Interview with Taktyk: Landscape Architecture is Not Enough

Landezine met with Taktyk at the XII Barcelona International Landscape Biennial in November 2023, at the same place where we made the first interview, seven years ago.

Taktyk’s work is a collage of collaborations showing sensitivity to the site, tackling its most vulnerable spots. Sébastien Penfornis and Thierry Kandjee seek through prospective visions, on-site works and curatorial practices to develop methods of opening a project by encouraging dialogue and inviting all parties to contribute. 7 years later, working with greater awareness, the conversation tackles the roles of design and designers, the paradox of making landscapes and the role of failures in their most recent works.

Landezine: Let’s start with the Parckfarm project since it’s 10 years from its inception. Did the community adopt it, how is it evolving?

Kandjee: You would expect this kind of project to become more resilient and more robust with time but paradoxically, it stays fragile. On one side Parckfarm is well recognised by authorities but on the site, people are struggling to find structural funding. However, this fragility means that they have to engage which keeps the project dynamic. In the beginning, Parckfarm was a small activation point in the middle of a vast open space and now it works as a fragment, a laboratory within a larger park system. One of the recent projects in this collage is the Pannenhuis Park, created by a talented landscape architect (Landinzicht, Bjorn Gielen).

Landezine: Someone would think the fragility comes not from the lack of funding but from its position in a more of a pass-by open space.

Kandjee: This space is sunken below the level of the city and it was not very accessible previously. Women in particular didn’t want to come here so the main challenge for Alive Architecture and Taktyk was to create the conditions for people to use and explore this space.

Today Parckfarm is on one of the main bike lines, connecting the north part of the city to the centre of Brussels.

Penfornis: The juxtaposition of different projects along this line also creates a different identity for Parckfarm.

Parckfarm, the role of designers as curators, working with fragility.

Landezine: In your text “UNdoing, UNdressing, UNlearning, DEsign” you say that “Design should replace a macro lens with a micro-lens. Zooming in enables a shift in perspective from designing what is right in front of you to revealing a peripheral presence” which seems counterintuitive since we like to see the big picture first to know where exactly to position our intervention. In a way, it also evokes “acupuncture urbanism”, a term mostly avoided among landscape architects.

Penfornis: I think a positive paradox of our practice is that we are interested in large-scale projects, park systems and such but we deeply trust in minimal actions. We search for the entry point, where do we start to activate the process of making? How do we start to engage with the site?

In the publication about 12 Seasons Park, there is a conversation between Thierry and me, about a shared vision of working in postindustrial areas and how to activate those spaces. After Parckfarm we were commissioned by the city of Paris, to orchestrate the transformation of abandoned railways into a new metropolitan park. In this context, we explored a set of small actions with the inhabitants. We relate this way of practising with the name Taktyk (as in my PhD ‘Playful Tactics, my practice as Hortus Ludi’), meaning to be tactical, recognising the necessity of being strategic as well. One of our sources of inspiration was the text by Michelle Provoost, Bottom-up is Not Enough, which testifies to the necessary balance between the bottom-up approach and support by the public authorities to guarantee good management of the project and its perenniality in time.

12 Seasons Park, three years of ephemeral events, experiments and tactical urbanism on a marginal site with local participants, kids, artists and designers.

Kandjee: I quite like acupuncture, I don’t think is a negative term. In Barcelona, the main tool for (urban) regeneration has been acupuncture all over the city. I find it very successful because each of the points was very specific to the locality and framed by a strategic vision. This approach is relevant in Brussels for example, where you cannot cooperate with a single power structure, that is decentralized, fragmented and in contradiction, so how do you act then? Little actions with strong effects are something we believe in. Our approach is to borrow from the art of improvisation and gardening. This was explored when I moved the office from Barcelona to Brussels, through a practice-led PhD (see Designing the Skeleton for/of Robust Landscapes).

Penfornis: The project process should be considered a research space, as an open field where the typology of the garden embodies a form of a laboratory.

Kandjee: Experimenting means “welcoming” failures. In the project The Crack we tried to replicate something that was previously successful. It didn’t work. The demand for the use of the space is very different to Parckfarm where the inhabitants already claimed the space. Here we had to generate a form of invitation for use. The second difference is the cooperative of this garden city limited the scope of the project implementation. Failure is interesting and worth talking about to improve knowledge of how to act. As a result, I now dedicate some energy to “use the project as a boomerang”, expecting that media coverage will influence the client.

