And thus, after all of that…


Official Announcement


And with that, my role as a student at the University of Minnesota’s College of Design has come to a close.  I wish the best of luck to my fellow graduates and look forward to following their careers.  I am grateful to everyone who supported me through my graduate school education. I hope you know who you are.


University of Minnesota College of Design Department of Landscape Architecture MLA Class of 2013 CommencementAfter some thought, I think it makes sense to no longer add posts to Desire Lines.  It was about my experience at UMN and all those adventures associated with learning in that environment.  Now, as I move forward independently with my education, I hope to find new ways to tell the stories of the people and places I encounter.  I’ll continue to post links to projects from my website

Thank you for looking at Desire Lines.

Virginia Window Reflection


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Capstone Project, Master of Landscape Architecture

This gallery contains 61 photos.

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A Culmination


I was recently nominated to compete for the American Society of Landscape Architects’s National Honor and Merit awards.  The announcement read: ‘Each year, the ASLA invites each accredited University program to nominate several of their graduating students for the awards as a part of the ASLA’s efforts to reward students demonstrating outstanding academic achievement in their landscape architecture program.  Candidates must have maintained a 3.5 cumulative GPA, must demonstrate the highest level of academic scholarship, and must exhibit willingness to work with others, self-motivation, and responsibility.’ The nomination provided me an opportunity to reflect on the last three years of my life.  The nomination was followed by a presentation of my work to the Minnesota chapter of the ASLA.

I began with an infographic resume I created to demonstrate the breadth of my experiences.  This graphic illustrates my skills and experience with the tools of my trade from using GIS software to participating in community development programs, and from technical writing to creative photography.  It also depicts the various places around the world where I have experimented with these tools.  The length of time I’ve spent participating in professional and academic activities is articulated on the timeline at the bottom of the page.

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Since my time as an undergraduate in anthropology at the University of New Mexico, I’ve been interested in the various interactions between culture and nature as they are observable on the landscape.  As an anthropology student, I learned about adaptations to natural landscapes by human cultures in order for people to thrive amidst the idiosyncrasies of their habitations.  Working as an archaeologist in Santa Fe exposed me to layers of placemaking ranging from ephemeral traces to robust architectures.  One of my first exposures to the concept of landscape architecture as a creative profession was a brush with Ken Smith on the Santa Fe Railyard project.  In 2005, I was excavating territorial pit latrines while he stood next to me sketching his designs to modernize the site.

ASLA_MN Presentation_Page_03After retiring from my job as a State archaeologist and owning an organic farm in the Sandia Mountains, I traveled to Africa to work as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  I lived my daily life among people strongly tied to the conditions of their landscape.  Though the small victories I had there were rewarding, I discovered that I’d like to redesign spaces to make them more sustainable, productive, and enjoyable.  From The Gambia, I applied to the program at the University of Minnesota.

ASLA_MN Presentation_Page_04Upon arriving in Minnesota in 2010, my Master of Landscape Architecture Class of 2013 cohort and I traveled to Itasca, the Headwaters of the Mississippi.  There we learned about the natural and constructed setting of midwestern prairies, lakes, and forests.  I recall the smell of the air in the white pine forest where we received our first instructions on sketching, on ecology, and on placemaking.

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This blog, Desire Lines, has been a chronicle of that journey and I called on it to help me recall all the projects I’ve been involved in.   Today’s post is the 68th I’ve written in the last three years here in Minnesota.  While I haven’t posted as much as I’d like to have, it has been a good way to keep track of myself and to describe what its like to study landscape architecture here.

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I also described to the committee what it was like to learn how to design.  I decided on landscape architecture because I wanted to learn how to apply what I’ve been learning and experiencing to the future.  Much of the work I was doing as an archaeologist for example was necessarily focused on the past histories of places but only set the stage for new adaptations to those places.  Learning about places through the systematic dismantling of them led me to want to think beyond simply packing those inspirations into boxes to be catalogued and stored in museums. The University of Minnesota taught me to explore landform, structure, and vegetation as maleable objects for the expression of cultural traits and values.

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During my first year here, in addition to my work in the studio, I volunteered with the ASLA as they endeavored to record oral histories of important landscape architects working in Minnesota.   Funded by a State Legacy Grant, we used photography and videography to capture stories of the formation and development of practice in Minnesota.

