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Landscape in Sight

Landscape in Sight: Looking at America

John Brinckerhoff Jackson
Edited by Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz
Copyright Date: 1997
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 440
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  • Book Info
    Landscape in Sight
    Book Description:

    During a long and distinguished career, John Brinckerhoff Jackson (1909-1996) brought about a new understanding and appreciation of the American landscape. Hailed in 1995 byNew York Timesarchitectural critic Herbert Muschamp as "America's greatest living writer on the forces that have shaped the land this nation occupies," Jackson foundedLandscape Magazinein 1951, taught at Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley, and wrote nearly 200 essays and reviews. This appealing anthology of his most important writings on the American landscape, illustrated with his own sketches and photographs, brings together Jackson's most famous essays, significant but less well known writings, and articles that were originally published unsigned or under various pseudonyms. Jackson also completed a new essay for this volume, "Places for Fun and Games," a few months before his death.Focusing not on nature but on landscape-land shaped by human presence-Jackson insists in his writings that the workaday world gives form to the essential American landscape. In the everyday places of the countryside and city, he discerns texts capable of revealing important truths about society and culture, present and past. For this collection Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz provides an introduction that discusses the larger body of Jackson's writing and locates each of the selected essays within his oeuvre. She also includes a complete bibliography of Jackson's writings.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18564-5
    Subjects: Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. J. B. Jackson and the Discovery of the American Landscape
    (pp. ix-xxxi)
    Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz

    When I found the writings of J. B. Jackson a quarter-century ago, it was an answer to a deeply felt need. As a novice historian with an amateur’s interest in architecture, I was exploring areas close to home, armed with the new architectural guides to neighborhoods. I had become aware that the surrounding world was not simply a given but was a historically created artifact. Yet I had no way to read it. The guides at hand were too technical, too focused on decorative motifs and facades. I wanted to understand how people lived in the houses and prayed in...

  4. Editor’s Note
    (pp. xxxii-xxxii)
  5. Editor’s Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxxiii-xxxv)
  6. Places for Fun and Games
    (pp. 1-16)

    We find ourselves driving down a street in a poor section of town. The uniform frame houses, each with a front porch and a patch of grass, are separated by narrow alleyways leading to the garages. In places the street is bordered by vacant lots and billboards, but along both curbs cars are closely parked.

    Traffic proceeds by fits and starts. A dozen or more small children are running along the sidewalks; when they suddenly decide to cross the street and dart out from between the parked cars, some of them stoop to recover a cap or a glove or...

  7. Part 1 Landscape Explorations

    • The Stranger’s Path
      (pp. 19-29)

      As one who is by way of being a professional tourist with a certain painfully acquired knowledge of how to appraise strange cities, I often find myself brought up short by citizens remarking that I can’t really hope toknowa town until I have seen the inside of one of its homes. I usually agree, expecting that there will then ensue an invitation to their house and a chance to admire one of these shrines of local culture, these epitomes of whatever it is the town or city has to offer. All that follows is an urgent suggestion that...

    • The Almost Perfect Town
      (pp. 31-42)

      Thus would the state guide dispose of Optimo City and hasten on to a more spirited topic—if Optimo City as such existed. Optimo City, however, is not one town, it is a hundred or more towns, all very much alike, scattered across the United States from the Alleghenies to the Pacific, most numerous west of the Mississippi and south of the Platte. When, for instance, you travel through Texas and Oklahoma and New Mexico and even parts of Kansas and Missouri, Optimo City is the blur of filling stations and motels you occasionally pass; the solitary traffic light, the...

    • Chihuahua as We Might Have Been
      (pp. 43-53)

      There have not been many frontiers like this one, I imagine. An abstraction, a Euclidean line drawn across the desert, has created two distinct human landscapes where there was only one before. Much of the frontier is river, and rivers are meant to bring men together, not to keep them apart. The rest of it is a straight scientific line inscribed in sand, no more related to the terrain, no more part of the view than are those groups of letters which maps show to the north and south of it: Chihuahua and Texas and New Mexico.

      Line and river,...

