It is not by chance that we always talk about the search for quality in the built environment and not just in cities. Landscape architecture has the potential of a massive impact because of the scale of its operations and its condition of public good. When trying to improve quality of life for a majority of people, the spaces in between the buildings actually tend to be more crucial than the buildings themselves. The quality of the built environment should be measured in terms of what people can do in it for free. And landscape operations tend to be those that shape open, public spaces, with a potential for massive impact and reach. In this sense landscaping is more democratic than architecture, potentially covering a much greater area and, quite simply, costing less. If well designed, it is also more sustainable because it can be undertaken with locally sourced materials (much more so than architecture).
Teresa Moller’s work has pursued this potential in her later projects. In all of these, her first step is to look at the place. Her reading of the place is intuitive, not intellectual, and precisely because of this she is able to capture information that is not obvious at first glance and that is the very essence of the place. This ability to pay close attention to the site—which means not wanting anything until the site has first had its say—is what led her, in coastal rockery, to simply add a few extra stones to introduce the size of a human step without the need for an invasive structure; it is what led her, in a desert park, to deploy species that require almost no water, extending the quality of the oasis to the whole city; it is what led her, in China, to use a tree that was virtually extinct forty years ago.
In Venice, her approach was no different. After visiting the site, she realized that besides the postcard architecture there were many overlooked elements that nonetheless end up being part of the landscape: fences, railings, and scaffolding may not have been thought of in those terms, but they ultimately define our physical experience of the place. She went on to propose the improvement of these neglected urban elements through the use of an unexpected material. In the Atacama Desert, known mainly for its copper extraction, Moller found a travertine quarry unknown to Chileans. The material is extracted in a rather rudimentary way, generating a lot of debris that is disregarded by the copper extraction industry, to the point that large pieces of travertine end up being piled up to form a sort of fence around the quarry. Moller saw an opportunity in the discarded travertine not only to improve the experience at the Biennale in the exterior areas of the Arsenale, but also as way for the leftovers to gain additional value. Once back in Chile, they may be used to provide the best quality material for those public spaces that most deserve it—the abandoned outskirts of our cities that need a resistant and at the same time noble material to pay back the historical debt we owe them.