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Some of the people interviewed presented their impressions of landscape architecture to an excited audience at Rapson Hall.  As I photographed the event, I had no idea how many important people were in the room with me.  Over the past few years, I’ve enjoyed the pleasure of encountering many of the attendees in my professional and educational surroundings.

ASLA_MN Presentation_Page_10At the end of my first year, I was invited to present a paper at the Minnesota Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians Sixth Anual Symposium on the Built Environment.  The topic of the symposium was ‘Living the Didactic Landscape: Changing Intentions In the Meaning of Place.”  I delivered a presentation on the new design guidelines of the St Anthony Falls Historic Zone.

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The first half of my second year was fairly overwhelmed with a studio project in Eden Prairie, a suburb of Minneapolis.  There, we applied changing paradigms in landscape architecture to a struggling office park complex known locally as the Golden Triangle.  I looked at ways that feral ecologies can contribute to the redesign of anthropocentric landscapes.

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Also during Fall 2011, I traveled to Ohio to participate in a project that would eventually dominate my life as a student.

ASLA_MN Presentation_Page_13Another project I described to the committee was my 365/365 photography project and exhibit.  Even as I was learning about landscape in the classroom through various studies, this self-directed project allowed me to experiment with my surroundings.  Carrying a camera everyday, everywhere forced me to be aware my environment.  Wanting to capture something new and unique with each passing day, I sought out a mix of the old and the new, the shadow and the reflection, the highly designed and the organic.

ASLA_MN Presentation_Page_14Eventually, on December 31, 2011, I completed the project.  I hadn’t missed a day.  The next part of the project found me experimenting with ways to present all of these images. Though I had posted them to social media sites and had received constant feedback throughout the year, now I could assemble them all together into a cohesive body of work.  Mapping became part of the project too as I wanted to represent the viewsheds captured day by day in a sort of travelogue.  My exhibit in the Rapson Architecture and Landscape Architecture Library at the University of Minnesota was installed in January and lasted through May.

ASLA_MN Presentation_Page_15Unfortunately, I would enjoy that milestone for only a few weeks.  I left Minneapolis at the end of February for the UMN Cities on Water tour of the Netherlands and Venice. There I worked with professors, fellow students, and professional planners and landscape architects to research, analyze, and design new solutions for various landscape problems. In Almera, the Netherlands I worked on an urban design charette and in Lelystad I proposed solutions to siltation of an empoldered lake.ASLA_MN Presentation_Page_16In Venice, I studied the cultural landscape of a UNESCO Heritage Site.  Considering the depth of tradition and the importance of maintaining continuity and ‘sense of place’ crystalized for me the role that modern designers can play in the historic landscape.ASLA_MN Presentation_Page_17Upon returning to Minneapolis from Europe, I began my internship with Global Site Plans The Grid.  There, I blogged about design and redesign in Minneapolis.  My writing was focused on projects that explored connections to history ranging from the design guidelines of the historic St Anthony Falls to the new interpretive center at Coldwater Springs and from Hmong urban agricultural ventures to the slow process of brownfield remediation on the riverfront.  One article allowed me to more fully investigate the historic preservation problem of Peavey Plaza in downtown Minneapolis.

ASLA_MN Presentation_Page_18My interactions with that place involved interviews with homeless people who were living there and discussions with City employees about maintenance problems.  I spoke with people named Eagle Eye, Yoshi, and Patch about their experiences with violence, police brutality, and mosquitoes in this highly publicized urban park plaza.  Peavey Plaza has lost much of former attractiveness for the City but has become a home for wayward people.ASLA_MN Presentation_Page_19My intimacy with that site plus my interest in cultural landscape conservation eventually led me to work on a World Monuments Fund nomination of Peavey.  Listed on the National Register but threatened by City neglect and poor maintenance, the modernist park-plaza has taken on a life of its own.  I employed my documentary skills to better understand the context of its modern identity.  Being able to talk with people about their own experiences there I began to understand that this site is about more than just the historic preservation of a modernist space.  The complex overlays of placemaking are not limited to simply describing the palimpsest of history there.  Issues of social responsibility, public process, and democracy are often entangled in our built environment.  Sometimes, I find it difficult to know what to focus on while exploring design.ASLA_MN Presentation_Page_20Other fascinating issues of the preservation of landscape include climate change and cultural tradition.  Though I have worked in marginal landscapes in both New Mexico and The Gambia, West Africa, my journey to the Republic of Kiribati for the UNESCO World Heritage mission really allowed me to observe the potential implications of my own work.
ASLA_MN Presentation_Page_21Though acknowledging places as having historic importance is important to me, exploring modern landscapes having complex pasts with an eye to the future is the real focus of who I am becoming.  In my work, I hope to strike a balance between conservation of tangible and intangible culture and issues of sustainability, integrity, and adaptability. My background in anthropology combined with my training in design and documentary work have allowed me to experiment, explore, and to understand.

