‘If 19th century culture was shaped by the novel, and 21st century culture by cinema, then the culture of the 21st century will be shaped by the interface’. In opening his 2010 TED talk, Aaron Koblin raises a sentiment which has interesting implications for landscape architecture.

Culture is a regular feature in modern definitions of landscape architecture, appearing as a sort of foundational element alongside environmental concepts and physical processes.

Theoretical works by Guallart or Girot describe culture/nature as inseparable, a conjoined system where nothing is natural or artificial, therefore could we assume culture is landscape architecture?

Returning to the idea of culture being shaped by interface, our research proposes that studying different types of interface should reveal a transforming edge to the way in which people are relating to and interacting with landscape.

Our chosen experimental interface has people interacting with vast algorithmically generated worlds of cubed materials; Minecraft employs a blocky approximation of landscapes and ecosystems to capture the attention of 7. 3million players. The approach is intrinsically related to landscape architecture; users shape the surface by destroying and relocating blocks, making it more habitable, productive or aesthetically pleasing for their pixelated self. 

Maungarei Mount Wellington provides a real site which meets certain criteria - pronounced topography, intersecting ‘urban biomes’ and definite potential to perform an energetic role within it’s developing surrounds. We are proposing that a game level of the mountain could be used to explore a new type of information gathering. How will users behave, what will they create - and will this harness a kind of lay-mans ‘design opinion’ about the site?

The process began with a greyscale height map constructed in GIS, which produced a rough topography including water tables for the Pakuranga estuary, Panmure basin and nearby quarry wetlands. We then literally hand detailed the model, adding surface objects, materials, laying roads and populating the villages, all over a glass of red near the end of a working day.

 Additions of instructional sign posting, tools, and material blocks to undertake construction upon the mountain bought the model to a point where it could be issued to test subjects. It’s still early days, but at this point we have received designs for an art gallery within the volcanic cone, a futuristic night club perched atop the maunga, hand-glider launch pads, and a glass extension to the peak.

It’s not our intention to take these concepts at face value and launch into feasibility studies, but rather to weigh up the value of a technique which can collect thousands of spatial opinions.

You can think of it as an advanced form of community consultation where survey forms, hearings and public forums are replaced with pixelated tools, unrestrained physics and explosives. Or you can think of it as a version of generative design where ‘turtles’ are replaced by real test subjects whose behaviour can appear just as complex.

Either way Xsection2012 need an answer to their question, Landscape architecture is culture-produced and crowd-sourced.

Research by Ethan Reid and Jamie Stronge of Changespace