    • Looking at New Mexico
      (pp. 55-67)

      We learn about history by reading it in school; we learn to see it when we travel, and for Americans the place where we see most clearly the impact of time on a landscape is New Mexico.

      Our history is more complicated than most, and it is far more visible. In regions to the east of us, more prosperous and blessed with more abundant rainfall, the past, even the recent past, soon vanishes from sight: bulldozed out of existence in favor of something new and larger and more costly, it is also often quickly hidden by exuberant vegetation. Even the...

    • The Accessible Landscape
      (pp. 68-78)

      About fifty years ago Americans of my generation had the kind of experience that comes once in a lifetime and, overnight, changes the way we view the world. What happened was that with the coming of commercial aviation we were all able to take to the air and fly across America. We thereby discovered a new way of seeing and interpreting the landscape.

      To the present generation this is an old story. But until some time in the 1930s we had always seen our country on foot or when we rode in a car or a train. We had seen...

  8. Part 2 First Comes the House:: The Evolving Domestic Landscape

    • The Westward-Moving House
      (pp. 81-105)

      Three hundred years ago one Nehemiah Tinkham, with wife Submit Tinkham and six children, landed on the shores of New England to establish a home in the wilderness.

      Like his forefathers, Tinkham had been a small farmer. He brought with him in addition to a few household goods those “needful things” which a catalogue for “prospective New England planters” had suggested several years before: two hoes, two saws, two axes, hammer, shovel, spade, augers, chisels, piercers, gimlet, and hatchet. These were all he had, these and a knowledge of certain traditional skills, necessary not only for building a house but...

    • Ghosts at the Door
      (pp. 107-117)

      The house stands by itself, lost somewhere in the enormous plain. Next to it is a windmill, to the rear a scattering of barns and shelters and sheds. In every direction, range and empty field reach to a horizon unbroken by a hill or the roof of another dwelling or even a tree. The wind blows incessantly; it raises a spiral of dust in the corral. The sun beats down on the house day after day. Straight as a die the road stretches out of sight between a perspective of fence and light poles. The only sound is the clangor...

    • The Domestication of the Garage
      (pp. 118-126)

      To be interested in the popular culture of contemporary America is to be interested in our popular architecture, the architecture of those buildings in which we live or work or enjoy ourselves. They are not only an important part of our everyday environment, they also reveal in their design and evolution much about our values and how we adjust to the surrounding world.

      That is why the study of vernacular (as opposed to “polite”) architecture is more and more appreciated as a source of fresh insights into the social history of a period or a people. The question is (and...

  9. Part 3 The Unfolding American Past

    • Virginia Heritage: Fencing, Farming, and Cattle Raising
      (pp. 129-138)

      Without having any such intention in mind, the earliest English colonists in North America, almost from the start, created two distinct landscapes: one in New England and the other on the shores of Chesapeake Bay. These two landscapes, together with a landscape created somewhat later in eastern Pennsylvania, for more than a century and a half provided models, as it were, to the American colonies as they grew and to the young republic as it expanded to the west. A hundred and fifty years ago, these three landscapes and their extensions were still more or less distinct in character. It...

    • The Nineteenth-Century Rural Landscape: The Courthouse, the Small College, the Mineral Springs, and the Country Store
      (pp. 139-148)

      We should try to visualize that landscape of colonial Virginia as a vast forest. Here and there along the banks of the many rivers were open fields and scattered houses surrounded by barns and sheds with gardens and orchards, and older farms had their own private graveyards. Many fields had been abandoned and were reverting to second growth. But forest covered most of the flatland near Chesapeake Bay and covered the foothills to the west. Villages were small and few; and aside from Williamsburg (which was never very large) and Jamestown (an unhappy place, always on the verge of extinction),...

    • Excerpt from American Space: The Centennial Years
      (pp. 149-159)

      In the decade after the Civil War there could not have been many persons left to remember the early years of the Republic. They would have belonged to that fortunate generation which rediscovered and first celebrated the wonders of the still half-wild landscape of America. Niagara Falls, the valley of the Hudson, the White Mountains, the North Forest had moved and inspired them all when they were young. Yet sometimes it had been as if they were strangers admiring alien works of art; neither history nor daily association had as yet had time to create a bond between them and...