ASLA_MN Presentation_Page_22Exotic places aside, my work has also provided me opportunities closer to home.  My current internship with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has been a great chance to understand the complexities of working with local government.  For over one hundred years, designers and planners in Minneapolis have been developing a unique cultural landscape of lakes, rivers, and skylines.  Over 50 miles of parkways and 6000 acres of park land comprise our incredible recreational space called the Grand Rounds.  I am presently writing a cultural landscape report for the National Register of Historic Places to help conserve this important resource.
ASLA_MN Presentation_Page_23Over the course of the Fall semester, I collaborated with two architecture students – Danica Kane and Jessica Adrejasich- on a project in northern Minnesota.  Studying the balance between resilience and vulnerability, we looked at systems of extraction in the Iron Range and in the Port of Duluth.
ASLA_MN Presentation_Page_25Utilizing drawing, mapping, and modeling, we compared the movement of earth related to local, regional, and global economies.  We produced a soundscape that informed our research and utilized GIS mapping to more fully see the layers of complexity here.
ASLA_MN Presentation_Page_27ASLA_MN Presentation_Page_28ASLA_MN Presentation_Page_30Our project eventually became one that designed a more sustainable future for extraction.  In the Port of Duluth, one of the most active harbors in the USA, we looked at securing wildlife habitat, increasing greenspace, and managing risk for the transportation of raw and processed goods.  Working with the Army Corps of Engineers, we designed an infrastructure that maintained shipping channels while capturing silt from the many streams that drain into the Port. ASLA_MN Presentation_Page_31Finally, I had the opportunity to describe to the ASLA committee my capstone project. I’ve been very excited to move along the research and design process of this important space.  Returning to the work I did at the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks in Ohio during my second year in this program, I’ve been designing an interpretive landscape that describes the amazing geometric earthen architecture in Ohio.ASLA_MN Presentation_Page_34This project has allowed me to really look deeply into the past as I explore the processes of placemaking and cultural landscapes.  More than 2000 years ago, the people now referred to as the Hopewell became the first landscape architects in what is now the United States.  Employing the vocabularies of landscape- namely earth, water, and vegetation- the Hopewell designed many places for civic and ceremonial functions.ASLA_MN Presentation_Page_36ASLA_MN Presentation_Page_35Being an Ohioan by birth, my connection to this place is strong.  My desire to explore the poetic landscapes of the past is one I cannot fully articulate.  My future of work in landscape architecture is driven by my previous experiences as an anthropologist and documentarian.  Developing my skills as a storyteller with the tools of landscape architecture has been an exciting pursuit.ASLA_MN Presentation_Page_38 ASLA_MN Presentation_Page_37Now, as these three years as a graduate student come to a close, I am happy to have this opportunity to reflect back on all I’ve done.  My life has changed drastically since coming to Minneapolis.  In that time, I’ve lost people who were very important to me.  I’ve grown older. My health has suffered from too many late nights and the poor diet of a graduate student.  I’ve done embarrassing things and made a fool of myself in Rapson Hall on more than one occasion.ASLA_MN Presentation_Page_40I wouldn’t change any of it.  I’m proud of the work I presented to the ASLA.  I appreciate the University of Minnesota Department of Landscape Architecture for their nomination for this award.  I acknowledge all of the people- fellow students, professors, and collaborators- who have helped me get to where I am.  I congratulate the other candidates on their own individual achievements.ASLA_MN Presentation_Page_39I look forward to the future following graduation.  As I begin to explore the possibilities for work that lie beyond this degree, I am excited for all I can do.  There are so many opportunities.  I feel very fortunate.  I recently received the Garden Club of Virginia’s William D. Reiley Fellowship to research and write about the birthplace of RJ Reynolds in southern Virginia.  Upon completion of my capstone and graduation, I’ll be leaving the city that has been a great home to me for the last three years and beginning a new chapter of this adventure.  Though I’ll miss the friends I’ve made here and am sorry that I won’t experience another beautiful Minnesota summer, I look forward to the next landscape I can explore.

