Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Sites Unseen

Sites Unseen: Landscape and Vision

Dianne Harris
D. Fairchild Ruggles
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 304
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Sites Unseen
    Book Description:

    Sites Unseenchallenges conventions for viewing and interpreting the landscape, using visual theory to move beyond traditional practices of describing and classifying objects to explore notions of audience and context. While other fields, such as art history and geography, have engaged poststructuralist theory to consider vision and representation, the application of such inquiry to the natural or built environment has lagged behind. This book, by treating landscape as a spatial, psychological, and sensory encounter, aims to bridge this gap, opening a new dialogue for discussing the landscape outside the boundaries of current art criticism and theory.As the contributors reveal, the landscape is a widely adaptable medium that can be employed literally or metaphorically to convey personal or institutional ideologies. Walls, gates, churchyards, and arches become framing devices for a staged aesthetic experience or to suit a sociopolitical agenda. The optic stimulation of signs, symbols, bodies, and objects combines with physical acts of climbing and walking and sensory acts of touching, smelling, and hearing to evoke an overall "vision" of landscape.Sites Unseenconsiders a variety of different perspectives, including ancient Roman visions of landscape, the framing techniques of a Moghul palace, and a contemporary case study of Christo'sThe Gates, as examples of human attempts to shape our sensory, cognitive, and emotional experiences in the landscape.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7320-1
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents


      (pp. 5-30)
      Dianne Harris and D. Fairchild Ruggles

      LANDSCAPE HISTORIANS AND THEORISTS CAN BENEFIT FROM THE RICH developments that the field of visual theory has experienced in recent decades. These perspectives challenge existential beliefs about the world and our place within it, and thus it is a difficult task—and ultimately an unfinished one. Some historians of the built environment have been resistant to these new approaches, which they regard as intellectually elitist because highly technical language is often employed in the questioning of basic philosophical assumptions about the nature of reality, subjectivity, and authorship. The demand for meticulous and highly specialized reading in such fields as psychoanalysis...


    • 2 LANDSCAPE AND INVISIBILITY: Gilo’s Wall and Christo’s Gates
      (pp. 33-44)
      W. J. T. Mitchell

      BEFORE WE TALK ABOUT LANDSCAPE, ABOUT PLACES, SPACES, VISTAS, views, etc., we have to reckon with the blind spots built into vision itself. Every interesting theory of vision since Descartes has grounded its model of the visual process on the figure of the blind man. Seeing, as Bishop Berkeley noted long ago, is grounded in touching, and without the learned coordination of optical and tactile impressions, we would not be able to see the world at all.¹ “The innocent eye is blind,” remarks Ernst Gombrich, and this is true at every level, from the physiological to the ethical-political to the...

    • 3 NO STATE OF GRACE: Violence in the Garden
      (pp. 45-60)
      Martin Jay

      IN 1975, MY WIFE AND I MADE WHAT IN RETROSPECT WAS OUR SECOND wisest decision—second only, that is, to our getting married a year earlier—which was to buy property in the San Francisco Bay Area. Along with the house came with what in Berkeley was a reasonably sized garden, which had several generations of previous plantings waiting to surprise us when the seasons changed. I can remember in particular my feeling of delight when in February a profusion of delicate yellow petals on tall stalks above a cluster of clover-like leaves broke through the ground seemingly everywhere. Each...

      (pp. 61-88)
      Marc Treib

      PERSPECTIVE PLAYS SUCH A DOMINANT ROLE IN OURVISUAL PERCEPTION THAT WE often forget it is entirely a mathematical construct. As a graphic convention it is relatively new, denying both all sense of time as well as the symbolic, rather than optical, construction of space. Prior to the codification of perspective in fifteenth-century Italy, representational systems addressed the symbolic aspects of existence as more central than its external appearance. Russian icons from the fourteenth century combined the elements of a religious scene in a field almost free of spatial continuity, stressing through size and position the relative importance of the figure...

      (pp. 89-107)
      Denis Cosgrove

      MY SCHOLARLY INVOLVEMENT IN “LANDSCAPE” (WHICH DIFFERS FROM MY emotional, aesthetic, or sensuous attachments to specific landscapes) is rooted in two intellectual passions: my discipline of geography, and understanding the role that vision has played in the way that people come to know and understand the external world. Geography leads me both to regard landscapes as phenomena wherein physical processes and human agency are inextricably linked, and to stretch the scale of landscape from immediately local spaces to territorial, planetary, and indeed extraterrestrial worlds. My concern with vision supports and extends these geographical predilections. Vision usefully encompasses both sight and...


