Understanding Ordinary Landscapes

I have a few (perhaps disjointed) thoughts on this reading:

First, at the very beginning of the chapter, there's some discussion about the visual illiteracy of Americans - "like fish that can't see water" - because we cannot consciously notice our everyday environments. While I would argue this illiteracy and cultural ignorance still prevails, I'd also like to update (this was written in 1997) or maybe expand upon this view. Maybe it's because I'm in the second year urban studio at the moment, fresh off the heels of a presentation by Alex Felson from the Yale School of Forestry, but I see this same sort of illiteracy and ignorance, especially among architects, when it comes to matters of ecology. In the words of Paul Groth, (which can be applied in this context with my own insert), "although human life requires the constant support of complex surroundings [ecologies], most people in the United States do not consciously notice their everyday environments". Just as we may not be conscious of the innerworkings of cultural landscapes and our understandings of them within our subconscious mental constructs, we are also not conscious of the complex systems, both natural and manmade, that support basic life (until of course there is a crisis of some sort). In proposing solutions to such crises, when they arise, we are so unaware of such systems that we create more problems in the long term.

The book that Groth and Bressi have put together, a compilation of sort of the ABC's of cultural landscape history and practice, sounds like a nice thing to have for the practice of architecture, as well. Though they caution that this is in no way exhaustive, it seems like a nice guidebook of sorts for someone unaware of these matters. In just the way that most Americans are illiterate to cultural landscapes and ignorant all the facets at play, most people are illiterate to the language of Architecture with a capital A. Besides the insular jargon surrounding the practice, there is a consciousness and mindset that, if decoded, could be a nice grounding of the field for anyone. Though, unlike the overarching objective of cultural landscape writing as of informing the public, the overarching goal of architecture could arguably be called the polar opposite.

I found it interesting how the writers basically acknowledge the fact that some people discredit this field of study and inquiry, whether that be due to graphic representations over textual ones or the methods of research and observation. I think any field that says something as broad as "no such thing as a dull landscape" and "all human intervention with nature can be considered as cultural landscape" is begging for skeptics from many arenas, and to counter that head on in Chapter 1 I suppose could be seen as clever...or perhaps overly defensive.

I've added several images of some cultural landscapes that I think show a layering of information, history, culture, and context. They're all taken by me at various times, mostly around Cincinnati, OH where I grew up. My first year of undergrad architecture, my class took various excursions around the city which we would then document later in forms of drawing and collage. I've also added one photo from a town in Vermont that's tourist, bucolic, and village all wrapped in one. I find that many small towns, there's something so familiar across the board, but each have their particular flavor as well. The last image is from the Waucoma Yacht Club in Fair Haven, which I found to be a peculiar little place for many reasons. Enjoy!

  • mount auburn, cincinnati, OH