Nabi Masutomi

This article addresses issues surrounding governance over landscapes and the emergence of institutions from geographical and political fragility. The Landscape Rehabilitation Clinic rethinks the definition of natural landscape and our understandings of social constructs in an ecological light.

Cure to modernisation and landscape rehabilitation 

Our society exists within a current critique of post humanism, based on the philosophical and ethical stance developed in the late 20th century. Post-humanism attempts to revert the effects that humanity has had on the environment. Central to this is the belief that humans have no inherent rights to destroy nature or set themselves above it. As a consequence of climate change, the modern way of life and politics that were based on the mechanical worldview were rendered obsolete and the notion of the ‘others’ in our ecosystem became undeniable.

Today the phrase ‘sustainable development’ is too frequently used to justify major economical development projects. By “pairing up” with ecology rather than conquering nature, we try to deal with the damage instigated by capitalism and modernisation. As William Ophuls writes, “[e]cology is the surest cure for modern hubris.” As a result, an unaccountable number of nature conservation acts emerged in an effort to counterbalance the human damage caused to the landscape and planet’s ecosystem.

The concept of nature conservation and the measures taken in its name also tends towards fetish. Whilst nature conservation is critical, fencing it off into preservation is culturally unproductive and leads to a false understanding of natural landscapes. A cure should be sought beyond the physical restoration of natural landscape. Rehabilitation demands that landscape be redefined, reclassified and that its relationship to the built environment be entirely reframed. How can architecture be an agent in this process?

Friendly affairs in the arctic

In 1996 the eight arctic nations (the USA, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Russia) established the Arctic Council. The regional members “club” is a high-level informal intergovernmental forum that governs the arctic region. In the light of environmental and economical urgency, the arctic nations called for a peaceful cooperation in order to avoid political tension and environmental disasters.

It is only recently that the permanent Arctic Council Secretariat opened in Tromo, Norway, a city that bills itself as the ‘gateway to the Arctic.’ Though “Tromo is not yet a capital for the Arctic Council in the way that Brussels is the capital for the European Union.” The secretariat is located at the back of the High North Research Centre for Climate and the Environment.

Their biennial assembly, attended by high-profile politicians such as a Secretary of State and Foreign Ministers, is a “friendly” gathering; they call it “a chat’” and “a creative progress” in which primarily environmental issues are discussed. And they may even attend in knitted sweaters. Security matters are mostly avoided in discussions but their common interests of “sustainable development” and collaborative scientific research are embraced.

The full membership of the Council is exclusive to the eight nations but the ‘Arctic gold rush’ is attracting international attention. Since polar ice is melting, the region is opening up new shipping routes between Asia and Europe. In addition, the region holds up to 30% of the world’s undiscovered minerals and natural resources. The Council gives a warm welcome to those who are interested in their activities and the members may grant an “Observer” status to an interested party if agreed within the Council. Recent joiners include India, South Korea, Japan and China, but their clout is limited; they cannot speak or vote.

The strategy to keep the institution non-legally committed allows easy consensus. This kind of high-profile informal institutions is growing. Other examples include G8, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and Alliance of Small Island States. The ‘voluntary’ nature of such institutions is considered to be effective.

With increasing human activities in the arctic, the Council is gaining power, and yet their relations are ambiguous and somewhat fragile. Despite their critical discussions, their “casual” attitudes seems to resist the idea of them becoming heavily institutionalised in a traditional sense. It could be said that it is the ambiguity of the council’s relationships that preserves the fragile nature of arctic. In the process of building an institution, will “informality” continue to keep the arctic governance in peace? “

Institutions as ecologies 

A workable relationship with the environment is achieved not by individuals or even species acting independently, but by their acting in concert through an organisation of their diverse capabilities, therefore constituting a communal system.“
“The perspective collective life as an adaptive process consisting of an interaction of environment population, and organisation. Out of that process emerges the ecosystem.” - Amos Hawley - Human Ecology

The way in which institutions operate is comparable to ecology. Ecological research is to “understand how the environment, including biotic and abiotic patterns and processes, affects abundance and distribution of organisms.” [1] Similarly, institutions are co-dependent systems and considering them in parallel to ecology is useful in a post-humanist world where human networks are ever more complex.

Mutuality is the key to the emergence of institutions. Symbiosis of individuals inevitably creates situations and interactions around which common activities are shared. As this nascent mutuality is stabilised, a working system develops, creating a network, within which each participant has a role. Therefore institutions operate as systems of relationships between differentiated activities operated by individuals. In a changing political/cultural climate, adaptation is critical for the survival of institutions since “the source of the cultural change is [from the] outside” [2] and is enforced onto the institutional patterns.

Borrowing from 18th century naturalist Carl Linnaeuscan’s idea of nature being “self-organised” and “a complementarity between function and purpose of life forms”, and a moral philosopher Adam Smith’s notion of all living forms striving for “self-preservation”, we can infer that institutions can be understood as a system formed to give a function and purpose to each human being. And like biological ecosystems, as an institution becomes functional and useful to the wider environment, it generates productivity for its society.


1.    Ruth MaCloed, Treeline 2002
2.    Bernarby Barford, Conversation Piece 2002
3.     Author, Landscape Rehabilitation Clinic 2015


[1]    John A. Wiens & Michael R. Moss – Issues and perspectives in Landscape Ecology (2005)
[2]    Randy Albelda - Alternatives to Economic Orthodoxy: A Reader in Political Economy (1987)