Preserving Cultural Landscapes
by Richard Longstreth
Just as the concept of cultural landscape can mitigate polarized views of nature versus artifice, so it can bridge divisive opinions on the relative importance of "architecture" versus "history."
The segregation of these terms into categories was codified by National Register criteria and other documents emanating from the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and reflects long-term attitudes among preservationists in the United States. This bifurcation can wreak great mischief, for it reduces "history" to intangibles — associations with persons, events, and the like — robbing it of any physical dimension.
Thus, Mabel Dodge Luhan's extraordinary adobe house (1918-21) in Taos, New Mexico, was initially proposed as a national historic landmark on the grounds of her involvement with that community's celebrated art colony, while the dwelling and its landscape were presumed to be inconsequential, even though they are poignant embodiments of the owner's personality as well as a singular example of 20th-century design.
Similarly, by employing "architecture" or an allied design category to describe the physical dimension, the significance of all things, including landscapes, may be assessed using a yardstick that is only one of many factors involved in shaping the built environment and oftentimes has no relevance to the resources at hand.
Thus, a community garden created during World War II at the rear of a 1920s apartment building was judged noncontributing, even though it formed an important part of many residents' lives for most of that building's existence, because the garden was not designed and bore no formal relation to the "architecture."
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This article is excerpted from Cultural Landscapes: Balancing Nature and Heritage in Preservation Practice, Richard Longstreth, editor, copyright © 2008, with permission of the publisher, University of Minnesota Press.
Richard Neutra designed the Cyclorama Building at Gettysburg National Military Park near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Photo: Don Wiles
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A ramp allowed visitors to view the landscape of the Gettysburg Battlefield from atop the Cyclorama Building's rectangular wing. The building has been closed by the National Park Service and is slated for demolition.
Photo: Courtesy University of Minnesota Press
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