Terrain Vague

2021 Type: Glossary

Planning and non-planning in their orderliness and disorderliness:
Architectural and urban planning often begins by carrying out technical measurement surveys of the existing and subsequently attempts to employ the spatial dimensions to ensure urbanity and the greatest possible range of uses.
With planned locations, access is usually controlled by the social and societal position. Planned locations are often subject to rules and regulations—sometimes even very precise rules of conduct—or they are planned specifically for certain social classes.
Unplanned approaches seek first of all to leave the place as it is, in order to achieve the greatest possible access and to allow for an ever-changing diversity of use. Unplanned locations are continually renegotiated by their users.
It is important to bear this in mind, because unplanned—and sometimes even planned—locations offer starting points for an artistic Urban Practice that attempts to directly address the history of the place, its current inhabitants, and their wishes. Maybe you could even say that the “non-planning” aspect of an Urban Practice is always then applied when all classic planning has failed.
Many terms are used to describe unplanned locations; these can be judgmental, as in the German word Brachfläche, and even more negative in English: wasteland. A more advisable term for describing an indistinct and undefined piece of land is the French terrain vague. The gardener and landscape planner Gilles Clément coined the term third landscape for this, arguing its existence and preservation ought to be championed as a complement to classic spatial planning. Thus he declares areas that are not planned, cultivated, or built on by humans—that is, unused and abandoned land areas (separate from the ecological primary system and human-made usable space)—to be a third landscape. In doing so, he points out that these zones possess great heterogeneity and biodiversity. In his theses, he advocates understanding unproductivity as something political and asks us to train the mentality of “nonintervention,” just as we do the mentality of intervention. This corresponds to an artistic practice that seeks to develop whatever is absolute necessary by working with and for a place. Its “occupation” is created in such a way that it will be renegotiated after a previously defined timeframe. Or refuges are created that remain left to their own devices and, in their inaccessibility, simultaneously offer the greatest possible space for human imagination.
The third landscape and the poetic description of its state as a terrain vague are important areas in which Urban Practice has a model-like impact. They are found at the center of a city or at its edges. And they always pose the question: How, in a modern, thoroughly planned city that embodies a certain (petit) bourgeois orderliness, and consists to some extent of exterior and setback spaces with unused potential, can we think about, allow for, implement, and live alternative ways of life? How can the built fabric, green areas, nature, and humans be brought together, enter into an exchange, and be consolidated? How much orderliness do people need for their own work? And what spaces are worth fighting for?

Erik Göngrich is a researching artist, political architect, producing curator, discursive illustrator, community-minded cook, and a performative publisher. His work explores the use of and changes to the urban space that he is actively involved in sculpturally shaping. He initiated and has been operating the MITKUNSTZENTRALE and its SATELLIT since 2019, a workshop/exhibition space that focuses attention on material cycles and art in times of climate crisis.