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Going back and forth between designing the sites and designing the way I present the sites.  From the beginning I’ve wanted to apply an artistic method to the interpretation program at the Earthworks.  Not there yet.  I present my work for midterm review in a few days.  Analysis continues but I’m trying to store that now in my head and focus on the design.

Max_North_Moonset_SectionThis quick section demonstrates that I could utilize a prairie vegetation palette to further accentuate the idea of inside and outside the earthworks.  These places were designed with the intention (we hypothesize) of demarcating a space separate from the every day world.  Using a grass and shrub mix that reflects the oak-savanna landscape would help the visitor get a sense of space there.  It would set the interior of the enclosures apart from the surrounding turf lawns of nearby homes.

SketchTo further set the Earthworks apart, a buyback program near the monuments could establish a stronger sense of separation.  Though this wouldn’t be popular with some locals, it is one option to make the spaces more attractive to visitors and help the City of Newark demonstrate that these spaces are unique and worth the investment.  Cities all around the country often apply buyback and condemnation policies to create larger parks for the enjoyment of all.


The selective removal of trees and the planting of prairie plants would help people have a better understanding of the scale and rhythms of the designed landscape.

SketchSketchAnother aspect of the design process includes quick perspective renderings and section-elevations that envision programming and explores the feeling of the sites as they could be.  This one (below) focuses on the vegetation change within the space.

SectionNight programming too will be very important.  The Octagon was designed to observe specific lunar occurrences on an 18.6 year cycle.

Night section

Diagramming is part of the process of understanding the site as well.  This map shows the Hopewell range as it was concentrated around the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Trade brought materials from afar into the lives of the Hopewell.  Hopewell map

The designed landscape of the Hopewell took people through a processional sequence that elaborated on the natural surroundings.  The diagram below explores those elements.  I hope to push this diagram further in the tradition of Gordon Cullen’s serial vision diagrams.


Great Circle rendering

This rendering shows the restoration of prairie, the return of water, and the making of personal space in the larger structure of the Great Circle.  I’m designing a graphic style with my renderings that tries to ‘break the frame’ of the picture.  Currently, the Earthworks are ‘framed’ in the modern world, set apart and bounded.  I hope my design helps integrate the Earthworks into the modern world rather than setting them apart as museums or monuments.

Night renderingThis rendering also explores night programming.  Some people have told me that 18.6 years is too long to wait for the lunar occurrences.  People today expect everything on-demand.  While I’m not inclined to design that way- I’m interested in creating a slower paced space for contemplation- it might be interesting to explore the idea.  Moon-inspired hot air balloons lifting off from key spaces could help people observe the alignments with a little more rapidity than naturally occurs.  Also, the idea of lighting the space with fire is one that I am interested in.  The original designers of the spaces would have only seen them at night lit by fire and moonlight.  Firelight animates and warms the spaces.  The flames used to warm the air in hot air balloons could also illuminate the space in a dramatic way.

RenderingAnd so it continues…

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Collage Experiment: Questioning the Boundary

Traucht_Collage_1Part of my experimentation with rendering for the project will include trying to capture some of the feeling here.  The above collage merges a photo of the moon with an image I made while visiting the site in December.  The Octagon is a complex oriented to eight different lunar events on an 18.6 year cycle.  This is very important to my design.  The image demonstrates that light pollution from the modern urban environment in Newark creates a conflict of interpretation.


Additionally, as represented by the chopped-up nature of the image, it is difficult for the modern visitor to ‘see’ the site because of modern intrusions. I used textures of applied paint to bring the image out of the 2D realm and to represent the dynamism of the site. Part of our experience there should somehow reflect on the notion that these sites were likely filled with activity and energy during ceremonial practices.