    • High Plains
      (pp. 160-162)

      We have in the last decades become well informed about the major events of American history. We have still a great deal to learn, however, concerning minor or local episodes which throw light on how we have matured as a nation, such as the invasion by agriculture of the great rangelands of the High Plains.

      By 1904, the invasion was at an end. The tide of dry-farming had already conquered much of eastern Colorado and New Mexico, western Oklahoma, and the Texas Panhandle, and in certain areas it had even begun to recede. But however short its period, it left...

    • From Monument to Place
      (pp. 163-174)

      We live separate from one another, each in his own private realm, but we crowd the dead together on a small piece of land. They share congested towns and cities, all over the Western world.

      Yet there are large regions where this is not the case. Even here in America, the Pueblo Indians do not have communal burial grounds; in parts of Africa, the dead are buried in the house or garden. In hisGéographie et religions,Pierre Deffontaines speculates about the relationship between the settlements of the living and those of the dead. “We note that the Mediterranean zone,...

    • Jefferson, Thoreau, and After
      (pp. 175-182)

      In the long chronicle of our American distrust of the city, two names stand out above the rest: Jefferson and Thoreau. One sought to destroy the city by political means; the other, fleeing it for the wilderness, wrote and preached to alert others to the city’s danger. Each established a distinct anti-urban tradition, still honored by many who know nothing of its origin.

      By background and vocation a countryman, Jefferson expressed throughout his life a strong aversion to the city and a preference for a rural way of living. “Those who labor in the earth,” he wrote, “are the chosen...

  10. Part 4 The Emerging American Present

    • Other-Directed Houses
      (pp. 185-197)

      Writing inHarper’s Magazinealmost for the last time before his death a year ago [in 1955], Bernard De Voto expressed himself on a subject close to the heart of many Americans: the increasing untidiness and ugliness of much of the landscape. He described what had happened to the New England countryside as a result of the invasion of tourists and vacation seekers, and was incensed by the roadside developments in places which a few years ago had still been unspoiled. U.S. Highway I in Maine came in for harsh words. “As far as Bucksport it has become what it...

    • The Abstract World of the Hot-Rodder
      (pp. 199-209)

      The long holiday weekend approaches, and at quarter-hour intervals the radio broadcasts the words of Mr. Ned Dearborn of the National Safety Council predicting the total of highway deaths. Average Citizen listens with a vague alarm. “Gosh!” he says, “436 deaths in a seventy-two-hour period!Gosh!”And in the back of his mind he goes on planning the family’s weekend trip. By leaving a half-hour earlier (he thinks) and by taking lunch with them, they ought to be able to make a good 350 miles by dark; then they can use the truck cutoff, where there is less traffic on...

    • The Movable Dwelling and How It Came to America
      (pp. 210-223)

      The origin of a word often throws a new light on the way we use it. Take the worddwelling.If we are using it as a noun—if we are speaking of the dwelling as a house—we should really say, “dwelling place.” The verbto dwellhas a distinct meaning. At one time it meant to hesitate, to linger, to delay, as when we say, “He is dwelling too long on this insignificant matter.”To dwell,like the verbto abide(from which we deriveabode),simply means to pause, to stay put for a length of time;...

    • An Engineered Environment
      (pp. 225-235)

      By now [1966] most of us have grown used to the idea that the urban world we live in is going on changing, and not necessarily for the better. We know what is in store: more tall buildings, more vacant downtown lots, more expressways and subdivisions and neon signs. Nurtured on science fiction, World’s Fair Futuramas, Sunday spreads of the visions of real estate developers, and what the French call the literature of anticipation, we recognize behind the reality which rises to obstruct our view or intensify a traffic jam the architect’s or engineer’s dream.

      Endurance as well as courage...

