IW 2 – Frédéric Rossano

Enise Burcu: I am running the student blog of MAS LA where the news, work of the students are published. Besides the regular updates I recently started to add interviews that are done with teaching team. We had a great workshop with you. However we don’t know you very well. Can you tell us your background and research that you are involved in?

Frédéric Rossano: I graduated at the Versailles School of Landscape Architecture. I have been working since as a landscape architect and urban designer. In the past years, I was associate for France at KCAP Architects and Planners in Rotterdam and Zurich, and teaching landscape design at the chair of Professor Girot. Since October I am conducting a PHD research on “flood scapes”, landscapes designed to mitigate and sustain flood events.

EB: Are you focusing on certain cases?

FR: An aspect of my research is to investigate selected projects that are currently being implemented in Western Europe, Switzerland, Holland, France and Germany. I try to understand how they were implemented, how they work, which processes made them possible and which cultural background made flood acceptable in landscape architecture.

EB: Flood is the key issue in our project site too. Do you do this workshop every year?

FR: I was mostly teaching regular semester studios in the previous years, indeed mostly related to waterscapes and flood management  It is actually the first time I lead such a short workshop. It was an interesting experience.

EB: That was interesting for us too. Until now we have analyzed the site while discovering new analysis methods. The focus was much more in the tools indeed. And now is the time to think for design. You started by giving a glance to landscape history in Europe questioning how it had been perceived. We ended up with tangible proposals if not concrete. What was your intention regarding to the workshop?

FR: The ambition was not to give a direction to your design approach – I believe this is an individual thing- but to offer multiple approaches to landscape. What I tried to do is on one hand to give as many angles as possible, including a cultural point of view – historical as well as contemporary, with the films you saw. At the same time I tried to involve you personally as much as I am involved in thinking of this landscape as a whole. This was meant on the collective level – thinking of the society or the people that live and pass there, and on the level of your own intentions as designers regarding these spaces.

EB: Did you already know the site before?

FR: No I didn’t. And actually that made it even richer, at least for me! I started the workshop knowing less than you did about the site. This, I think, stimulated the dialogue between us, as I wanted to listen to you as much I wanted you to listen to me. That is much more productive relationship than a traditional teacher-student relationship.

EB: Now you have an insight. What would you recommend before we dive into the design process?

FR: I was impressed by the roughness of the site. I grew up in Alps -a small valley near Grenoble- so I had a bit of an idea.

EB: Was it flooded there?

FR: Well actually I remember the places where I used to play as a kid, like the little streams going down from the mountains close to my grandparents’ house. It flooded its shores every year. The road was often cut by land slides and rocks would fall down into the valley every now and then. All these events were accepted, as well as the fact that the mountains were a relatively dangerous place to live, but that wouldn’t hold me from going and playing around. I think that is a key aspect of living in such an environment. It is not just beautiful and picturesque but it is also a though place. Although the image that is sold from the Alps is a very peaceful and enjoyable one, living there twelve months a year is a challenge.

As a designer I would recommend to be as though as this landscape is, and transform it accepting that it has already been transformed. Natural forces are extremely powerful here, and you need to have powerful answers to make it sustainable.

EB: You say “Compete with the Alps”. I must say that I was thinking of a totally opposite approach. This is perhaps due to my cultural background and the place where I grew up. I feel like I cannot fight against to this landscape as a designer so my proposals would be being in a peace with rather than forcefully interfering it.

FR: The problem is that if you do not fight you leave! These areas are basically not suitable for living. Maybe it is not very known but 100-150 years ago Switzerland was an extremely poor country. It was not very productive; it was very hard to grow something, hard to live and build – a beautiful place but not an easy place to live and work. I think Switzerland has become what it is now thanks to very strong interventions that turned it into a very productive and livable country. But you cannot stop working on it, you have to keep on working because the mountain keeps on falling down, sedimentation goes on, climate changes… There are many issues you cannot just ignore and sit and enjoy the landscape. You have to make it constantly inhabitable.

I have the feeling all the participants of the workshop have different feelings about it. That is the part of the interesting thing in a group setting. You get kind of a kaleidoscope of impressions and perceptions. Actually I wish we had more time to get to know each other. For instance, I would be curious to know how many of you still have roots in the countryside, how many of you experienced strong natural environments. I suggested reconstructing the site inside the studio space because I think the physicality of the landscape is a domain that you should be sensitive to, and perceive the landscape also with your body. Landscape is also a question of scale, temperature, vision. If you manage to keep your physical relationship with the landscape and at the same time develop very
clever technological tools, you have the best of both. Another aspect is that design has a lot to do with will, personal will. A part of your will is based on your experience.

EB: We will see what is coming out in the following months. Thank you very much Frederic for the interview and also eye opening workshop.