There’s an expression in Italian, mettere in gioco, which translates as “put into play”. Beyond its primary acceptance as applicable to the world of sports and games, it is also used with the meaning of “put to work”, or “cause to act”; and it can also mean “put up for stake” or “call into question”. The semantic range of the expression is especially interesting when considered from the point of view of design and what we put into play when we experiment with instruments and processes for the transformation and reinvention – in visu or in situ – of everyday landscapes.
The European Landscape Convention explicitly refers to everyday landscapes in its preamble and Article 2 of Chapter I, and yet what these everyday landscapes are, and what they’re supposed to do, are matters of controversy.
“Everyday” is used of acts and occurrences that we do or see habitually; so, in the figurative sense, it means normal, or ordinary. And with a little poetic licence, we can use the word in a more extended – and profound – sense to denote “necessary for survival”. Everyday landscapes, then, are those places where we live, work or pass through on a habitual basis – individually or as members of a community. But they also designate living spaces of a more heterogeneous nature, shaped by the customs, outlooks and daily practices of their inhabitants. They belong above all to a tactile, perceptible dimension marked by recurrent rhythms, by choreographies which can be spontaneous or strictly codified, by physical encounters with real places. We can experience these landscapes, in the same arc of everyday time, not only in heritage sites and places of exceptional scenic value, but also in ordinary and even degraded locations: places whose aesthetic identity is hard to grasp or has been blighted by injudicious transformation. In both cases (and also in light of the lessons learned in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the rediscovery of the primordial role played by open spaces and accessible nature in our individual and collective well-being), management of our everyday landscapes requires the development of new interpretative templates and a richer design vocabulary.
“The landscape we inhabit brings us into the world in a literal sense, because we become different persons depending on the landscape that surrounds us. Yet the inverse holds too: we humans bring the landscapes we inhabit into the world via our actions and our choices,” maintains the philosopher Luca Mori, who also stresses the essential role of the imagination: “Since every choice entails a comparison between what is and what isn’t yet (or what will no longer be), the quality of our choices depends on the quality of the imagination we put into those choices.”
This ability to imagine, to put a variety of options into play – in an attitude which implies receptiveness to the unexpected, the readiness to experiment and interact creatively with reality, the other, the elsewhere – is essential if we are to transform the landscapes of everyday life in a conscious and responsible fashion. Transformations which can perhaps only be operated in a temporary form, revealing hidden strata previously flattened out by habit, or cultivating the poetic potential of elusive realities. Embracing the ephemeral and the transitory is fundamental when it comes to designing the landscape and thereby making everyday life more desirable: for it trains our aesthetic eye and makes us athletes of the imagination.