The Ocean Project_Planning a resilient seascape


  • Nancy Couling EPFL



Planning the Sea
The sea is the site of one of this century’s greatest planning challenges. It is a material, spatial, ecological and recreational resource. As a vital producer, it is also a site of spatial and environmental convergence- a condition within which economic value is threatened by overall ecological degradation. Planning is initiated as a way of regulating interactions and conflicting spatial claims. Adopting the concept of seascapes as a parallel to landscapes, this paper traces the emergence of large-scale planned seascapes both for productive and protective purposes. While a relatively recent phenomenon, planning ocean space builds on centuries of seascape construction – a process merging natural, cultural, political and geological phenomena. 
But planning the sea swiftly emerges as a contradiction in terms. Static geometric fields created by cartesian coordinates bear little relevance for the intervening water-column. The ocean rolls through such boundaries, forming temporary zones through organic thresholds and obeying its own territorial logic. Which planning approaches can ensure the continued resilience of the seascape and public access to the vast ocean commons?

The conception of seascape has evolved since the 16th century from the picturesque genre parallel to landscape painting. However this paper argues for a primary meaning of seascape as a realm shaped manipulated and cultivated through human interaction. Referring to J. B. Jackson’s three-fold understanding of landscape as a structural basis for the discussion, the properties of his landscapes one, two and three are tested on seascapes; the productive seascape, the essentially visual seascape and the all-encompassing, amorphous hybrid of architecture and nature defined later by Koolhaas as simply “scape”. In all three, landscape exists by definition only in relation to urbanization. It is here that we begin to understand the seascape as the full interpenetration of natural and cultural systems. 
Large-scale ocean planning (MSP) currently uses a combination of two-dimensional, land-based zoning tools and precautionary principles to secure maritime transport corridors, sites of wind-energy or fossil fuel production and to outline marine protected areas. In Western Europe, however, mono-functional economic priorities and superficial (of the surface) geometries clearly dominate the resulting spatial order. 

In order to examine such offshore conditions more closely, the large-scale energy seascape of Nysted Windpark in the Baltic Sea is presented as a case study. In its specific cultural-territorial context, this windpark reveals surprising interdependencies and potentials for resilience, heterogeneity and social interaction, hence moving away from a purely technological infrastructure towards an integrated public resource. 

Large-scale planned seascapes mark the emergence of a new urban realm and a paradigm shift in maritime interactions. Rather than a plan, this realm must be approached as a project which democratically coordinates a deep, kinetic, contingent and highly differentiated spatial commons, and engages the active involvement of its global stewards.


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How to Cite

Couling, N. (2016). The Ocean Project_Planning a resilient seascape. International Planning History Society Proceedings, 17(4).