Landscape Imbued with Meaning

Functionality in architecture and landscape design may satisfy the physical needs of humans, but it is unable to appease the human thirst for intellectual stimulation. Landscape architect, Laurie Olin, described the plight of utilitarian design with its “functional and problem-solving ethic which, although socially beneficial up to a point, has in effect asserted that mere instrumentality is sufficient in the creation of human environments.”[i] However, humans confront meaning everyday. Since meaning is inherent in daily life architectural and landscape forms must also be meaningful. In Meaning in Western Architecture Christian Norberg Schulz describes symbolism’s importance to humans:

“Any human product may be considered a symbol or tool which serves the purpose of bringing order (meaning) into certain relations between man and his environment, and nonverbal behavior is just as dependent upon structured symbol systems as verbal behavior… This means that any individual is born into a system of meanings which he comes to know through its symbolic manifestations.”[ii]

Symbolism’s importance lies in its quality as an aid to humans in the comprehension of meaning embedded in a place. The use of meaningful symbols may express the complexities of human existence in architectural form. Landscape architecture and the relation of building and landscape must promote the creation of meanings through the medium of symbols.

Meaning can be categorized as either natural or synthetic. In the article Form, Meaning, and Expression in Landscape Architecture Laurie Olin defined the first category as “natural” or “evolutionary” and the second as “synthetic” or “invented.” The first category “natural” or “evolutionary” builds meaning and significance over time through use and custom, the second category “synthetic” or “invented” references meaning from work of the past, therefore the meaning of the second category is diminished since the meaning taken from one site does not necessarily have the same meaning on another site.[iii] Most designers today operate under the category of “synthetic”, and for this reason meaning associated with the design of architecture and landscape has become weak.

How can a designer create a form meaningful to a place? Marc Treib’s article, Must Landscapes Mean?, acknowledged the return of designers’ interest in creating meaningful forms in the 1980s: “[designers] began to display a new interest in making form, and many of them claimed that these new forms would be meaningful.”[iv] Treib classified five approaches to landscape design that created meaning. Of the five approaches the genius of the place, which used the spirit of the place as a means of rooting landscape to its particular place, and the Zeitgeist, which identifies landscape architecture as art and something representing “the spirit of the times,” fall within the category of “natural” meaning. The remaining three approaches defined by Treib: the neoarchaic approach, often referred directly to Neolithic sources; the vernacular landscape, draws from the “real” world but by referring to the vernacular the original meaning is not preserved; the didactic approach, is one of teaching and should inform the user about the natural processes or history of a place.

The approaches to design that fall within the “natural” category of meaning have become most associated with design of the past, while current approaches to design fall under the “synthetic ” category of meaning. The didactic approach is employed by most designers today, and often seeks to replace or recreate features which once existed on a place. Christian Norberg-Schulz supported that true meaning cannot be achieved without time as set forth in the “natural” category of creating meaning. John Dixon Hunt offers the counterpoint, in support of the “synthetic” category of meaning, that meaning can be created by the designer and imbued on a site during conception.

It takes time for a place to accrue meaning. The design of architecture and landscape should foster the creation of meaning to be categorized under Olin’s definition of “natural” meaning. Christian Norberg-Schulz explains the importance of meaning in architecture:

“It must be emphasized that existential meanings are inherent in daily life, consisting of the relationships between natural and human properties, processes and actions. But, if meanings are inherent in daily life, why do we have to worry about ‘making life meaningful?’ Firstly, it is necessary to become sensitive to meanings; the faculty of perception has to be developed to allow for an adequate ‘intentional depth.’ Secondly, meanings have to be made clearly manifest to make a socially valid perception possible. Hence the importance of symbolism.”[v]

It takes time for a place to accrue meaning and the place cannot gain it without intent during design. Marc Treib determined that while a designer cannot directly associate a place with significance the designer can aid making a place significant: “I do believe that we can circumscribe the range of possible reactions to a designed place. We cannot make the place mean, but we can, I hope, instigate reactions to the place that will fall within the desired confines of happiness, gloom, joy, contemplation, or delight… It would seem that a designer could create a landscape of pleasure that in itself would become significant.”[vi] For Treib meaning compares to respect it can only be acquired with time, and the designer’s prior decisions influence how it will be perceived.

