Bibliographic Essay [Outline] Revision

Bibliographic Essay [Outline]

Question: Under what specific siting can architecture embody meaningful character regarding human existence?

Statement: The sense of a particular place directly informs architecture’s potential to convey different meanings.

Hypothesis: As a symbolic landscape a cemetery combines the processes and properties of nature, as well as the signs and meanings of a culture.

  • Christian Norberg-Shulz in Meaning in Western Architectureexplains the importance of meaning in architecture: “It must be emphasized that existential meanings are not something which is arbitrarily added to man’s daily life. Such meanings are inherent in daily life, consisting of the relationships between natural and human properties, processes and actions.” (Norberg-Shulz, pp. 222)
    • “… the task of the architect is to create places with a particular, meaningful character, for without the dimension of character all the levels would remain mere abstractions…” (Norberg-Shulz, pp. 225)
    • Charles Jencks in defining context/metaphor defines two basic ways a sign achieves meaning :
      • “Through its relation to all the other signs in a context or chain, and through the other signs for which it has become a metaphor by association, or similarity. The synonyms for context are chain, opposition, syntagm, metonymy, contiguity, correlation, paradigmatic or systemic plane.”
      • Jenks defined the most important idea to semiology: “This is perhaps the most fundamental idea of semiology and meaning in architecture: the idea that any form in the environment, or sign in language, is motivated, or capable of being motivated.”
      • Laurie Olin placed importance on the task of defining meaning in landscape architecture and defined two categories:
        • “natural” or “evolutionary” – “Generally these related to aspects of the landscape as a setting for society and have been developed as a reflection or expression of hopes and fears for survival and perpetuation.”
          • In other words through the first category meaning and significance is built over time through use and custom
  • synthetic or “invented” – [the area in which most designers operate] “Often, however, these works refer to aspects or examples of the former non-designed, although culturally freighted, group of landscapes and their meanings.”
    • The second category’s meaning is diminished since the meaning taken from one site does not necessarily make sense for another site.
    • Olin defends the position that design decisions are derived from a greater complexity of factors than taken from ecology alone including social and cultural issues [including aesthetics], and he cautions:
      • “This chilling, close-minded stance of moral certitude is hostile to the vast body of work produced through history, castigating its ‘formal’ and as representing the dominance of humans over nature.”
        • Olin argues that functional and problem-solving ethic of the modern movement has lead to the dismissal of formal landscape design. Though formal landscapes were clearly perceived as synthetic they were designed with the intent of creating meaning. The modern movement considered historical landscapes meaningless because their significance belonged to a different place and time. Landscapes became purely configured for use – this is reflected in the writings that came out of this period as there was little to no discussion of meaning in writings.
        • Wendy Redfield’s article The Suppressed Site: Revealing the Influence of Site on Two Purist Works argues that the modern movement dismissed site without understanding that its forerunners like Le Corbusier and other precedents found meaning in the site.
          • Corbusier’s Parisian homes of the 1920s provided a counterpoint to his schemes and manifestoes in which sought a universal design. Corbusier’s homes from the 20s reveal the complex influences of their site
            • For example the Ozenfant house integrates existing site conditions, and responds differently to the two individual streets its facades engage.
            • Marc Trieb finds that the emerging generation of designers from the 1980s “began to display a new interest in making form, and that many of them claimed that these new forms would be meaningful.” He classified five framed approaches to landscape design and in turn to significance [meaning]:
              • Neoarchaic – Landscape architects that may have referred directly to neolithinc sources. Typical features included hills coiled with spiral paths, cuts in the earth alighned with the rising or setting sun, circles of broken stone and clusters of scared groves
              • Genius of the Place – using the spirit of the place as a means of rooting landscape design in a particular locale. “A garden was not a universal concept to be applied uninflected upon all sites. Instead, the garden revealed the particularities of its place as well as the profundity of the garden’s idea.”
              • The Zeitgeist [“the spirit of the times”] – “If artists and the battery of cultural critics who support and explain their work, have produced a body of work deemed illustrative of the spirit of our time, then landscapes designed with contemporary art-like elements must share that significance.” This identifies landscape architecture as art
              • Vernacular landscape – [related to the Genius of place, but is a rich source of materials and forms] The vernacular approach draws from the “real” world and therefore is directly connected, but by referring to the vernacular the original meaning is not preserved as it must be reframed to fit within landscape design.
              • Didactic path – the didactic approach [one of teaching/instruction] should tell us about the natural processes or history of a place. Again this approach is somewhat related to the [Genius of the place]
              • Trieb questions whether or not the designer posses the power to create a significant landscape or whether as he sees in folk cultures that time is required for a place to earn meaning: “Folk cultures produce places that are almost immediately communicative, and communicative over long periods. Because their connections between form and intention are understood within the culture and evolve only slowly over time, it is possible for the makers, the people, and the meaning of the place to remain in contact.”
                • John Dixon Hunt argues that the designer does indeed have the ability to influence meaning. He uses the example of the English landscape garden to illustrate the point: “like many garden traditions before it, was a coherent system of signs devised to be legible to both makes and visitor.”
                  • References could become landscape features, structures, or written inscriptions used to reduce ambiguity.
  • Hunt’s exploration of genius loci,or spirit of the place, presents the notion that landscapes can be valued for more than just their aesthetic qualities. He then uses the painter Turner as an example to describe the intuitive portion of understanding the spirit of the place
    • He commends the talent of Turner for being able to capture through his painting the genius loci: “What is crucial about these motifs is that country estates required of the landscape artist both a visual naturalism and an instinct for their special sense of place: on the one hand, optical and visual accuracy, and on the other celebration of something more elusive than simple topography; what the visiting eye would see as well as the special rapport that its owners and residents would have for an estate.” (Hunt, pp. 235)
    • [Hunt’s view of Turner’s “instinct for the special sense of a place” speaks not only to artists with this instinct, but also to architects: in other words by working closely with and understanding the importance of the landscape architects can also capture this same sense of place]


Architecture: Meaning and Place. Christian Norberg-Shulz. New York, New York: Rizzoli International Publications (1988)

Meaning in Western Architecture. Christian Norberg-Schulz. New York, New York: Rizzoli International Publications (1980)

Meaning in Architecture. Edited by Charles Jencks and George Baird. New York, New York: George Braziller, Inc. (1970)

The Suppressed Site: Revealing the Influence of Site on Two Purist Works. Wendy Redfield. New York: Routledge (2005)

Gardens and the Picturesque: Studies in the History of Landscape Architecture. John Dixon Hunt. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press (1992)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: