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Designing wilderness as a phenomenological landscape: Design-directed research within the context of New Zealand’s conservation estate

Designing wilderness as a phenomenological landscape: Design-directed research within the context of New Zealand’s conservation estate
 Mick Abbott


School of Landscape Architecture, Lincoln University, Lincoln 7647, NEW ZEALAND.


This research operates at both the meeting of wilderness and landscape, and also landscape architecture and design-directed research. It applies a phenomenological understanding of landscape to the New Zealand conservation estate as a means to reconsider wilderness’ prevalent framing as an untouched ‘other’. It does this through enlisting the designerly imperative found within landscape architecture as the means by which to direct this research, and through landscopic investigations located in the artefacts of cooking, haptic qualities of walking, cartographies of wilderness and a phenomenological diagramming of landscape experience. The results of this layered programme of research are four-fold.

First, it finds that a landscopic interpretation of wilderness, and its tangible manifestation in New Zealand’s conservation estate, has the potential to suggest a greater depth of dialogue in which both ecological and cultural diversity might productively flourish.

Second, it finds that landscape architecture has significant potential to broaden both its relevance and types of productive outputs beyond its current intent to shape specific sites. It identifies that artefacts and representations – such as cookers, track markers and maps – can be creatively manipulated to design alternative formulations of landscape.

Third, through self-critique the potency of a programme of design-directed inquiry is demonstrated. In this dissertation new knowledge is revealed that extends the formal, diagrammatic and conceptual dimensions of wilderness, New Zealand’s conservation estate, and a phenomenological expression of landscape. This research illustrates the potential for design-directed research methods to be more widely adopted in ways that extend landscape architecture’s value to multi-disciplinary research.

Finally, it finds a pressing future direction for landscape architecture research is to further identify and develop techniques that diagram landscopic practice and performance with the same richness and detail that spatially derived descriptions currently offer. It is the considerable distance between the spoken and written poetics of phenomenology and the visual and diagrammatic articulation of these qualities that is identified as a problematic and also productive site for ongoing creative research.