MOISTURE: Reflections on Andreas Suchantke's Landscape as Ecosystem/Landscape as Organism and Benton MacKaye's Landscape as Fluvial System

According to Andreas Suchantke, noted scholar of Steiner and Goethe, the conceptual jump from landscape as 'ecosystem' to landscape as 'organism' is the path to the right framework of observation. Claiming in his book, Eco-Geography: What We See When We Look at Landscapes, that the distinguishing features of an organism can be applied at the level of ecosystem, Suchantke informs us that "ecosystems are the environment, and when they are stable, all substances are caught up in the cycles of assimilation, excretion, and re-assimilation." Taking Suchantke's previous statement one step further, without excluding aspects of the non-living or non-organic world, we will arrive at a way to observe the balance and complexities of an electronically embedded ecosystem/network.

Suchantke believing that an ecosystem "feeds on water," proposes that any integrated system designed to provide for the flow of water, both in and out, will be a system sympathetic and open to other simultaneous processes. A system able to keep water moving through it, while monitoring its own use of that element, will be the self-aware organism. Such an organism will be able to change its behavior patterns, and augment its own physicality to align itself with climatic conditions.

The Ecosystem as Organism described by Suchantke includes the following processes: 1. Respiration (including the stream of CO2 emanating from soil as well as the large-scale exchange of oxygen). 2. Thermal Regulation (including the uptake of solar energy). 3. Nutrition (intake of substance from the environment). 4. Decomposition (morphologic and somatic balance). 5. Conservation. 6. Growth.


The project executed on the MOISTURE site falls easily with Suchantke's 'Landscape As Organism' protocols. The site, fully engaged in the respiration process, integrates the flow of CO2 from its soil while its active evapotranspiration process rapidly evoles. Thermal regulation is both organic and inorganic. Solar energy is taken in by the plant material and from the on-site solar panel charging the logger/modem battery. The electronic nervous system is regulated by solar energy, as is the organic growth. The DriWater supplement is the main source of the site's nutrition, and the in/out flow of water throughout the system aids in the many additional processes like decomposition and conservation. Growth of the plant material is visible over time, and the site's microclimatic status should unfold as well, providing additional growth and decomposition at a faster rate.

New York writer and architect, Keller Easterling, has written extensively on early 20th century planner and terrestrial infrastructure designer, Benton MacKaye. In her book Organization Space: Highways, Landscapes, and Houses in America, Easterling details the thought processes of the self-proclaimed 'Geotechnician,' and his 1920s plans for development of the Appalachian Trail. MacKaye, a comprehensivist akin to Buckminster Fuller, formed opinions by observing industrial landscapes as “fluvial systems” that could be “diverted or constrained.” Paying close attention to the crucial ephemeral aspects of the physical landscape, MacKaye, informed by “biology, geology, mathematics, and network electronics”, used detailed descriptions of watersheds and ice flows to describe systems that “learned or adapted over time.”

Seeking out temporal markers within the physical landscape, MacKaye used such temporal notations to identify the various "elastic" boundary conditions of the site under observation. Seeing the Appalachian Trail as a “cross-environmental arrangement between several separate ecologies,” MacKaye envisioned the trail as a “differential filter” acting to organize the overlapping terrestrial and technological systems.

If MacKaye's protocols for the Appalachian Trail were based on timing and patterns of connectivity, the codes of the MOISTURE project are much the same. Even in the Mojave Desert, where the dynamics are slowed, the infrastructural organism is designed specifically for the ephemeral land-modifications carved into the 15-acre plot. And though not as intensive as one of Paolo Soleri's megastructural Arcologies, the MOISTURE site is set-up for an extended duration. Seen another way, the MOISTURE site is a layered, evolving fluvial process engineering within the property parameters.
MOISTURE As Organism & Fluvial System
MOISTURE is a program of patience. The 15-acre site is a nervous system of electronic sensors superimposed on a schematic of gardens being nourished by technologically modified H2O. The site as organism receives energy from the sun for power, storage, and photosynthesis. Water, as the crucial time element, moves in and out of the system.

In the interaction of water with the solid earth, not only its dissolving and grinding activity must be taken into account, but also its ability to deposit and arrange substances.
---Theodore Schwenk

MOISTURE is an activity in constant transition from physical artifacts to processes. The site is not an absolute, but instead a transforming space, decomposing and growing. Drying out extensively then hit by periodic rains.

MOISTURE is equal parts terrestrial infrastructure and landscape organism. It is an example of composite engineering designed with attention paid to the histories of land art, experimental desert agriculture, and rainwater harvest. MOISTURE is an active process conceptually framed by extended periods of time. The process, enacted from within the site's visual codes, is one intertwined with the region. The history of poor land management is realized and aligned with the technological codes in an effort to blend the non-living and living into a time-based system designed to feed on water.

Environments are not just containers, but are processes that change the content totally.
---Marshall McLuhan, 1967

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