This “Messy” issue is timely, considering municipalities across the country are reevaluating acceptable property maintenance standards. “Messy” landscape architecture recalls the one constant in physics: entropy.
But entropy is not, in itself, messiness. It is a state of perceived disarray. It’s when a project evolves that entropy sets in. You find there are subtleties that need tweaking, on site or in the office, which become distractions from the original proposal.
When I studied landscape architecture at the University of Manitoba under Charlie Thomsen, I learned his philosophy of naturalized landscapes as a resilient form of environmental design. He transformed his suburban front yard into such a landscape. Trees, shrubs, and architectural features appeared to be placed randomly in what the neighbours referred to as a haphazard, weedy mess. But it had no weeds—he controlled those. The neighbours were referring to native grasses and wildflowers—allowed to create their own structure in an entropic manner
I once saw a comparison of office structures at a conference. One showed the traditional pyramid structure, with few executives at the top and many staff at the bottom, all with specific roles and a reporting structure. In the alternate model, the team was a messy, amoebic shape with principals, manager, and staff all interacting, sharing resources and talents in all projects and decisions. I tend to like the latter model. It better demonstrates what landscape architecture is and reflects British theoretical physicist Geoffrey West’s scientific perspective of what cities are:
“We form cities in order to enhance interaction, to facilitate growth, wealth creation, ideas, innovation, but in so doing, we create, from a physicist’s viewpoint, entropy.”
He emphasizes that messiness is what attracts us to cities. But by creating order in one place, you unintentionally create disorder in another, known as a complex adaptive system.
Landscape architects, like other design professions, create these Complex Adaptive Systems. But unlike other professions, we work with the natural world and recognize change is an important process in design.
As landscape architects, we ensure the natural laws of physics through our “controlled” designs, while maintaining the natural “messiness” of entropy. At the same time, we continue to create a world where beauty, functionality, and environmental consciousness intertwine seamlessly.