Sapone / Precision wildland

Precision wildland Designing Third Landscape within the Smart City

Author: Sara Anna Sapone, PhD Candidate, Politecnico di Milano

Supervisor: Emilia Corradi, Prof., DAStU, Politecnico di Milano; Michela Longo, Prof., DENG, Politecnico di Milano; Sara Protasoni, Prof., DENG, Politecnico di Milano

Research stage: Initial doctoral stage

Category: Extended abstract

Focus the lens | Core of the research

Nowadays cities experience constant and apparently contrasting pull.

On one side, the idea is to conceive a new model, informed and shaped by the ubiquitous presence of immaterial networks and technological advancement. 1

At the same time, there is the need of a re-naturalization of cities and build environment, a will to reconnect with the environment to fulfill biophilic tendencies 2.

The keystone here is to move within this contrast to redefine how this dichotomy nature-technology could be a design tool. The research builds upon these notions to look to a specific kind of nature, the informal landscape 3, trough the means offered by the Smart City frame.

Is defined the idea of a “Precision wildland”, where similarly to precision agriculture this fragile and changeable entity may be mapped, managed, and altered to rule the complex transformation of abandoned sites and in particular railyards.

The output would be to provide operative indication and set a methodology to rule transformation process, using the Smart city tools to consider the habitat’s biology from the start and establish different degrees of intervention.


Figure 1: Keythemes-keywords

Search for meaning | State of the art and framework

The relationship between humankind and nature, although inherently interdependent, has always been characterized by the dominance of the first on the latter, frequently also in the theoretical debate. The advent of technology and the technocentric approach, although with notable exceptions, tended to indulge this view with a constantly growing domination of humankind on the biosphere, leading to the current age, the Anthropocene. 4

An instance of this view is the Smart city approach, an urban strategy where traditional physical grids and public services are improved trough digital systems and new technologies, managing the use of resources and enhancing the processes’ sustainability. 5

The components of this network are interconnected and regulated by protocols that collect and react to flows of data, dealing with problematic conditions whereas forecasting future outcomes. 1

In light of this, the research questions the traditional Smart city narrative 6, shaped by the politic and economic perspective, growing beyond its simplistic slogan, that advocate to the optimization of processes. To do so it reflects on a new paradigm that intertwines nature and technology. 4 7

To give a brief overview, we can broadly trace their understanding through time and the scientific debate.

Nature was understood both as ideal original state, a frightful force and as resource with a clear boundary, to shape and tame to fulfill humankind’s needs and believes. Today we live in the “age of Natural fabrication”, where nature is dealt with a scientific approach. 8 Nature and landscape have partially left their contemplative role as otherness to tackle issues like climate change, food scarcity, comfort condition, becoming a performative nature. 9

Research map.

Figure 2: Research map.

At the same time, as theorized by Gilles Clement 3 in his “third landscape”, it can’t be contained anymore by the boundaries of the garden but constitutes an anamorphic entity, aimed at maintaining biodiversity. It can be found in the abandoned and fringe area left alone by humans, where the unexpected can happen and biodiversity can thrive.

Moreover, in the current times the understanding of the network of nature shifted: from the Darwinian idea of plants as individuals competing with one another to the idea of a network that communicates to chemical signaling to preserve the plants community. 7 10

At the same time, Technology has historically been a tool to fulfill humankind needs and necessity, growing in importance through time 11 representing a way for humans to separate themselves from the environment. Today it is both material and immaterial, governing the physical and virtual space, but also able to relate material (mobility) and immaterial (social) networks.

In the recent years its action has grown more pervasive, inhabiting the digital sphere as a “ubiquitous entity”, 1 living inside the objects we interact with daily. It is a “constant and bidirectional extension in between the animate and inanimate beings.” 12

In this sense the technological network may start to communicate with the biological one 7 enabling us to understand and react to its needs.

On scale and impact | How to relate theory and design

From the outline of this theoretical frame, it’s defined this concept of a of “Precision wildland”.

In this process, similarly to what is already done with precision agriculture 13, the use of technology can collect and react to the information provided by the third landscape to serve specific needs.

The coexistence of wildland and city may imply constant and dynamic monitoring of this instable and fragile patches. 7 Thus, wildlands are seen with a design approach, looking at their biodiversity, aesthetic value, management, and ruled through the Smart City tools.

Through the definition of case studies, is explored the way different design and artistic experiences read the paradigm nature technology. Whether they relationship is more functional and design oriented or related to the communication of the aesthetic and expressive value of nature, the research may build upon these experiences to formulate a precise standpoint on this duality.

The goal is to conceive a project/process to manage the transformation of abandoned sites to include, from the initial stages, the consideration for the biological processes created by the preexistent spontaneous nature and allow the fruition of the area from the beginning.

It considers different approaches that enforce various level of intervention, depending on the design, usage, and security needs. The role of technology towards the management of the informal landscape may vary, going from a completely controlled environment to the untamed wilderness with little to no interventions.

The solution will be tested also considering the possible approaches to informal landscape in the scientific debate, in particular referring to the positions of Gilles Clement and Piet Oudolf. 14

Likewise, the question of time is crucial: climatic, natural, and anthropic events are not always predictable, 15 so the process needs to be adaptable and variable. The goal is to react and predict to different scenarios using a system of sensor and actuators, that read and forecast the needs of a wider territorial network. 1

The ideal set for this to happen are railway yards, as symbolic and factual possibility for the paradigm nature-technology to be implemented.

The research aims to use the innate intelligence of the railway network and the spontaneous pockets of wildland that may inhabit it. From the structure of the soil (slope, materiality, cabling underneath), the presence of spontaneous nature (unique combination of seeds transported by the trains) 16 to the dynamic of two opposite systems (linear/monodirectional line of the rail opposed to the mutable pockets of nature).

Atmospheric image of the paradigm nature-technology.

Figure 3: Atmospheric image of the paradigm nature-technology.

Due to this is possible to envision the use of technological tools (as remote sensing, agricultural drones, satellite crop monitoring etc.) to harvest the ecological and social potential of wildlands and create physical and digital networks and rule transformation processes.

The chosen context is Europe, where cities keep on rebuilding themself and there are unique instances of reuse of urban areas. There is a natural tendency to constantly “recycle” the city, that can be amplified with the Smart city tools.

Ultimately, the goal is to provide operative indication to design “performative wildlands”, setting a process to manage, control and preserve spontaneous nature according to specific needs while dealing with urban renewal processes.

Source of the images: Original drawings by the author.

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