Establishing connections to cultural ideas aid rooting form with its site. Treib referred to the importance of culture through folk cultures that created meaningful places: “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 slowly over time, it is possible for the makers, the people, and the meaning of the place to remain in contact.”[vii] Designed spaces successfully create meaning when they tap into the culture of the place. Of the approaches to creating meaning in landscape designs as identified by Treib two are of the “natural” category of meaning. Firstly, the approach of the genius of the place requires an understanding of the culture of the place. Secondly, the Zeitgeist is also tied to culture, but is often associated with art as a “spirit of the times.” Through the connection to a culture the meanings embodied on a site become widely understood across different people within the culture.

The Woodland Cemetery, located outside Stockholm, designed by Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz captures the genius loci and gracefully joins architecture and landscape. Treib speculated on where the magnificence of Woodland came from: “Perhaps the power of this funeral landscape ultimately derives from an almost animistic feeling of pre-Christianity that addresses the forest, the land, and the heavens as a primeval setting. Perhaps the design also tapped into something basic to Swedish religion and culture.”[viii] Asplund and Lewerentz ‘s design combined ideas about the soul of and the emotional content of the landscapes and the buildings of the cemetery.  The design borrowed from archetypal Nordic landscape images created by the romantic German painter Caspar David Friedrich such as: “the deep evergreen forest with graves set in the wilderness, the church with surrounding churchyard, and the dolmen and earth mound on the heath surrounded by oaks, and the wayfarer’s cross… Friedrich’s landscapes… took on transcendental and symbolic dimensions.”[ix] Symbols such as the earth mound related directly to cultural history in this case being ancient burial mounds of the past. In Nordic history there was also a tradition of woodland cemeteries; cemeteries where graves were protected within the shade of dense Nordic forests. Asplund and Lewerentz connected to the culture’s past to create strong symbols that were accessible to the visiting public.

Often the invention of meaning in a place, in reference to Olin’s definition of “synthetic” meaning, is taken from precedent. John Dixon Hunt argued that a designer has the ability to give a specific place meaning. He used 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 maker and visitor.”[x] The success of the formal English landscape lies in the meaning embodied in its design. Symbolic references could be landscape features, structures, or written inscriptions used to reduce ambiguity. The Modern Movement dismissed this type of landscape for its artificiality and association with the past. As a result designed landscapes and architecture have lost the sense of genius loci. Hunt’s exploration of genius loci claimed that landscapes can be valued for more than their aesthetic qualities.

Intuition plays a major role in the giving of meaning to a place. Hunt explained the intuition required to understand the genius loci seen through the works of painter J. M. W. Turner. Turner’s work creatively exaggerated certain aspects of a site to create the spirit of the place:

“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”[xi]

While Hunt was praising a painter, Turner, for his understanding of genius loci designers could apply the same understanding and sense of the spirit of the place to impose meaning upon a site. Of Treib’s approaches to creating meaning in landscape design three are of the “synthetic” category. First, the neoarchaic approach drew directly from neoarchaic examples, and therefore was based on past precedent. Second, the vernacular landscape approach drew from vernacular examples, therefore also based on precedent. Third, the didactic approach informs the user about the natural processes or history of a place, but the history that it refers to may no longer be relevant to the times. Because all of the “synthetic” meanings are based on the past or examples of prior design the meanings they capture do not reflect the current times, and as a result do not hold the same strength in their meaning as the genius of the place or the Zeitgeist.

Since humans confront symbols of meaning everyday the designed human environment must be imbued with meaning. Designers of architecture and landscape alike must foster the creation of meaningful form. When confronted by designed forms expressive of the complexities of human existence humans will question and validate their existence.


[i] Laurie Olin, Form, Meaning, and Expression in Landscape Architecture, The Landscape Journal.

[ii] Christian Norberg-Schulz, Meaning in Western Architecture, pp. 222

[iii] Laurie Olin, Form, Meaning, and Expression in Landscape Architecture, The Landscape Journal.

