The Anatomy of an Island

‘In every landscape, the point of astonishment is the meeting of the sky and the earth.’  Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature, 1850

The Anatomy of an Island forms the second installment of a trilogy of studio projects exploring the notion of islands as geological, bio-geographical and man-made cultural constructs.
Whilst last year’s studio concentrated on theoretical discourse, cartographic  exploits and speculative invention of man-made islands spread around the globe; this year’s studio will focus on the direct topological engagement and specific (landscape) architectonic intervention for a particular place.

The topic of this year’s studio will be the design of individual student’s selected sites on Mount Desert Island, Maine. The island -275 miles northeast of Boston-   was described by novelist Norman Mailer as ‘more luminous than the rest of Maine’. The island’s dramatic scenery was first revealed by nineteenth century Hudson School of landscape painters such as Thomas Cole and Frederick Church. Their painting acted as advertisements and propelled tourists and summer residents (so called ‘rusticators’) to the island, which in the 1920’s became the location of Acadia National Park.

Our studio will follow in the illustrious footsteps the late nineteenth summer camp escapades of the Young Harvard Boys; a band of classmates who created the Champlain Society and were roaming the island as hyperactive squirrels collecting and dissecting the wonders of the natural world in pursue of scientific enquiry. Champlain Society members chose which “specialty” or department they would contribute to: collecting flowers for the botanical department, dredging for marine invertebrates, shooting birds for the ornithology department, recording the weather from their meteorological station, or surveying geology. Their ringleader Charles Eliot – son of Charles W. Eliot President of Harvard College – became an influential landscape architect and partner in the firm of Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. The early scientific enquiries of the Champlain Society can be regarded as forerunner to comprehensive regional planning.

We will study in forensic detail the looped carriageways as commissioned to Olmsted Jr. by John D. Rockefeller, which found its actual prototype in the carriageway system devised by Olmsted Sr. for Central Park, New York. We are especially interested in contemporary notions of ’beauty and sublime’ and will study the notion of movement, serial vision and cinematic techniques as exploits of landscape. As part of our studio we set an interim exercise to explore the notion of the constructed ‘panorama’ and experiment the illusory nature of representation the landscape.  Students are invited to create their own multi-media landscape ‘observatory’, which anticipates the active participation of the spectator.

The studio incorporates a 3 or 4 day field trip to Mount Desert Island as well a visit to the Olmsted Archives at Fairsted.