Unfamiliar Territory proposes ways in which we could productively engage with places of friction, or more specifically, with unfamiliarity of disturbed sites without reducing their complexity or eliminating their creative potential for the sake of ‘familiarization’. The project focuses on Fort de Vaujours, an abandoned nuclear contaminated site and an area of future gypsum extraction near Paris.


In times when novel approaches to contaminated sites are largely needed, the project with its alternative take on design methodologies rejects the fallacies of instant ‘solutions’ and puts forward a performative approach to design: combining landscape’s performative capacities with its power of cultural expression, in time striving towards a multitude of affective encounters with ethically and politically enabling potentials. 


The project’s main challenge is to approach landscape intervention as a constant action - as creating a set of potentials that can unfold in various directions with various outcomes. An element of control persists and the proposal does not deny a certain amount of order, but instead of fixing the boundaries within which landscape processes flow and play out, works with precise moments when the set boundaries shift and transformation occurs. In this way, differences that drive landscape processes are kept alive without reducing the complexity of the system they find themselves in. The proposed landscape intervention is not expected to have immediate effects. In fact, if successful, its most powerful effects are observed in the long run.

Unfamiliar Territory (Final Thesis Research // 2015 - 2016, TU Delft)

Through the examination of the concepts of ‘territory’ and ‘the unfamiliar’, this research approaches disturbed sites as a specific case inside landscape architecture that requires a rethinking of the common ways of ‘reading’, ‘intervening in’and ‘representing’ such sites. It serves as a stepping stone towards a general re-examination of landscape design in an age when it is becoming increasingly apparent that disturbed sites (or any other site for that matter) can never be fully managed or their future development entirely predetermined.

The research approaches disturbed sites as unfamiliar territories, products of a particular territorial production where different actors use overcoding to achieve their political or economic aims. To describe how, why and by whom such territorializations take place the research elaborates on the writings on territory by Deleuze and Guattari, Brighenti, Grosz, Halsey and others. It engages with post-humanism and new materialism to provide a new view on disturbed sites and to broaden the conception of territory as a relational, process-driven and open-ended mode of organization. The research follows the routine process of a landscape architecture project - ‘reading’ the site, ‘intervening in’ the site and ‘representing’the site, yet it through the findings derived from the research offers alternatives to each of these project components. 

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Barbara Prezelj ©