Geomorphic Agent
Research Project 2014
ETH Zurich, Institute of Landscape Architecture
Chair of Prof. Günther Vogt

Man is a ‘Geomorphic Agent’. As the most important factor in the shaping processes of the earth, nowadays we move all together far more material than all natural geological processes combined. The removal, transportation and deposition of raw and waste materials have already reached unprecedented proportions in the 21st century, breaking all previous records. Gravel, sand and soil – moved by man in gigantic quantities – currently represent the largest material flow on earth. In Switzerland, one person alone unknowingly generates around eight tons of gravel and sand mining, and seven tons of excavation and construction waste per year, which equates to approximately the volume of one full concrete mixer truck. The associated transformation processes are based on a global network of transport, energy and social infrastructures and are symbols of the progressive urbanization of the landscape. The exponentially rising worldwide material flow, cycle, and consumption, along with our economic, spatial, environmental and social challenges, raise the question of our fundamental understanding and handling of the landscape.

The goal of the research assistant’s work was to define the material ecology in general and the anthropogenic soil movements specifically as a central component of urbanisation processes and to focus on the urban discourse on the related intentional and unintentional production of landscape through the production, transportation and disposal of raw materials, as part of the landscape architectural teachings at ETH Zurich. To this end, all the statistics about raw material consumption and material flows in Switzerland were evaluated, collected and graphically displayed in the form of maps and diagrams in order to visualise the different dimensions, geographies and processes. On the one hand, the goal was to present the problems comprehensively – in all their complexity – as well as building a concrete basis for landscape design discussions, continued research and current teachings. On the other hand, the process should develop a clear position on the topic that would highlight the economic, artistic, ecological and social potentials and show new approaches in dealing with landscapes of removal and deposition together with other mineral waste. Among other topics, the following questions were central: What are the spatial long-term consequences and future perspectives of these increasing soil movements? How can the mostly static and protectionist understanding of landscape, which is supported by politics and society, come to an agreement with the dramatic changes of the ground soil? How can new programmatic and creative approaches adequately deal with the dynamic processes of landscape?


original text on NSL Website
website Chair of Prof. G. Vogt, ETH Zürich