    • The Vernacular City
      (pp. 237-247)

      I live down three miles of dirt road, twelve miles from the nearest town, and that town is Santa Fe, New Mexico, with a population of less than fifty thousand. A very rural way of life, it has always seemed to me, yet going back over my activities during the last year I find that I have spent two days in each of the following American cities: Seattle, Miami, Atlanta, New York, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Albuquerque, Chicago, and Berkeley, to say nothing of Winnipeg, a week in Paris, two months in Rome, and four days recently in London.

      This represents a...

    • Roads Belong in the Landscape (abridged)
      (pp. 249-254)

      Which came first, the house or the road leading to the house? Medieval scholars with their love for origins and symbols may well have long wrestled with the question, eventually coming up with a theological counterquestion: Which of the two objects had been divinely ordained tobefirst? It could have been reasoned that if God had meant us to stay home, to be sedentary, to put down roots as farmers or husbands (a word which once signified house-dwellers), he would have first commanded us to build a house. But if he had intended us to be forever on the...

    • Truck City
      (pp. 255-266)

      Today there are more than 180 million cars in the United States. In 1908 there were fewer than 200,000. Two years later there were close to half a million. For the next few years the number increased annually by more than a third.

      From the beginning Americans were fascinated by the automobile, though few families could afford to buy one; when the average worker earned a dollar a day, a medium-priced automobile, costing more than a thousand dollars, was clearly only for the rich. Yet the thought of how the automobile was going to transform and enrich American life was...

  11. Part 5 Taking on the Modern Movement

    • Editor’s Introduction
      (pp. 269-276)

      Beginning in 1952, J. B. Jackson published critiques of the international style in book reviews and articles inLandscape.The pieces anticipate by over a decade Robert Venturi’sComplexity and Contradiction in Architecture,published in 1966, the book that many writers cite as the opening volley of architectural postmodernism.

      Jackson’s writings opposing the modern movement appear under his own name and under several pseudonyms. Initially, Jackson’s pseudonyms disguise the fact that the journal began with a single author. AsLandscapeproceeds, Jackson’s pseudonyms find an additional purpose: they allow him to review books outside his announced interests and to express...

    • Review of Built in U.S.A. (H. G. West)
      (pp. 277-280)

      The New York Museum of Modern Art has probably been more influential than any other institution in the country in introducing Modern architecture to the American public. Since its first important exhibit of contemporary European building more than a generation ago, it has not slackened in its interest and patronage, although it has become increasingly selective.

      Its prewar publication,Built in U.S.A. 1932–44,was a very comprehensive survey of what was formerly called the International Style. This new version covers one aspect of contemporary architecture in America since 1944 in much the same manner as did the earlier book....

    • Living Outdoors with Mrs. Panther (Ajax)
      (pp. 281-284)

      “The immediate experience of nature”: How many of us really know what that means? Well, plenty of Young Moderns do, and Mr. and Mrs. Jeffrey Panther—he’s the New York publisher, of course—have gone about proving it in a smart, typically Young American way.

      Quite simply, quite casually, entirely without fanfare, the Panthers have decided to live out of doors. Not in a tent like their pioneer ancestors—Mrs. Panther, incidentally, is a direct descendant of Clara Peabody Newell—No; in a house specially designed by famed Modernist Mies van der Rohe. On a small ten-acre lot in Connecticut’s...

    • Hail and Farewell
      (pp. 285-287)

      It is appropriate that the seventieth birthday of Walter Gropius should have been the occasion for honoring the architect and his work. The larger part of his life has been spent in Central Europe, and it was there that his theories were formulated; but the two decades during which he has worked in America represent perhaps the most fruitful period in his career. Ever since his appointment to Harvard in 1934, Gropius has been the most important and often the healthiest influence in American architecture. If his present following is numerous and devoted, it is because he has not only...

    • Southeast to Turkey
      (pp. 289-291)

      ISTANBUL. If I were the Ford Foundation, I would give lavish fellowships to students of city planning on the following conditions: that for a year they would look at no picture-books of Brave New Sweden, attend no lectures entitled “Planning for a More Abundant Democracy” (or “Housing at the Crossroads”), cease all speculating about the City of the Future, and spend the time instead deep in the heart of some chaotic, unredeemed, ancient city. Preferably Istanbul.