The Crack, the interest of margins, spatially and in practice and allowing to being informed by failure

Penfornis: The publication of the 12 Season Park is also the result of a failure. Even if the narrative is beautiful, the transitional nature of the project didn’t work, and in the end, too few artefacts designed and built with neighbourhood children have been integrated into the new park. The book bears witness to this common narrative and is a trace of a process that embodies ephemeral devices rather than a transient urbanism project.

Landezine: But the ephemerality is at the core of your projects it seems. You also speak of creating a ritual which is also a very fragile and fleeting act.

Kandjee: I currently explore the design of rituals as a form of making landscapes. Recently, Simon Auperpin who will partner this year (we are becoming a trio!) introduced us to Manon Brulé, a feminist painter who enacts rituals to make contested spaces gender-inclusive, also inviting kids and families to join. We proposed an intervention to annually repaint a basketball court which is named after a man who was killed by the police. This would commemorate the event but also introduce new meanings, keeping the square alive, giving it a chance to evolve through time. The basketball court would transform into a space from which one can convey messages.

Landezine: But don’t you think that by painting the basketball court you are also creating a memorial monument which can be counterproductive for use?

Kandjee: Yes, it is a memorial but before all a palimpsest, it is a place of multiple forms of play that can carry more meanings. Doing so we deliberatly don’t want to erase other layers and simplify history.

Penfornis: It’s also bringing new people around the table.
You can have an intuition about what you want to prepare for them, but when you invite other people to cook and cocreate the menu, your dish could change. Slightly losing control of the design is an aspect that puts us at risk and opens us to new perspectives of work.

It’s a new model of engagement in our practice. We disappear a bit, we lose control to let the people in.

Landezine: Taktyk’s work is a perfect example of the absence of design. Perhaps we are in a post-design period. For example in Josaphat Park, you take poetic clues from the existing like “The mud, the donkey and the queer fountain” … 

Kandjee: The project is important because we invented the commission for a project that doesn’t exist. The trigger for this was a collaboration with a designer anthropologist, answering a call for a paper questioning the visuality of landscape. We started to look at embodiment as a tool to re-question the picturesque image of the site and realised we needed to change the scale to engage with wetness, through which the valley becomes more and more present.

I wouldn’t say it’s a post-design, we are expanding how we usually understand design and modes of practices.

Penfornis: Landscape architecture is not enough, in the sense that there is a necessity to expand and open the field.

Deconstructing the modernist picturesque regime of the park, Regrounding the Josaphat Park in the valley river system

Landezine: Design in terms of forms was in question.

Penfornis: We all like forms but this is not enough, we need to bring new expertise to build a common narrative. In the 12 Seasons Park, we had a wonderful encounter with Richard Sennett and the team from Theatrum Mundi. They considered the process of making this transitory park as a performance scenery – by combining all these elements I think you create a fantastic narrative for a project that would also interest an artist or inhabitants to perform in.

I have a very strong interest in reaching that point, to bring culture in, not as a physical element but in the process of designing a physical space.

One of the challenges of an action research is to create the conditions for a dialogue between physical and mental space and to understand how both can be nourished by this conversation.

Kandjee: If you ask if this was a successful project or not, I think it was both. Kids, for example, were able to access this site for three years when they weren’t able to do this before. This lived experience can create some effects in future which I believe is very powerful and we are trying to work with this awareness.

12 Seasons Park, The will to explore and experiment, expanding the scope of a given project

Landezine: When studying landscape architecture, the whole world enlarges fast, being introduced to concepts that can “blow your mind”. With years in the profession, what can further expand your horizon? What trail do you have in mind for the next seven years?

Kandjee: I’m very interested in Kathryn Moore’ take on everyday landscapes, stating that we should look at a landscape as a place that will shape us, not the other way around. I think this is a powerful statement. Tomorrow landscapes will be more immersive, sensitive and emotional.

Penfornis: There is a strong meaning for us in the capacity to be shaped by users, that ideas could be shaped by a discussion, that our ways of designing could be shaped by the nature of a context.
I want to keep the door open for this approach in my future practice to constantly evolve and educate others.

Published on January 8, 2024

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