Martha Schwartz on climate change: “We're past the point of no return”

by Magali Robathan | 04 Jul 2018

“No one is taking the issue of climate change seriously enough," US landscape architect Martha Schwartz has said, in an exclusive interview with CLADmag.

“It's the single most serious issue we're facing. Scientists say we're past the point of no return. Some bad things will have to happen before there is a change – there will be mass extinctions.”

Martha Schwartz's 'unusual and provocative' work includes Grand Canal Square in Dublin, Ireland; the Gifu Kitagata Gardens in Kitagata, Japan; and the I Hate Nature/Aluminati installation at Reyjavik Art Museum in Iceland.

Schwartz is a founding member of the Climate Change Action Group at the Landscape Architecture Foundation, and says the foundation is in discussions about how to get climate change on the curriculum at architecture schools. “Even at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design [where Schwartz is a tenured professor] it's not on the core curriculum,” she said.

Schwartz added that she is currently working on a city reforesting project with the Illinois Institute of Technology. “When cars become automated there will be more space on the roads, so city streets could be repurposed as forests,” she said. “This could cut back on energy use, as it would help to cool houses naturally, would soak up run off water and prevent flooding, as well as improving the environment. We're working on the metrics now, but I hope this could be a possibility one day.

“I’m not pessimistic, because I’m not a pessimist, but I think we’ll have to go to mitigation, when we start to suck carbon dioxide out of the air and we’ll have to revert to geo-engineering,” she added. “Future cities will have to adapt and mitigate."

In the interview, Schwartz also discussed her current projects, and looked back at her career, remembering the fallout to her first major breakthrough project, when she spent $100 landscaping her front garden with eight dozen bagels and purple fish gravel. The project made it on to the front page of the ASLA (American Society of Landscape Architects) magazine.

“They asked me to write an article on why bagels are good for gardens and I made a case, saying they’re very democratic, you don’t have to water them, they can be in the shade, they’re biodegradable,” she said. “This was in the early 1980s; landscape architecture was made up of boring, white males and the reaction was tectonic. There was hate mail, people stopped their subscriptions to the magazine, the editor was sacked!

“What I was trying to say was that landscape is an art form, and should be part of a contemporary discourse. It doesn’t have to be part of nature. It can by funny, cynical, ugly, emotional. There is picturesque faux nature everywhere, but we don’t have to do that.”

Martha Schwartz Partners' current projects include a new public plaza for the Jeju Dream Tower project in Korea and Vilnius Plaza in Lithunia.

Martha Schwartz 
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FEATURE: Interview – Martha Schwartz

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