Wolfram Hoefer, Dr.-Ing.
Graduate Program Director & Co-Director Center for Urban Environmental Sustainability
School of Environmental and Biological Sciences
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
93 Lipman Drive
Blake Hall 225
New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8524
Yes, it is true: I like old, rusty stuff. The remains of our industrial past have a strong fascination for me and I like to deal with them. The remediation of Brownfields is a major issue in New Jersey and that is one reason why I find this state such an interesting and challenging place for landscape architects.
The cultural understanding of nature and landscape in relation to our cultural interpretation of industry was the theme of my diploma thesis at the Technische Universität Berlin in 1993, and I made the point that we can observe a shift in that interpretation. Old industry is not anymore just ugly or dangerous but it becomes a part of the local history. A clear understanding and promotion of that process can improve the success of redevelopment projects.
Continuing my career I stayed on the “remediation highway”, but widened my scholarly path. After two years working for a Berlin Landscape Architecture offi ce, I took a research and teaching position at the Technische Universität München. In order to develop a context for a new look at old industry, my research focused on aesthetic values in landscape architecture as a profession. These values have a strong interrelation with aesthetic values in modern society in general. Central issues are the conditions of aesthetic perception and appreciation of nature in the context of social change. In this regard I see the cultural contribution of landscape architecture in expressing the interpretation of contemporary and potential relationships between human beings and between man and nature. These relationships must be seen against the backdrop of the tradition and iconography of the gardening arts and landscape architecture. In 2000 I received my doctoral degree.
Holding a teaching position in Munich until 2003, I was able to introduce these aspects of my scholarly and professional work into design studios in Germany, Poland, Britain, and France. In the winter semester 2003/04 I was a visiting professor at Universität Kassel and delivered a course in Landscape History and Landscape Aesthetics.
A strong focus on “suburbia” brought my involvement with the “Bundesgartenschau München 2005” (Federal Garden Show of Germany). Besides the usual aspects of presenting fl owers, knowledge about environment, and a wide range of cultural events, this summer-long show was used as an instrument for regional development. That is, 40 cities and municipalities participated in what was called “BUGA in der Region – mit der Region” (garden show in the Region – with the region). They developed 211 single projects in the region that were presented at the show. I was responsible for leading the communication process with all the different local authorities and I had to co-ordinate all their individual activities. This offered an opportunity to put the results of my research on landscape theory into practice. A major focus was the identity of suburbia in the vicinity of Munich.
While the scale of New Jersey much larger, the communities here have to deal with similar identity issues. Based on my experience concerning the role of landscape architecture as an instrument of regional development, I am looking forward to taking an active part in the discussion about the role of local identity in New Jersey.
My research will continue to have a broader view. Most of my theories were developed on a European cultural background and – obviously – there are some fundamental differences in the cultural interpretation of landscape in North America. That leads me to new questions concerning the relation of landscape and industry, using New Jersey as an example.
In that respect teaching design studios is very inspiring to me. Further I see a close relation between experimental designs – as they are possible in student projects – and research in landscape architecture. Concerning the land grant mission of Rutgers, student projects can support New Jersey municipalities, by generating public interest in a site and exploring opportunities that think outside the Bosque. And I hope that I might “infect” some of the students with an interest in old and rusty stuff.