Area of Knowledge- Capstone Project Programming

Articulate the primary ‘area of knowledge’ within the discipline of landscape architecture to be investigated in the Capstone and express why it is of personal interest. The development of an area of knowledge is more useful to the progress of a Capstone project than fixating on a particular site.

As notions of historic preservation move from synchronic models based on static presentations of segmented linear time to those referencing conservation in diachronic representations of dynamic, cyclical time, the onus is upon designers to make spaces that contribute to this dialogue.  Some of the most challenging places to represent are the ceremonial civic spaces of cultures no longer present, no longer capable of voicing their own stories.  Given that many of these significant sites are protected as National Park Service properties, it is appropriate to begin to think about ways that designers can work with NPS as they move forward into their 2nd century.

In 2009, the NPS outlined their goals for the next century of stewardship and citizen service.  Included in that listing are the ideas of establishing ‘collaborative models’ to ‘foster ecosystem and cultural connectivity’ and of ‘enhancing community conservation’ in order to ‘preserve distinctive heritage resources’.[i]  As a means to that end, agencies such as—but not limited to—the NPS are obligated to modernize their approaches of interpreting and preserving cultural landscapes.

Some of these cultural landscapes were considerably significant spaces to cultures no longer represented in modern space-time.  The inhabitants of these places were true architects of the landscape, affecting the ecosystem, the topography, and the legibility of those spaces.  As we endeavor to understand the connections to, modifications upon, and interpretations of the landscape, we are creating a dialogue with the past.  Participants in that conversation include the disparate voices of associated descendants (Native American tribes who’ve been relocated), anthropologists and archaeologists involved in research and interpretation, the current managing agencies of said landscapes, and the public-at-large.  The landscape architect can serve as a moderator and interpreter of that conversation.

The strategies of historic preservation upon buildings generally offer opportunities to research and deploy management strategies fairly without controversy.  Historic cultural landscapes however offer challenges relating to legibility, connectivity, and change.  Over time, as use patterns shift, as invasive species take hold, and as culturally derived semiotic readings of ‘place’ transition to new understandings and biases, the landscape itself too changes.  When presenting cultural landscapes to the visitor, the managing agency is responsible for providing a clear picture of the former embodiment of the place while at the same time allowing the current character to flourish.  This task is all the more difficult where extreme modifications have occurred such as the transition from wilderness to industrial agricultural zone or, more broadly, from natural to urban.  While landscape has never been static, the use patterns and extreme changes that some places experience make the presentation of the historic meanings imbued in the place difficult or impossible.

While it is unreasonable to think that we might be able to turn-back the clock when studying and managing cultural landscapes, the designer has the opportunity to assimilate the former character of the landscape into the present.  To do this successfully, one must use historic surveys, precedent studies, and collaborative processes to create contextual designs sensitive to the landscape of the past as well as the present.

I find this area of study particularly fascinating for a number of reasons.  For more than a decade, I have been involved in cross-cultural interactions regarding social connection to place.  My training as an anthropologist provided me opportunities to work in Native American communities in a traditional participant-observation mode of research.  This enabled me to open my understanding of place and history to concepts that might differ from my own.  As an archaeologist, I spent three years investigating the in situ traces of culture where the former landscape character and use has been drastically interrupted, obscured, or erased.   This helped me develop my perception of abstract and disconnected modifications across space and time.  My goal is to continue to be involved in cross-cultural exchange as expressed in landscape design.

My intention with this capstone is to use the practices of evidence-based design and site-specific research to create landscape designs that are meaningful as well as functional.  Given that many significant cultural landscapes have been altered by new uses and spatial relationships, I think a capstone revolving around the re-presentation of ceremonial space can be especially informative.

Upon articulating the area of knowledge I wish to pursue, continued research is the next step in the process.  By analyzing theory regarding placemaking, cultural landscapes, and historic preservation, I hope to become better acquainted with the subject.  I also need to investigate the existing literature about those people who created these spaces but now are no longer present.  It will be important, once the site is chosen, to assemble detailed information about native ecologies, current use patterns, and future development strategies.  Precedent studies relative to ceremonial space and representation will also be informative.  Another goal of the research will involve making contacts with interested parties to achieve a sensitive, multi-vocal interpretation of the landscape at hand.  This collective body will include scholars of Native American studies as well as anthropologists and individuals interested in ‘spectral traces’ of human geography.  If possible, representatives from the concerned tribes will also be consulted.  Faculty in the Department of Landscape Architecture will also be invaluable.


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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