Unfamiliar territory – Archiprix 2018 second prize

Barbara Prezelj’s graduation project ‘Unfamiliar territory: An approach to landscapes abandoned by their users’, spans 300 years and critically reflects on conventional landscape transformations of contaminated sites.

Unfamiliar territory. A transitory ‘perspective image’ of the underground gypsum mine after mining activities have stopped or been interrupted.

Why this subject?
Unfamiliar Territory with its alternative take on design methodologies problematizes landscape design intervention as an instrument of control, especially in times and places of tension. It attempts to demonstrate ways in which we could deal with complex landscapes or places of friction around us without reducing their complexity or eliminating their creative potential for the sake of ‘familiarization’. More specifically, the project deals with disturbed sites and a specific site of interest – Fort de Vaujours, an abandoned nuclear area near Paris.

Who or what inspired you?
Ferrari’s Garden (Štanjel, Slovenia), Villa Cecilia Gardens (Lapeña & Torres), Gilles Clement, Paul Chan, Marcel Duchamp, Jože Plečnik, Isamu Noguchi

What was the key moment?
A trip to Iceland that showed me what landscape can do.

Potential site development in 2047 (part of the design proposition).

Project – Projecttekst Nederlands
This graduation project seeks to apply architectural landscape interventions as a tool to exercise control, particularly in troubled times and at troubled places. The site chosen for this purpose is Fort de Vaujours, an abandoned uranium-contaminated area near Paris where gypsum is to be mined in the future.

Armed with a theoretical survey of the concepts of unfamiliarity and territory, the project looks at the landscape as a complex and metastable system. First, it proposes reading landscape in another way and taking a different view of the on-site characteristics, design interventions and landscape experience. Next, the project applies the received insights to the analysis and the design.

Tower providing access to the old gypsum quarry, also used as gardeners’ storage space.

The project make proposals about the way we could combine our production with places of friction, or, to be more precise, with our unfamiliarity with disturbed areas. This must be done without reducing their complexity or eliminating their creative potential to create a familiar ambience. With the great need these days for new approaches to contaminated sites, the project critically reflects on conventional landscape transformations of such places. Rejecting the fallacies that drive instant solutions, it presents instead a performative design approach that combines the objective properties of the landscape with its cultural eloquence. Ultimately the goal is to achieve a multiple of affective encounters that activate the landscape’s potentials both ethically and politically. This means that unlike current contaminated land clearance techniques, the proposed landscape intervention is not planned and not intended to have an immediate effect. In fact, a successful clearance operation has most impact in the long term.

The design proposition moves from designing a stable portrayal of the landscape, or a well-defined plan, to designing a theme, a performance, a constant action in time. Consequently, the design strategy is focused on detailed materialization and the functional and affective development of parts of the design on one hand and on potential scenarios of landscape change on the other. These potential scenarios are based in terms of strategy on planning multiple events over time (the project spans 300 years). In the initial phase, designing is regarded as a transitory activity but is later incorporated into a complex design process where the actors involved are not just people. The future development of the site is not dictated beforehand but hinted at instead. Aside from the proposed design interventions, the development is led by a group of gardeners who enter into direct interaction with the dynamics of the landscape and actively take part in a continuous project of stimulating the landscape’s diversity.

More information about the project:
Barbara Prezelj, Unfamiliar territory: alternative landscape reading of disturbed sites’ particularities, in Spool, vol 3 no 2

A group of gardeners actively guides and responds to the site’s development.

Barbara Prezelj – websiteemail
Technische Universiteit Delft / Faculteit Bouwkunde
Inge Bobbink, Heidi Sohn
Start of graduation project
September 2015
End of graduation project
November 2016

What are you doing now
I Work in a landscape architecture office in London and continuing a few writing/research projects.

What do you hope to achieve as a designer in the future
Read, think, and make more things.

The jury:
Op basis van een diepgaande verkenning ontwikkelt ze als een componist op uiterst knappe wijze een proces waarbij ze 300 jaar vooruitkijkt. Het fascinerende plan is in eerste instantie moeilijk te doorgronden. Dat komt mede omdat de ontwerpster niet een eindbeeld ontwerpt waar naar toegewerkt wordt. Ze geeft wel hints in de vorm van een aantal interventies. […] De vernieuwende landschapsarchitectonische benadering brengt een proces op gang waarbij door de tijd heen steeds weer andere actoren de toekomstige ontwikkelingen bepalen. Het gedurfde plan zet een nieuwe stap in het denken over de ontwikkeling van een landschap op de lange termijn.