I want my project to explore the decontextualization of space and to obscure the boundaries of the frame as it pertains to the historic site.  We can conjecture that through the manufacture of these sites, the Hopewell might have been creating an idea of ‘inside’ and ‘outside.’  Were they bringing the outside in by digging a ditch to fill with water as seen at the Great Circle? Were they bringing the heavens down to our world by organizing geometry about celestial events?  And, more to the point of historic preservation, how do we conserve a landscape? Do we draw boundaries around something and create historic districts?  As I design, should I focus on the internal landscape contained in the earthworks? Or do I focus on the external relationships of the earthen architecture to one another and the natural surroundings?


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Capstone: Beginning the Design Process

The capstone design process is underway.  Beyond last semester’s research and analysis of a particular problem- how can modern design reflect both the past and the future in preservation projects- the ideas are now being drawn out, experimented with, rejected, revised.

hopewell ceremonial landscapeBubble diagrams are drawn to explore the ideas of program on a regional spatial scale. Are there places in the Newark complex where different parts of the Hopewell story might be articulated?


Sketches explore interpretive problems.  Here are two examples of imagining how the typical touristic experience can reflect what might have been here had the earthworks not been plowed over for agriculture and urban development. The above uses digital imaging to obscure the modern background.


The modern context intrudes into the site but sculptural objects set in the foreground might allow the earthen architecture to become a background field thus pushing the modern further out of view.



These sketches consider the idea of sequencing to lead the modern visitor through a processional much the way that the Hopewell likely accessed these powerful sites.

eagle moundThis sketch was drawn in December while I was visiting the Great Circle in Newark, Ohio. The foreground is the Eagle Mound which reflects the hills on the distant horizon two miles away.  The middle ground is the 15 foot tall wall of the Great Circle and its accompanying internal ditch.  If you’ve been here, you know that these relationships are obscured by the presence of so many trees.  Archaeological investigations and pollen studies suggest that the site was a prairie 2000 years ago.

The next three sketches are design drawings considering earth as a material.

barrier mound

slice piled

The first few weeks of studio work have been consumed with a design and analysis charette which was presented to guest critics.  This required quick studies to explore different ways of designing the experience.

Internal Charette External CharetteThe review was a combination of design and analysis.  This was a good opportunity to begin to consider my graphic language and ability to present abstract concepts through diagrams.  I am fascinated by the Hopewell designs and tend to speak at length of their complexity.  As I move through this project, I hope to use graphics to tell more of that story in a simplified, easily understood way.

Here, I am demonstrating the movement into and out of the Octagon (above) and the Great Circle (below) as it has changed since Hopewell times.


The diagrams below demonstrate ways that the earthen architecture dictates space.


Another aspect of diagramming helps us more clearly see the design of the sites themselves.  Modern intrusions such as the trees planted on the golf course at the Octagon obscure the design intentions of the Hopewell.  The below sequence brings the design forward to help us understand spatial relationships in the designed landscape.

construction linework1

construction image and linework

construction linework

Part of the interpretation of these sites also involves making temporal concepts understandable.  The linear timeline is one way of relating to the spectrum of occupation and use of the Ohio Valley where the Hopewell were part of the sequence.  The timeline below plots various events relative to our understanding of the complexities of the site.  I chose to chronicle the passage of time in years before present as is commonly found in archaeological literature.  You may notice that I designed the articulation of the Ohio Hopewell to resemble a bird in flight.  In his essay “Riverworld: Life and Meaning in the Illinois Valley,” Douglas K. Charles analyzed Hopewell art to explore their concepts of time and space.  Birds are common themes: The raptor flies in a circular formation and swoops from the sky to the earth to capture its prey.  The waterfowl flies in more linear fashions back and forth as the seasons change and occupies equally sky, land, and water.


Another way to consider time is to explore the oral tradition of storytelling in many Native American cultures.  We have no stories from the Hopewell other than those we can tease out of their artifacts, art, burials, and architectures.  Paula Underwood (1932-2000) was an Iroquois oral historian who developed the idea of ‘Past as Prologue’ using Native American methodologies of learning and story telling.  Her collection of oral histories The Walking People includes a passage called “The Great Earth Snake.”  While Ohio’s Serpent Mound is not part of the Ohio Hopewell nomination to UNESCO’s World Heritage List, the story itself is very informative.

great earth snake

moonrise; northernmost extreme

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Personal and Professional Portfolio



I finally posted a portfolio website of my student work.

