A New Perspective on Forming the American Landscape
by Howard Davis
Book Review: Organization Space: Landscapes, Highways and Houses in America by Keller Easterling. MIT Press, 1999, ISBN 0-262-05061-7.
Some books about architecture are concerned primarily with individual buildings, or individual architects, or with architectural style. These are all interesting enough subjects, but often far from the built things that most people experience every day.
The world of freeways and shopping centers, suburbs and supermarkets, surrounds us like the air we breathe. But the question of how all that got to be the way it is has not often been the subject of architectural writing. That is happily beginning to change, with many new books on the vernacular architecture of the recent past and present.
For example, Richard Longstreth's From City Center to Regional Mall traces the development of shopping centers in Los Angeles; other books have dealt with the "Case Study Houses" in California.
But most of those books are still mainly architectural accounts, seeing the building at the center. Although admittedly extending the concerns of the architectural historian into political and economic realms, they come at the subject from the point of view of the artifact.
But the phenomena of highways, suburbs, and landscapes are fundamentally dynamic, and one might argue that these things cannot be dealt with as individual artifacts, but only in their relationships with each other.
A highway is not just a long concrete slab with striped lane markings. It connects places; it has dynamic relationships with those places; it has edges with a certain legal status; it has interactions with the land it passes through; it brings people in touch with landscapes; and all of these things have cultural meaning and are laden with legal, economic, political, and social systems.
In a 1913 design competition for a Chicago subdivision, architect Frank Lloyd Wright proposed his vision of suburbia.
Image: MIT Press
A 1938 proposal for U.S. transcontinental superhighways.
Image: MIT Press
Click on thumbnail images
to view full-size pictures.