Walter Hood will be hosting the topos op-ed column “From the Edges” for the next four issues. In his first article here, the landscape architect and iconic expert talks about how a socially deprived section of the population is directly linked to dangerous urban spaces. We talked with Walter about his article, why he thinks American landscape architecture lacks empathy and why he is less interested in the social factors of landscape architecture.
Walter, you had this one project in New York City where you worked with G-Unit. What was the rapper 50 Cent’s opinion about landscape architecture?
Working on the project, the G-Unit Foundation was the working partner. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to meet 50, so I couldn’t ask him, but I will certainly give you an update if I get the chance.
Perfect. That might be the topic of your next op-ed column in topos. With topos 106, you have started your career as a topos contributor. You will write four articles for us. Why are you contributing to topos?
It’s a great platform to speak globally. I’m excited to bring a more diverse voice to topos, one where culture is highlighted. topos also provides a platform to speak globally about the more diverse concerns of landscape architecture and the communities that we want to empower and provide services to.
In your first “From the Edges” in our magazine you state that in our current political environment, the demonization of people through race and landscape is at its highest level. What did it used to be like? And, what has changed?
The demonization of race through landscape has always existed. It has only been through various lenses that we’ve been able to talk about the impact it has on communities throughout the world, beginning with colonization, continuing through civil rights, and currently through immigration policies worldwide. The backdrop has become ever more important, i.e. the landscape.
In your projects, you constantly deal with social issues. Is there a time (and place) when landscape architecture should not be political?
Landscape is political. It has always been. Landscapes are never neutral. I am less interested in social factors (the programming and maintenance of particular uses and activities). I am more interested in the cultural settings and the interrelationships and diverse patterns and practices that emanate from people living in a particular environment.
One of your five concepts of creating space is “empathy”. How empathetic is American landscape architecture at this moment?
Not very. At this moment there is more of an interest in solving global issues than dealing with the local ones. At the global level, people and place are seen as abstract, whereas at the local level, they are real. Issues around poverty, homelessness, marginality, and disinvestment pervade our urban landscapes.
You have worked in the field of landscape architecture for over 30 years. Is there still anything you just cannot understand?
I’ve had my own practice for 25 years now, and I’m still shocked at being the only black person in the room.
Where will you be in ten years? I would love to be on a hilltop somewhere, painting.
Walter Hood is the Creative Director and Founder of Hood Design Studio in Oakland, CA and professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley. He lectures on professional and theoretical projects nationally and internationally. Hood Design Studio is a tripartite practice, working across art + fabrication, design + landscape, and research + urbanism.