[iv] Marc Treib, Must Landscapes Mean? pp. 98

[v] Christian Norberg-Schulz, Meaning in Western Architecture, pp. 222

[vi] Marc Treib, Must Landscapes Mean? pp. 100

[vii] Marc Treib, Must Landscapes Mean? pp. 99

[viii] Marc Treib, Must Landscapes Mean? pp. 99

[ix] Stuart Wrede, Landscape and Architecture, Perspecta. pp 199

[x] John Dixon Hunt, Gardens and the Picturesque. pp. 217

[xi] John Dixon Hunt, Gardens and the Picturesque. pp. 235

Bibliography

 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”, Site Matters. 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)

“Landscape and Architecture: The Work of Erik Gunnar Asplund.” Perspecta, Vol. 20. Stuart Wrede, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press (1983)

Form, Meaning, and Expression in Landscape Architecture. The Landscape Journal, Vol. 7, No. 2. Laurie Olin. Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press (1988)

Must Landscape Mean? (1995), Theory in Landscape Architecture: A Reader. Marc Treib. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press (2002)

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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”, Site Matters. 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)

“Landscape and Architecture: The Work of Erik Gunnar Asplund.” Perspecta, Vol. 20. Stuart Wrede, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press (1983)

Form, Meaning, and Expression in Landscape Architecture. The Landscape Journal, Vol. 7, No. 2. Laurie Olin. Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press (1988)

Must Landscape Mean? (1995), Theory in Landscape Architecture: A Reader. Marc Treib. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press (2002)

Meaning in Architecture: A Site’s Character

The functionalism of the Modern Movement has lead to the dissolution of meaning in architecture and the landscape in favor of more utilitarian concerns. Swiss architect and second director of the Bauhaus, Hannes Meyer, clearly expresses this modern attitude of functionality: “everything in this world is a product of the formula (function times economy); all art is composition and therefore unfunctional; all life is function and therefore unartistic.”[i] The attention to landscape design remains basic and schematic in the work of prominent modern architects such as Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. Mies integrated architecture with landscape by extending walls out into nature and through the extensive use of glass. Frank Lloyd Wright’s work shows a sensibility for the integration of architecture and the natural landscape. Le Corbusier, Wright, and the Modern Movement in general, were however, biased toward the natural landscape. Stuart Wrede explains the primary reason for the bias: “underlying this bias was the Modern Movement’s urge to discard history and begin at the beginning.”[ii] For this reason the traditional garden and park; an artificial construction, one that was designed with the intention to contain meaning accessible to the users, were seen as obsolete and in effect new constructions were designed for their functionality void of meaningful character.

Utilitarian design as described by the landscape architect, Laurie Olin, with its “functional and problem-solving ethic which, although socially beneficial up to a point, has in effect asserted that mere instrumentality is sufficient in the creation of human environments”[iii], but man confronts symbols of meaning everyday. Therefore the design of architecture and the landscape should foster the creation of meaning. This does not discredit everything that modernism stands for, but it looks critically at the repetition and reuse of old forms where their meaning is no longer discernable. Christian Norberg-Schulz explains the importance of meaning in architecture:

“It must be emphasized that existential meanings are inherent in daily life, consisting of the relationships between natural and human properties, processes and actions. But, if meanings are inherent in daily life, why do we have to worry about ‘making life meaningful?’ Firstly, it is necessary to become sensitive to meanings; the faculty of perception has to be developed to allow for an adequate ‘intentional depth.’ Secondly, meanings have to be made clearly manifest to make a socially valid perception possible. Hence the importance of symbolism.”[iv]

Symbolism allows for the perception of meaning, and its perception brings depth to man’s existence.  Since meaning is inherent in daily life landscape architecture and the relation of building and landscape must promote the creation of meanings through the medium of symbols. The representation of meaning in the design of architecture and landscape requires the creation of symbols. In Meaning in Western Architecture Christian Norberg Schulz describes symbolism’s importance to man:

“Any human product may be considered a symbol or tool which serves the purpose of brining order (meaning) into certain relations between man and his environment, and nonverbal behavior is just as dependent upon structured symbol systems as verbal behavior… This means that any individual is born into a system of meanings which he comes to know through its symbolic manifestations.”[v]

Since symbolism is a relevant source of understanding for man employing symbolic relationships would allow the user better understanding of a site, thereby creating connection between user and site through embedded meaning. The use of meaningful symbols may express the complexities of human existence comprehensible to the user. Only through clearly articulated symbols can man perceive the associated meanings and validate his own existence. In Must Landscapes Mean? Marc Treib refers to folk cultures that created meaningful places: “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 slowly over time, it is possible for the makers, the people, and the meaning of the place to remain in contact.”[vi] The focus of Treib’s text surrounds the question of whether or not the designer can design significance into a place at the time of its conception. Treib determines that while a designer cannot directly associate a place with significance the designer can aid making a place significant: “I do believe that we can circumscribe the range of possible reactions to a designed place. We cannot make the place mean, but we can, I hope, instigate reactions to the place that will fall within the desired confines of happiness, gloom, joy, contemplation, or delight… It would seem that a designer could create a landscape of pleasure that in itself would become significant.”[vii] For Treib meaning compares to respect it can only be acquired with time, and the designer’s prior decisions influence how it will be perceived.