      (pp. 111-130)
      Diane Favro

      ANCIENT ROME IS IRRESISTIBLE. OVER THE CENTURIES, INNUMERABLE ARTISTS HAVE attempted to capture the original appearance of the great capital city in paintings, etchings, reliefs, models, and films (fig. 6.1).¹ Today, digital modelers exploit new media to fashion images of the great capital city as it appeared in antiquity (fig. 6.2).² The challenge is daunting. While extensive archaeological research has been done on select monuments, buildings, or even certain urban areas, vast portions of the ancient city have not been excavated. The lack of data hampers full-bodied reconstructions of the cityscape. Scholars ponder how (or even whether) to represent undocumented...

    • 7 MAKING VISION MANIFEST: Frame, Screen, and View in Islamic Culture
      (pp. 131-156)
      D. Fairchild Ruggles

      AN INTEREST IN VISTAS, IN WHICH THE VIEWER LOOKS FROM ARCHITECTURE TO landscape, is deeply embedded in Islamic history and culture. The landscape itself was a meaningful form that was given a shape, especially in elite gardens that expressed the human ability to cultivate and control the land, and the architecture of palaces and mosques often included windows, balconies, and pavilions whose purpose was to provide a place from which to regard the landscape from a fixed position. While in religious environments, gardens and representations of nature could be visual signs for the fecundity of the earth and the paradise...

      (pp. 157-180)
      David L. Hays

      IRREGULAR GARDEN DESIGN EMERGED IN LATE EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FRANCE IN part through new interests in the view as a format of design, but the ways in which vision shaped that development have yet to be fully described. Historians have focused almost exclusively on so-called “picturesque” design, which Dora Wiebenson defined in her important study,The Picturesque Garden in France,as “the elements of nature [ … ] composed into a series of highly controlled and sophisticated ‘pictures.’”¹ In keeping with that formulation, Wiebenson concentrated on suburban and rural gardens, the size and situation of which allowed designed spaces to be apprehended...

    • 9 SITES OF POWER AND THE POWER OF SIGHT: Vision in the California Mission Landscapes
      (pp. 181-212)
      Elizabeth Kryder-Reid

      FATHER O’SULLIVAN’S DESCRIPTION OF HIS FIRST VIEW OF THE MISSION HE WAS TO serve is redolent with visual imagery.¹ Through “laying eyes” on the ruins, O’Sullivan’s imagination was sparked to envision what might be. The priest had come in 1910 to the sleepy town of San Juan Capistrano south of Los Angeles in ill health and, the records imply, likely intended to spend whatever little time remained of his active ministry there. Whether it was the dry air, the sunny climate, or the passion to restore the mission, O’Sullivan revived and went on to lead a twenty-three-year campaign that not...

      (pp. 213-240)
      Sandy Isenstadt

      FROM AN AERIAL POINT OF VIEW BOUNDED ONLY BY THE HORIZON, THE POST-war suburb was a spreading monotony of mass-produced houses on featureless streets, which seemed to co me as a surprise to architects and planners. “If I only had known how it would look later …” ran the caption to one such view, appearing in 1952 in the inaugural issue ofHouse and Home,expressing dismay and regret but implying at the same time that it was supposed to have looked better (fig. 10.1). The reality of the postwar suburb, in other words, seen more or less objectively in...

    • 11 CLEAN AND BRIGHT AND EVERYONE WHITE: Seeing the Postwar Domestic Environment in the United States
      (pp. 241-262)
      Dianne Harris

      VISUAL REPRESENTATIONS OF POSTWAR LANDSCAPES AND INTERIORS HAVE A surprisingly uniform appearance that typically features pastel colors and favors the perspective or axonometric view, biomorphic garden forms, and depictions of well-dressed and neatly coiffed women in high-heeled shoes. It is a graphic style we have come to readily associate with the 195os, images that sometimes seem comical now for their contrivance and naiveté. If modes of depiction stylize and formulate modes of viewing, then the consistent quality of these images allows us to consider them as contributions to the formation of a “habit of perception”—a way of seeing the...