- Designing Living LandscapesCultural Landscapes as Landscape Architecture
CULTURAL LANDSCAPES AS LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE
This special issue spotlights new scholarship about cultural landscape research and practice that documents the continued and vital role of this field in contemporary landscape architecture. The term “cultural landscape” was coined by cultural geographers in the 1920s and adopted by landscape architects in the 1980s, but the study and analysis of cultural landscapes have been key elements of design practice long before being formally named. Landscape architecture is rooted in creative responses to the cultural history and natural processes of the sites in which landscape design occurs. The authors contributing to this issue illuminate ways in which cultural landscape research has shaped landscape conservation and historic preservation efforts and been integrated into innovative and creative landscape design. These essays and case studies break down distinctions between landscape history and land conservation, between historic preservation and new design, and ultimately between culture and nature. Cultural landscape practice today offers essential theory and methods for understanding and representing landscapes as living places—the sites of historical and ongoing natural processes together with the cultural activities that have shaped terrain and ecosystems over time and into the present.
Continued investigation and research in the field of cultural landscapes is needed now more than ever as designers are asked to expand and change their practices to address current essential concerns. The issues confronting practitioners—climate change, global urbanization, economic inequality—are unprecedented, and the severity of these challenges increases the need for cultural landscape research. Landscape architects engaged in the field of cultural landscapes today are building a critical and necessary dimension of continued and innovative success in design practice.
ORIGINS OF CULTURAL LANDSCAPE RESEARCH IN THE UNITED STATES
Perspectives on the cultural landscape—its preservation and its relevance to design and planning practice—abound in the writings of the American landscape architect and planner Charles Eliot (1859–1897). At age fifteen, Eliot recorded an 1874 trip through South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida with written and visual impressions of landscapes, people, and local customs; a year later he made detailed notes during a short trip to a manufacturing village, describing a woolen mill, tannery, and stream. Eliot continued his landscape observations during a thirteen-month tour of Europe (suggested by his mentor Frederick Law Olmsted) during which he meticulously noted the characteristics of a wide range of cultural landscapes, expressing disapproval of formal French layouts, dismay at the “nabobry” evident on some English estates, and delight at the “roughly, wildly beautiful” appearance of an island near Stockholm (Morgan 1999, xxii).
Of all the sites Eliot visited over this grand tour, none affected him more than the park created by Prince Hermann Pückler at Muskau, Germany. Eliot wrote enthusiastically and at length about the massive undertaking, admiring especially its comprehensiveness: “[Pückler] preserved everything that was distinctive. He destroyed neither his farm nor his mill, nor yet his alum works; for he understood that these industries, together with all the human history of the valley, contributed to the general effect, a characteristic element only second in importance to the quality of the natural scene itself” (Eliot 1902, 363). Pückler’s vision, which incorporated everyday landscapes into a cohesive scheme comprising hundreds of square miles, provided a model that Eliot would soon employ in his Boston regional park work. Eliot’s writings on Pückler also brought his achievements before the American profession, leading eventually to a 1917 reprint of [End Page vi] Pückler’s own book, Hints on Landscape Gardening, by Houghton Mifflin.
In a series of 1888 articles published in Garden and Forest, “Six Old Country Places,” Eliot turned his sharply honed landscape analysis to sites of local common beauty, lamenting their loss as a result of Boston’s rapid expansion: “Farm after farm and garden after garden are invaded by streets, sewers, and water-pipes, owners being fairly compelled to sell lands which are taxed more and more heavily,” he wrote. “Before destruction overtakes the few old seats now remaining, it will be well to make some sort of record of their character and beauty” (Eliot...