an extraordinary experience. To be able to define the 21st century sublime, we have to have a closer look at the Kantian distinction between the beautiful and the sublime. He describes the aesthetic categories based on the relationship between the object and the subject of the aesthetic appreciation (Fig.2). The object of aesthetic appreciation can be appointed as beautiful, when the appreciator has the impression that what is perceived is known, familiar and perceivable. On the contrary, the Kantian sublime is associated with the struggle of nature’s formlessness (Brady, 2003) and the unknown. The source of the sublime might not be a present or palpable object; however the appreciator is still able of subjective response. The spring of the sublime is a phenomenon, which we cannot sense or comprehend, the wonder which exceeds the ordinary, is endless, too complex or self-organized in a non-human scale (Roncken, forthcoming). We are overwhelmed. To deal with such a struggle we have to use our own imagination to resolve what is absent to classify the situation. In other words, the current definition of sublime aesthetics refers to the absence in perception, the temporal state of incapacity of understanding where full access to fantasy and imagination is needed in order to deal with growing complexity of our landscapes. The imaginative capacity connected to the sublime sensation enlarges meaning and value of the perceived landscape and thus contributes to sustainable development through personal understanding. It is an instrument in making of meaning, where meaning relates to our relationship, attachment and existence. Meaning becomes the way to connect sense of place to the sense of self (Roncken, forthcoming).

Identifying the unknown

Fig.3.: Impact of the 2002 flood (Q2002= 5160 m3/s) on Maniny brownfield and its adjacent neighborhoods ©

Because to design for and with the sublime is to design for and with the unpresentable/ unknown, understanding of the context is the major part in identifying the potential source of the sublime sensation. The flood-prone Maniny brownfield (130 ha) has become a laboratory ground on which ideas on the contemporary sublime were tested. It is a void, a formal dump area situated on river floodplain approximately 4 km from the historical city centre of Prague (Czech Republic). Present derelict condition of the place is a result of natural disaster of the 2002 flooding (Fig.3). It was an outcome of unfortunate collusion of two flood waves and historical man-induced changes into natural riverbed of the Moldau River. Over a period of 2 centuries, the natural river stream in the location of Maniny was changed rapidly, from the floodplain with many natural streams to straighten riverbed with four blind veins. Because climate is changing, Prague lives in constant risk of even greater floods, when we simply cannot predict nor guarantee what form or shape is needed to ensure the ideal safety performance. Based on the current and historical flood records, the notion of the potential danger of flooding can be understood as the unknown aspect in the city of Prague, the precondition of the sublime sensation.

Synthesis Since the unpredictable legacy of flood danger needs to be made tangible in order to design with it, the following methods provided the logical triangulation between the appointed brownfield area, theory and design.

Fig.4: Picture reduction.1st step- Textures- Detailed drawing depicts landscape structure and attributes. 2nd step – Forms- Line drawing reveals spatial composition and relationship between different landscape elements. 3rd step – Volumes- Inverted representation of existing volumes underlies dominant landscape elements

The method of picture reduction served as a mean of reading and understanding the devastated landscape of Maniny brownfield through its decomposition. This analytical tool of three step diminishment of visual was an investigation into structural landscape qualities and formal properties of the area, where the lack of legibility, contrast, fragmentation and openness were indicated as important features of the location.

Fig.5: Imaginary collage. It is interplay between real and imaginary, the instrument in making of meaning by stretching one´s imagination.

Further on, dominant landscape elements (e.g. ruins, bridge, dam etc.) indicated during the picture reduction, have become foundation for imaginary collages. This method is intuitive, context related exploration of concepts, symbols and metaphors related to the imagery of future floods. In the process of their creation the real and imaginary merged together. By connecting these two phenomena, the peculiar personal view and original perspectives rise as the use of collages and metaphors informed new meanings. The precedent into the flood aesthetics brought tangible qualities of the landscape to conceptual terms of flux, dynamics, absence and transition where bride, dam, wall, mirror, ruin, wilderness etc. became the most prominent symbols of water presence in context of Maniny. Because to design is to take an action, the open-ended verb list (Fig. 6) based on sublime characteristics of Maniny brownfield inspired strategies in further design.