In contrast to Marc Treib’s opinion John Dixon hunt agues that a designer has the ability to give a place 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 maker and visitor.”[viii] The success of the formal English landscape lies in the meaning embodied in its design. Symbolic references could be landscape features, structures, or written inscriptions used to reduce ambiguity. The Modern Movement has dismissed this type of landscape for its artificiality and association with the past. As a result designed landscapes and architecture have lost the genius loci, or spirit of the place. Hunt’s exploration of genius loci claims that landscapes can be valued for more than their aesthetic qualities. Hunt explains the intuition required to understand the genius loci through the works of painter J. M. W. Turner. Turner’s work creatively exaggerated certain aspects of a site to create the spirit of the place:

“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”[ix]

While Hunt was praising a painter, Turner, for his understanding of genius loci designers could apply the same understanding and sense of the spirit of the place. The Woodland Cemetery, located outside Stockholm, designed by Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz captures the genius loci and gracefully joins architecture and landscape. Treib speculated on where the magnificence of Woodland came from: “Perhaps the power of this funeral landscape ultimately derives from an almost animistic feeling of pre-Christianity that addresses the forest, the land, and the heavens as a primeval setting. Perhaps the design also tapped into something basic to Swedish religion and culture.”[x] Asplund and Lewerentz ‘s design combined ideas about the soul of and the emotional content of the landscapes and the buildings of the cemetery.  The design borrowed from archetypal Nordic landscape images created by the romantic German painter Caspar David Friedrich such as: “the deep evergreen forest with graves set in the wilderness, the church with surrounding churchyard, and the dolmen and earth mound on the heath surrounded by oaks, and the wayfarer’s cross… Friedrich’s landscapes… took on transcendental and symbolic dimensions.”[xi] Symbols such as the earth mound related directly to cultural history in this case being ancient burial mounds of the past. In Nordic history there was also a tradition of woodland cemeteries; cemeteries where graves were protected within the shade of dense Nordic forests. Asplund and Lewerentz connected to the culture’s past to create strong symbols that were accessible to the visiting public.

In Laurie Olin’s article Form, Meaning, and Expression in Landscape Architecture Olin defines two categories of meaning in landscapes. The first category “natural” or “evolutionary” builds meaning and significance over time through use and custom, the second category “synthetic” or “invented” references meaning from work of the past, therefore the meaning of the second category is diminished since the meaning taken from one site does not necessarily have the same meaning on another site. [xii] The second category Olin defines for creating meaning is the one under which most designers operate and a reason new designed landscapes have lost their meaning. Forms that were significant on one site loose their meaning when reused in another place. Marc Treib’s article, Must Landscapes Mean?, acknowledged the return of designers’ interest in creating meaningful forms in the 1980s: “[designers] began to display a new interest in making form, and many of them claimed that these new forms would be meaningful.”[xiii] Treib classified five approaches to landscape design that created meaning: the neoarchaic approach often referred directly to Neolithic sources, the genius of the place used the spirit of the place as a means of rooting landscape to its particular place, the Zeitgeist identifies landscape architecture as art as something representing “the spirit of the times”, the vernacular landscape approach draws from the “real” world but by referring to the vernacular the original meaning is not preserved, the didactic approach is one of teaching and should inform the user about the natural processes or history of a place. For both Olin and Treib the past’s importance lies in its place as a point of departure for future study and design. Previous examples of landscape design have not become irrelevant simply because times have changed. Certain meanings associated with previous designs may no longer speak to a culture in the same way, but the way in which the designs meant must be understood as a way to embody new meaning in the landscape.

