Summer Break (Break?)

Staying so busy, but not as busy as I will be once school begins again.  This is my last chance to be “off” before being “on” is important again.  My final year of the three year Master of Landscape Architecture program at the University of Minnesota’s College of Design begins next month and I’m not yet a bit ready.

To prepare, I’ve begun the preliminary research for my capstone.  Or rather, continued the research.  I was fairly inspired by the trip to southern Ohio I took in November last year where I toured the Hopewell Earthworks with the invited committee for UNESCO World Heritage Nomination.  Comprised of expert professionals in preservation, archaeology, architecture, and Native American heritage, the committee offered suggestions to the Ohio Historical Society and the National Park Service regarding the potential inscription of the prehistoric effigy mounds, earthen enclosures, and geometric earthworks constructed from 200BCE to 500CE.

As far as my capstone is concerned, I have a pretty good idea about both the idea and the site.  My background in anthropology and archaeology with its emphasis on Native American communities and cultural resources has prepared me for some of the initial research.  I’ve always been intrigued by ‘contested spaces’ especially where certain modern uses are in direct opposition to historic or prehistoric ones.  I have some experience in situations where people having cultural affiliations with sites they no longer inhabit and I have observed ways that these people manage to maintain some sort of connection to the place in spite of dominant current uses.  For my capstone, I’m interested in researching ways that historic and modern interpretations of a site can function alongside one another.  Public lands that Native Americans consider sacred would be the primary focus of the research.  Precedents include places like Devil’s Tower (Wyoming), Mendota (Minnesota), and Chaco Canyon (New Mexico) as these sites are managed by the US government for public recreation but such uses often conflict with the abilities of Native Americans to conduct certain rituals.

There are many very practical design elements to consider as that process moves forward.  Interpreting the meanings, histories, construction processes, ritual practices, long-distance connections, and continued cultural affiliations are monumental tasks for the NPS and the Ohio Historical Society.  Coping with environmental pressures and increased visitorship will also be important considerations.  The need for parking, hiking trails, and interpretive centers at the sites will create other challenges.  Another major issue for the governing bodies of these sites is the duality of making them available for popular consumption while being sensitive to the Eastern Shawnee (Oklahoma) band of Native Americans who are the most likely descendants of the people who built and maintained the Earthworks.  For them, making these sites available to the public is offensive to their ritual and ancestral connections to the Earthworks.  Finally, these Earthworks are some of the best examples of geometric, effigy, and enclosure structures in the world.  Those who constructed them were some of the first landscape architects/ land artists in North America and functioned on a very large geographic scale requiring the coordination of people over many generations.  Some of the sites are in very urban contexts (the Octagon Mound complex is completely within the Newark City limits and exists alongside retail centers, residential neighborhoods, and a private golf club) while others are in rural locations somewhat off the beaten path making visitation and interpretation a challenge.  They are in various states of condition from fully restored to requiring major restoration work.  Specifically, I might look at three or four of the sites (there are eight being considered for nomination) and try to work out some of the above-mentioned issues.

In preparation, I’ve been studying texts ranging from legal strategies regarding religious freedom to practical manuals of historic restoration and conservation, from theories about cultural conceptions of space and place to precedent studies of contemporary land art installations.  My summer reading list includes:

The Historic Urban Landscape: managing heritage in an urban century. Ron Van Oers

Managing Cultural Landscapes. Ken Taylor

Cultural Landscapes: Balancing Nature and Heritage in Preservation Practice. Richard Longstreth

Preserving Cultural Landscapes in America. Arnold R. Alanen and Robert Z. Melnick

The Necessity for Ruins. J.B. Jackson

Discovering the Vernacular Landscape. J.B. Jackson

Space and Place. Yi-Fu Tuan

The Poetics of Space. Gaston Bachelard

Post-Modern Geographies. Edward W. Soja

In Place/Out of Place. Tim Cresswell

Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference. David Harvey

Spaces of Hope (California Studies in Critical Human Geography).  David Harvey

Preserving Western History. Andrew Guilliford

Sacred Sites, Sacred Places. David L. Carmichael

Robert Smithson. Eugenie Tsai and Cornelia Butler (editors)

Preserving Modern Architecture.  Charles Birnbaum (editor)

The Universe in the Landscape. Charles Jenks

In addition to my capstone preparation, I’ve been writing recently for my internship with Global Site Plans environmental design blog The Grid.  Global Site Plans was recently rated the #3 most popular website for architecture, urban planning, environmental design, and landscape architecture. This internship is providing me the opportunity to research certain aspects about the Twin Cities cultural landscape as well as learn more about blogging about the built environment.  The internship lasts for one year and requires me to write two blogs a month.  My first blog for The Grid was published last week.

Lastly, I’ve been preparing for my trip to the South Pacific island nation of Kiribati.  I leave tomorrow for two weeks with the University of Minnesota’s Center for World Heritage Studies, a joint program between UNESCO and the College of Design.  I’m one of two research assistants there; we will be taking five students with us and are ably led by Arthur Chen of the School of Architecture and head of the Center.

The Republic of Kiribati is an island nation of 33 atolls in the Pacific Ocean located on the equator halfway between Hawaii and Australia.  Settled by Micronesian people 1000 years ago and having a current population of 103, 000 people, this nation is among the first to be at major risk due to climate change.  The atolls are part of the largest coral reef system in the world (and already part of UNESCO’s World Heritage List) but provide a rather resource-poor environment for the I-Kiribati people.  Many of the atolls are less than four meters above sea level meaning that as the ocean level rises, land mass disappears.  Our primary goal there during this pilot project is to help the Kiribati government identify sites that might be considered significant to the understanding of the global cultural landscape.  Specifically, they’ve asked us to work with them as they identify abandoned cultural sites significant to their intangible heritage, to investigate their baurua sailing vessels, and to study their mwaneaba structures which are local meeting houses.  We will be conducting architectural surveys, mapping, photographing, drawing, and recording oral histories about the cultural landscape.

I’ll do my best to post photos and stories as they evolve.  The members of our research trip will posting to our tumblr account.  Check out what we are doing by clicking here.

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About matthewtraucht

Graduate school student at the University of Minnesota's College of Design pursuing a Master's of Landscape Architecture, class of 2013.
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