Fig.6.: Verb list of action

Maniny archipelago Subsequently, after identification of important landscape qualities, symbols and metaphors, the flood aesthetics were translated into a pragmatic design solution. With the references to the sublime theory and flood mitigation requirements, Leap into the void (inspired by Yves Klein, 1960) became a general design narrative that prompted investigation into the concept of absence. It served as an opportunity for counterpointing a general trend of the urban densification at the expense of safety in Prague. Although the archipelago is a group of islands lying in the extensive ecological and cultural matrix of the city, its physical context, surrounded by water, resembles isolation, distance and detachment.

Fig.7.: Master plan

The proposed design solution is simple but monumental through its scale. The Maniny archipelago is a park area that resonates natural might, where unchained natural powers expand freely and engage with cultural dynamics in unexpected ways. Next to the opening of Vltava´s bottleneck and blue network recreation, the established riparian biotopes absorb, hold and slow down excess water and thus help mitigate consequences of flood events. The system of seven islands is made easily accessible by public transportation and is reconnected with a new bike path system. The twelve bridges represent the acknowledged symbols of water, important design landmarks and inseparable part of Prague´s identity. The small scale design interventions such as Light installation (Fig.8) or Inner gardens (Fig.10) enhance the notion of water phenomena by direct and/or indirect perception of their natural dynamics and seasonality. They provide full variety of positive and negative sensations and associations, often linked to the memory and time.

Fig. 8.: The installation is powered by the water energy of the adjacent river and thus provides an indirect experience of the Vltava where the intensity of the light changes depending on the force of actual water current. The art installation lightens up brighter with the stronger water flow and vice versa. The indirectness of the object makes observer use his/her imagination in resolving the hidden clue.

Fig. 9.: The inaccessible wilderness of Bird’s Island represents an ideal nesting place for birds and other small animals. The valuable wetlands and riparian vegetation found itself in the inner urban structures, where two phenomena of nature and urbanity create strong juxtaposition. This island is designed to be inaccessible for visitors but possible to appreciate from a distance.

Fig.10.: The bare landscape and the inner gardens of Maniny Island are investigations into the absence of maintenance. The main design interventions are applied at the scale of decaying buildings. The abandoned buildings are transformed into the public inner gardens, where visitors are directly exposed to water dynamic of fluctuation.

Conclusions With transformation through process and perception, natural dynamics of the Moldau River have been revealed in the urban context of Prague. The Maniny archipelago is a landscape open for interpretation, where appreciators have freedom to establish their own meaning and connection with the environment.

The sublime in the 21st century is a temporal state of incapacity of understanding where full access to instinct through fantasy and imagination is needed in order to deal with growing complexity of our landscapes. Contemporary sublime is an aesthetic sensation which allows us to gain knowledge and deeper understanding through fantastic and imaginative features. In other words, the acknowledgement of the sublime experience means acknowledgement of self.

Jacobs, M., (2006). The production of Mindscapes. A comprehensive theory of landscape experience. PhD. thesis, Wageningen University, Wageningen
Karmanov, D., (2009). Feeling the Landscape: Six Psychological Studies into Landscape Experience. PhD. Thesis, Wageningen: Wageningen University
Meyer, E. K., (2008). Sustaining beauty. The performance of appearance. A manifesto in three parts, in Journal of Landscape Architecture, 2008 (spring1), p. 6-23
Nassauer, J. I., (1995). Culture and changing landscape structure, in Landscape Ecology, vol. 10 no. 4, p. 229-237
Roncken, P. A., (forthcoming). Shades of Sublime. A Designerly Enquiry into the Anatomy of Aesthetic Sensations; Sixth version, Wageningen: Wageningen University, Landscape Architecture PhD-thesis concept
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