LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE IN MOZAMBIQUE

Contribution to the 30th IFLA
World Congress
Cape Town - September 1993

It would have been pretentions to come here, with a week’s notice, and give you a scholarly constructed lecture on the state of landscape architecture in Mozambique.

I am not the right person nor have I the right background and preparation to produce such an essay.

However being an architect and planner, and in charge of the only school in the country where the subject of man’s role in the transformation of the landscape is studied, I accepted this challenge in the hope that it will enable me to establish connections for the benefit of our students and the community at large.

This said, more in order to give you a measure of our limitations than to implore your indulgence, which I need, I will try, nevertheless, to give you an idea of the state of landscape architecture in Mozambique.

Maybe I should start with some hard facts.

Mozambique is a country with 800.000 square kilometers and nearly 16.000.000 people where there is not, to my knowledge, a single mozambican with a degree in Landscape Architecture; there is not, to my knowledge, a single landscape architect present in the country and praticing his art; there is no specialised course of studies conducting to a degree or a diploma in landscape architecture.

There has never been.

The only specialised discipline on this subject in any academic institution is a course of landscape architecture, with the duration of one semestre, totalising 96 hours of lectures and practical work, in the third year of studies of the Faculty of Architecture and Physical Planning, of our one and only University.

This course, integrated in the curricula of the “environment” group of disciplines, atempts to make the students aware of the meaning of landscape as a specific spatial scale, to give them the intelectual instruments to perceive and understand it’s dimensions including it’s complex of ecological relationships; to make them aware of the history of man’s attitudes and realisations in the field landscape transformation, with particular atention to what hapens within the tropical zone and, finally, to equip the students with some, even if rudimentary, methodological instruments for the analysis and the design of what we call urban and extra-urban “green systems”, through pratical exercises.

This is all, in what regards formal aquisition of knowledge; there are, also, two medium level schools for the preparation of agricultural technitians, one Faculty of Agriculture and one Department of Geography which lecture subjects relevant to the activities of man’s intervention in the natural landscape, but their responsability is seen as to maximize the capacity to make the land productive or, simply, to analyse the physical reality in it’s different dimensions - excluding naturally the aesthetic or poetical meanings of landscape.

The reality is, as you see, sadly simple to define.

But is it easy to understand?

And is it very different from the reality in a good many countries in our region?

If not, as I suspect it is not, what are then the reasons, the constants and the characteristic man’s attitude towards the landscape as a source of physical and psychological well being in our part of the world?

I think that without an atempt to understand this no meaningfull move can be made to introduce in our societies a need and sensibility for more than the productive and maybe the cosmogonic dimensions of the vernacular landscape.

And why is this need for a new sensitivity so important now?

The answer seems obvious - the traditional balance between man and natural environment is broken.

It is broken at many levels and in many ways. It is broken by the careless insertion of the major infrastructures - the roads and railways, and the dams and the power lines; it is broken by the violence of the monoculture of the sugar and the sisal and the cotton and the tobacco; it is broken by the dams , all built, as a rule, without even the slightiest consideration for their environmental impact

But the balance is also, broken in the sense of our considerations here, in a very special and particularly destructive way, by the almost inexplicable fast rate of demographic growth leading to generalized phenomena of deforestation and desertification.

If is broken by the incredible speed of urban growth and urban sprawl, uncontrollable and unplanned.

It is broken, finally, by almost three decades of warfare which isolated vast areas of the land, pushed millions of people into vast miserable refugee camps increased the urban problems and prevented any form of inteligent planning of population distribution or land and natural resources use.

Against the violence of these transformation phenomena the ineffable beauty of the jacaranda lined avenues, the need for the well trimmed park, lawn or garden seems an almost sinfull luxury, and, for the large majority of the people with little, if any, meaning.

Instead a tree in a street is seen, primarily, as a source of available fuel, at most a source of shadow, often a public latrine, not a many times an obstacle to the traffic.

Along the seashore of Maputo, our capital there is a scenic road built over a dune protected and stabilised with a grove of casuarina and eucaliptus. For 18 years now the trees have being cut down for fuelwood. The dune is taking over the road, the sea gnaws at the defences and, at end of the road the fishermen village is more and more isolated, not to speak about the beach, the only available to the city’s over 1 million people, which is slowly becoming less and less usable.

A project, a landscaping project, for the reforestation and treatment of this stretch of road would nor resolve the problem by itself and, unless a solution is found for the imediate fuel needs of the people living along this shoreline, no landscaping will succeed, short of protecting it with a permanent and uncorruptible millitary force.

This is one of many examples I could give you.

The visual environment of a country or a society is, I believe, defined by the attitude of majority of the people, not by the isolated fact or the efforts of an enlightened individual.

The change and evolution for a new attitude of the majority to demand a new level of environmental quality for our urban areas will take at least as long to materialise as it takes to bring that majority to minimally acceptable standards of living,

And that will take a long time.

In the meantime our only hode is to be able to preserve some of the indispensable conditions to reconstitute, in the future, a balanced environment where the productive, the visual and the simbolic elements of the landscape will play their complementary role for the benefit of man.

At another level, in our Faculty, we are striving to give our students the notion that, in our subtropical environment, the landscape is an essential complement of the bulding. We make a rule of demanding from any project proposal a detailed treatement of the external spaces and a carefull consideration of the landscaping elements for the control of light, shade, temperature and sound insulation. We consider indispensable to any architectural solution a carefull consideration of the climatic parameters and of the natural elements not only to create a better physical environment but to find again a link with the more profound dimensions of our vernacular genius locci.

This we have, yet, to understand in depth, but all indications are that no sense of place can be achieved, in our culture without the carefully balanced relationships between the architectural and the landscape dimensions of the space.

Having said this I would like to invite all of you to come and see, in Mozambique, some of the most astonishingly superb landscapes of Africa, some of it as yet unspoiled, and from which any sensitive landscape architect will certainly be filled with a profound inspirational force.

The vastness and magnitude of this land of big trees and big animals is difficult to match.

We hope, with difficulty in hoping, that we can at least preserve some of that, turning it into man’s benefit by enhancing its beauty not by destroying it.
The capacity to do that, however, has yet to be built.

 

JOSÉ FORJAZ

© JOSÉ FORJAZ ARQUITECTOS 2004