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Pre-Capstone Final Book

The period leading up to a semester-long capstone project requires careful study of theory, history, and site.  This past semester- almost finished already- has required me to justify my project to my peers, my instructors, and to myself.  I had a lot of help transforming the abstract idea into a model for a real project.  I’m indebted to all who offered support and commentary through this process.  I am especially grateful to Vincent DeBritto, capstone advisor and professor at University of Minnesota; Andrew Montgomery, fellow student and patient reader; Richard Shiels, Director of the Newark Earthworks Center; Brad Lepper, Ohio Historical Society archaeologist; and John Hancock, architect and architectural historian at the Center for the Electronic Reconstruction of Historical and Archaeological Sites (CERHAS).

Please forgive the awkwardness of the presentation: This was assembled to be read in a two page spread book format not as a webpage.


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Approach and Area of Interest (Redraft)

Based upon current readings, the telescope might be replacing the microscope as the preferred instrument to guide new site designs in historic landscapes.  Emerging philosophies of site conservation that consider the passage of time and the subjectivity of place are considered alongside the more traditional objective strategies of preservation.  Captivating designs create sufficient space for personal (the designer’s and the visitor’s) interpretation and exploration while maintaining connections to traditional site values and functions.

My capstone project will attempt to utilize the evolving notions of historic site interpretation and the particular cultural histories of a particular place to create an informed, sensitive, and compelling modern space.  The design itself should acknowledge the complexities of the site, increase the legibility of the landscape, and provide for personal exploration and interpretation.

Interesting treatments of site design in established cultural landscapes are those that allow for the creative interpretation of space with the following guiding principles:

  • Engage the visitor by taking time continuums into account, rather than cataloguing the static monument of stationary moments in time and space;
  • Acknowledge that site can be interpreted in multivariate ways and that one’s own cultural background will influence one’s reading of a place;
  • Reflect upon and react to the myriad ‘time-stains’ that obscure, erase, or embellish a particular site’s legibility;
  • Endeavor to understand the connections to, modifications upon, and interpretations of the landscape;
  • Question the normative modes of so-called objective viewpoints of history.

These goals are becoming increasingly important in historic preservation, which is moving from purely technical and protectionist strategies to those that promote transformative, design-oriented approaches.  My theoretical methodology is informed by textual analysis that deemphasizes authoritative interpretation and by readings of current authors and artists on the subject who encourage subjective analysis.

How does this focus transfer from theory to design?  Answering this question is one of the major problems that this capstone will attempt to solve.  Precedents will be informative.  However, because each historic site is unique, my framework will require site-specific design.  To accomplish this, I will organize the project in a deeply analytical fashion that includes extensive research of the cultural development of the site and continued reinterpretations of place.  The design that follows should reflect the layers of culturally-specific notions of placemaking, should be sensitive to both the spiritual and the secular, and should make space for both traditional and new uses.

Given the inherent constraints of a capstone project—limited scope and time to cope with multifaceted problems—it will be necessary to confidently make informed design decisions that both acknowledge and simplify the complexities of site interpretation.  Because the subject of historic preservation and interpretation is rich with debate, it is important that I approach the capstone as a designer rather than as an anthropologist or historian.  To accomplish this, I might use existing site-specific symbols as design guides, might organize the capstone around principles of local cultural ecology, or might consider ways to provide new spaces for traditional practices.

Preservation is a creative action that utilizes the ‘raw material of circumstance’[1] as its starting—but not ending—point.  The analogy (above) that promotes the telescope in historic site design references the concept that one should prefer long-range perceptions of time and space and the shifting depth of field on a pivoting tripod compared to the static, fine-grained, and unmovable analytical tool of the microscope.   This approach to my area of interest will help me design a capstone that examines a traditional site with a contemporary sensitivity.

[1] Murtagh, William. Keeping Time: The History and Theory of Preservation in America. 2005.

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Disciplined Dreaming Project: Research Issues and Methods

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