L A N D script _ data S C A P E | ‘Digital’ Agency within Manufactured Territories
New technologies constantly change and re-shape the way we think, design and produce our environments and territories. Our impulse to control the surroundings in which we are immersed and live has triggered many of the innovations in technologies and methods that are now widely available to designers today. The invention of geometry, for instance, was triggered by the necessity to provide certainty to the distribution, property and taxation of productive land around the Nile that shifted with every annual flooding – fact on which the fertility of the land and thus, their living also depended (Gardner 2009). More recently, the development of contemporary cartography, concomitant of the emergence of innovative surveying tools, provides a reliable technical tool for states and governments to ensure the control and delimitation of land, resources and management of territories within and beyond their frontiers.
Along these lines, digital cartographic tools provide precise and accurate readings of the world based on their capacity to seamlessly handle and assemble vast amounts of information from multiple fields in the generation of territorial datascapes. Methodologies based on these innovative tools imply abstract systems of organization that provide frameworks to develop and script concrete interventions and management schemes into given territories. However, the processing capabilities of digital technologies have stressed the accuracy and objectiveness of information. The apparent objectiveness, efficiency and pragmatism of these methodological approaches have detached these technologies from its purpose, while the procedural rigour has accentuated the scientific claims of design in the validation of management decisions. On this basis, we argue that this operative framework blurs and questions the role of the designer, and its capacity to engage with territories and the dynamics that shape them. In these conditions, digital tools can exacerbate designer’s detachment from contemporary conditions (as a mere observer) whilst diminishing its direct participation and implication from reality.
This essay attempts to put forward alternative and novel ways to handle the potential of digital tools, both from the point of view of analysis and intervention, addressing the question of the designer’s agency within the scope of what we define as landscape and territorial projects. In order to do that, it proposes the re-engagement of designers in the idea of land-script and datas-capes, as a way forward to acknowledge the power of digital tools in the hands of the creative and critical stance of the designer. Both land-script and data-scapes share common etymological roots with landscape. From a broader understanding of the latter, as a social and cultural construct, we intend to re-articulate our relation to the former terms.
Excerpt from: L A N D script _ data S C A P E | ‘Digital’ Agency within Manufactured Territories, in ‘Innovations in Landscape Architecture’ J. Anderson and D. Ortega, eds., Routledge, 2016