      To be sure, there are changes under way even here; broad, straight boulevards are being cut through the oldest section, and the city is...

    • Statement in “Whither Architecture? Some Outside Views”
      (pp. 292-296)

      Americans have had more than fifty years in which to get used to what we call the modern style in architecture. At first it bothered and sometimes shocked us, but that was long ago. We have learned to accept it as part of our workaday world and even to associate it with certain contemporary values. The school we go to, the office or plant where we work, the museum, the library, the shopping center we visit, even the hospital where we were born, are probably all examples—good or bad—of the modern style.

      It is true that familiarity in...

  12. Part 6 Thinking about Landscape

    • The Word Itself
      (pp. 299-306)

      Why is it, I wonder, that we have trouble agreeing on the meaning oflandscape?The word is simple enough, and it refers to something which we think we understand; and yet to each of us it seems to mean something different.

      What we need is a new definition. The one we find in most dictionaries is more than three hundred years old and was drawn up for artists. It tells us that a landscape is a “portion of land which the eye can comprehend at a glance.” Actually, when it was first introduced (or reintroduced) into English it did...

    • By Way of Conclusion: How to Study the Landscape
      (pp. 307-318)

      For a number of years I taught an undergraduate course at Harvard and at Berkeley that was called “The History of the American Cultural Landscape.” It dealt with such commonplace things as fences and roads and barns, the design of factories and office buildings, the layout of towns and farms and graveyards and parks and houses, and toward the end of the course I talked about the superhighway and the strip and certain new kinds of sports which I referred to as psychedelic. Throughout the course I showed a good many slides, and each student had to write a term...

  13. Part 7 Landscape Revisions

    • The Tale of a House (Ajax)
      (pp. 321-332)

      There was once a landowner by the name of Jonathan who possessed a house and garden. The house was so large that many families could live in it, and from these tenants Mr. Jonathan derived a handsome income.

      It occurred to him one day that he could increase the income if his house were made to accommodate even more tenants, and he accordingly went to inspect it from top to bottom—something he had never done before—to see how best to modify it with this end in view. He was much surprised to find it in an extremely bad...

    • Notes and Comments
      (pp. 333-354)

      Jackson used the section inLandscapehe titled “Notes and Comments” as an editorial forum for expressing his understanding of the contemporary American scene. He wrote on a wide range of topics—from supermarkets and superhighways to the relationship of man to nature—in voices that were alternately whimsical, biting, and philosophical. The following is a sampler of excerpts from “Notes and Comments” organized around four of Jackson’s most enduring topics: basic principles; man and nature; the true purpose of landscapes; and principles to guide American planning and design.

      Before “Notes and Comments” became his forum, Jackson wrote occasional editorials....

    • To Pity the Plumage and Forget the Dying Bird
      (pp. 355-365)

      We like to think of ourselves as an urban people, but much depends on what we mean by urban. The National Planning Association informs us that by 1975, 73 percent of the American population will be living in metropolitan areas. A very impressive statistic, until we discover that among these metropolitan areas are Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Waterloo, Iowa, and Laredo, Texas, with projected populations of eighty-eight thousand.

      At present, 58 percent of our population lives in towns of fifty thousand or fewer; more Americans live in towns of ten thousand or fewer than live in all of the cities of a...

    • “Sterile” Restorations Cannot Replace a Sense of the Stream of Time
      (pp. 366-370)

      I am aware that much restoration of formal gardens and parks has taken place in this country as well as in Europe. The motives for this are understandable. A formal garden, whether public or private, is by way of being a work of art in the strictest meaning of the term. It is conceived and executed by an artist in accordance with the traditional canons of his art, and its purpose is to give esthetic pleasure. The fact that he may be called a gardener or a landscape architect and that the garden, once completed, is also used as a...

  14. Permissions
    (pp. 371-372)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 373-376)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 377-392)
  17. Index
    (pp. 393-400)