In conclusion as an important connection for man to landscape and buildings in relation to landscape symbolic relationships must be embodied in designed landscapes. The Modern Movement lead to the dismissal of meaning in landscape because their significance belonged to another time and place. Symbolic relationships give places meaning, something man confronts on a daily basis and that structures man’s existence. Therefore the element of meaning should not be removed from landscape in favor of spaces configured purely for use. Marc Treib presented the argument that meaning is not something that a designer can imbed in design, but that meaning is something that takes time to accrue. The designer can aid in a place gaining meaning with time, but that designer cannot directly give the place a desired meaning. John Dixon Hunt presents the counterpoint through the example of the English landscape garden one with visible meaning intended by the designer from the project’s origin. The genius loci must be understood for a place to achieve meaning as Hunt points out through the painter Turner: genius loci is something that a designer may need to understand intuitively. The Woodland Cemetery presents a modern example of a landscape which embeds symbolic meaning in the design. Asplund and Lewerentz connected to meaning in the Nordic culture as a way to create widely understood meaning. Lauire Olin and Marc Treib each created classifications of ways landscapes mean. Treib’s classification can be understood as one that grew out of Olin’s, it framed five approaches to creating significance: the neoarchaic, the genius of the place, the Zeitgeist, the vernacular landscape, and the didactic approach. Olin and Treib’s articles both respect history as something to be taken to advance the design of landscapes; not one to be forgotten. Symbolism is one of the strongest ways in which man can perceive meanings and relationships that create this should be employed in designed landscapes.


[i] Hannes Meyer, Bauen, Bauhaus.

[ii] Stuart Wrede, Landscape and Architecture, Perspecta. pp. 196

[iii] Laurie Olin, Form, Meaning, and Expression in Landscape Architecture, The Landscape Journal.

[iv] Christian Norberg-Schulz, Meaning in Western Architecture, pp. 222

[v] Christian Norberg-Schulz, Meaning in Western Architecture, pp. 222

[vi] Marc Treib, Must Landscapes Mean? pp. 99

[vii] Marc Treib, Must Landscapes Mean? pp. 100

[viii] John Dixon Hunt, Gardens and the Picturesque. pp. 217

[ix] John Dixon Hunt, Gardens and the Picturesque. pp. 235

[x] Marc Treib, Must Landscapes Mean? pp. 99

[xi] Stuart Wrede, Landscape and Architecture, Perspecta. pp 199

[xii] Laurie Olin, Form, Meaning, and Expression in Landscape Architecture, The Landscape Journal.

[xiii] Marc Treib, Must Landscapes Mean? pp.

INTRODUCTION

  • Functionalism of the modern movement – leading factor in the dissolution of meaning in architecture and landscape design
    • Hannes Meyer: “everything in this world is a product of the formula [function times economy]; all art is composition and therefore unfunctional; all life is function and therefore unartistic”
    • Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, and Frank Lloyd Wright – attention to landscape is basic/schematic
      • Any interest in the landscape is biased towards the natural landscape [disregard for designed landscape]

BODY

  • Architecture should foster the creation of meaning
    • Christian Norberg-Schulz: “It must be emphasized that existential meanings are inherent in daily life, consisting of the relationships between natural and human properties, processes and actions. But, if meanings are inherent in daily life, why do we have to worry about ‘making life meaningful?’ Firstly, it is necessary to become sensitive to meanings; the faculty of perception has to be developed to allow for an adequate ‘intentional depth.’ Secondly, meanings have to be made clearly manifest to make a socially valid perception possible. Hence the importance of symbolism.”
    • Importance of symbolism to meaning and to man in general [Schulz]
    • Marc Trieb – what is a designer’s role in bringing meaning to a place?
      • “I do believe that we can cirumcscribe the range of possible reactions to a designed place. We cannot make the place mean, but we can, I hope, instigate reactions to the place that will fall within the desired confines of happiness, gloom, joy, contemplation, or delight… It would seem that a designer could create a landscape of pleasure that in itself would become significant.”
  • John Dixon Hunt offers the counterpoint to Trieb in his belief that the designer has the ability to bring meaning to a place
    • Hunt on the English landscape garden: “like many garden traditions before it, was a coherent system of signs devised to be legible to both makes and visitor.”
    • Hunt’s discussion of genius loci and the role of intuition on the designers part
      • The Woodland Cemetery by Lewerentz and Asplund – captures the idea of genius loci and blends architecture and landscape design [creates several cultural symbols]
  • Laurie Olin – defines two categories of meaning in landscapes
    • Natural or evolutionary
    • Synthetic or invented
  • Marc Trieb classifies five different approaches to landscape design
    • Neoarchaic
    • Genius of the place
    • The Zeitgeist
    • Vernacular landscape
    • Didactic approach [one of teaching]

CONCLUSION

  • Importance of symbolic relationships in architecture and the landscape – part of man’s daily life 

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]

Bibliography

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)