Ethics and Aesthetics of Landscape, by Meredith L. Miller

The growth of systems thinking in postwar American architecture engendered a new kind of architectural aesthetics, one grounded not in perceptual wholes but rather in complex, organic, and distinctly unvisualizable forms; this essay explores this lineage with a focus on interior environments that produce the effect of boundlessness (an aesthetics of architectural erasure) within the confines of hard architectural boundaries. Drawing from examples of corporate and retail interiors (e.g., Roche+Dinkeloo’s Cummins Headquarters, Vitor Gruen’s Southdale shopping center and John Portman’s Hyatt Regency complex), I will discuss the formation of new types of enclosed and highly controlled atmospheres, calibrated for specific types of activities and a smooth exchange of business and commerce.

Although this research is hybrid in form—relying simultaneously on the discourses of architecture and landscape—this paper is being submitted to the landscape session, since I argue that these cross-disciplinary exchanges have generated new spatial paradigms whose aesthetic readings resist purely architectural interpretation. Techniques of landscape have certainly influenced architecture’s organizational logics (horizontal expansion, indeterminate programming, surface connectivity), but moreover, the aesthetic regimes associated with landscape have been reinvented on the inside—artificial natures naturalized, atmospheres made programmatic. In these projects, landscape strategies provide an organizational paradigm for leveraging repetition and openness in the name of alleviating the hegemonic, flattening effects of the functional requirements brought on by the architectural typologies of late capitalism. Thus the ethos of corporate commerce is revisited and complicated through these interdisciplinary aesthetic borrowings.

My primary claim is that this process of translation is recursive, such that these new architectural interiors have since conditioned our contemporary expectations of exterior landscapes and, by extension, our very attitudes toward nature. Based in a reading of Peter Galison’s notion of the “landscape of exclusion,” I will describe ideas about nature and the large-scale interior as counter-definitional constructs that that continue to reverberate; the repercussions of this reversible polarity will be demonstrated through an analysis of select projects (from the 1970s to the present), particularly the work of Junya Ishigami. In the building he designed for Kanagawa University, informally dispersed interior elements set up a correlation of individual and collective that is open and unstable compared to Roche’s office landscape.

Here, environment offers a spatial paradigm that embraces ambiguity, challenging conclusive interpretations and a definitive sense of location. But it is far from aesthetically neutral or functionally inert. By detouring through more experimental instances of controlled environments (e.g., Biosphere II and Buckminster Fuller’s Cloud 9s), I will discuss a particular trajectory of environmental thinking that saw architecture as a means of containing a reconfigured nature, and that had an influence on architectural production, especially innovations of the building envelope. But these envelopes—architectural lines that delineate realms of exclusion from the more contingent environment—are continually transgressed. This claim is perhaps most consequential within the “endless” interiors of architecture, where the non-visual and the non-figurative dominate experience, in ways that need to be more consciously attended to (in the case of Gruen’s shopping enclaves) and put toward better use (as drawn from Ishigami’s participatory environments), to promote a more critical understanding of the ways in which “environment” marshals certain cultural notions about the natural world into the architectural landscapes of everyday life.

Meredith L. Miller, University of Michigan, USA

Harvard Citation Guide: Miller, M. (2012) Ethics and Aesthetics of Landscape, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 20 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

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