Why Not Cultural Systems? Expanding Our Value System Beyond Nature and Ecology

How do cultural landscapes shape our shared public memory? How do our collective planning, design and stewardship decisions affect how we assign value and manage change? Once a project is built, how do we measure success?

In an attempt to address these challenges, what role can – and should — Landscape Architecture play as collaborative participants in a national reckoning? How can the discipline prepare themselves to develop the necessary awareness and tools to address historical (and purposeful) erasure, memorials of the past, antiquated rigidity of historic government standards — and – in response, how can we commemorate the past in our shared public realm in our cities, parks, campuses (academic, cultural), and elsewhere – by amplifying community voices?  

This seminar will examine the planning, design and stewardship opportunities — and constraints — frequently encountered when dealing with cultural landscapes. In addition to addressing foundational principles, this seminar will demonstrate how bridging the artificial, often segmented divides between both design and historic preservation as well as nature (accelerated by climate change resiliency) and culture can result in an expanded, holistic, and more nuanced design interventions.

Specifically, this seminar will address the issues, and identify the tools and strategies surrounding the research, analysis. planning, treatment, and management of cultural landscapes from surgical design interventions to a landscape that was (and can still be) associated with important people, cultural lifeways, or past events. Cultural landscapes are a palimpsest to be read, that can be both messy and complicated, and rich in a narrative that is waiting to be revealed.

Methodologies for historic research, tools for documenting existing conditions, and strategies for evaluating and analyzing cultural landscapes will be reviewed and tested. In addition, considerations and tools for assigning value, and the myriad and interrelated issues surrounding the level of design intervention, carrying capacity for change, and prescriptions for management and interpretation will also be debated. This work will be buttressed with case studies, supplemented with a small number of local site visits, and two required student presentations.

Finally, a diversity of planning, design and stewardship challenges will be addressed. This includes: physical and financial limitations for essential research; how we assess and assign significance; the value we place on context (both physical and historical); the quest for authenticity and why this is an underutilized tool in our design kits; antiquity as an asset (also known as weathering); the need to determine a landscape’s carrying capacity for change; and, the recognition of a cultural landscape's palimpsest (historic layers).  Integral to this work, the necessity for communications strategies for messaging and meaningful public engagement will be a key consideration.


The first day of GSD classes, Tuesday, September 5th, is held as a MONDAY schedule. As this course only meets on Tuesdays, the first meeting of this course will be on Tuesday, September 12th. It will meet regularly thereafter.