Place Memory

“We all come to know each other by asking for accounts. by giving accounts and by believing or disbelieving stories about each other’: pests and identities.” writes Paul Connerton in How Societies Remember. Social memory relies on story-telling, but what specialists call place memory can be used to help trigger social memory through the urban landscape. “Place memory” is philosopher Edward S. Casey’s formulation: “It is the stabilizing persistence of place as a container of experiences that contributes so powerfully to its intrinsic memorability. An alert and alive memory connects spontaneously with place. Ending in it features that favor and parallel its own activities. We might even any that memory is naturally place-oriented or at least place—supported.” Place memory encapsulates the human ability to connect with both the built and natural environments that are entwined in the cultural landscape. It is the key to the power of historic places to help citizens define their public pasts: places trigger memories for insiders, who have shared a common past and at the same time place often can represent shared pasts to outsiders who might be interested in knowing about them in the present.

Place memory is so strong that many different cultures have used “memory palaces” —sequences of imaginary spaces within an imaginary landscape or building or series of buildings— as mnemonic devices.

Dolores Hayden, The Power of Place (1995)





 WES Landscape Architecture, Esterwegen Memorial (2011)


Basic, Human, Archetypical

What is design really all about? Design, particularly environmental design, has a profound responsibility. It is, in a sense, the bearer of the cultural value system of a community. For that reason, environmental design goes way beyond the visual; it is much more pervasive. It deals with cultural issues, with context, with lifestyle, with social and economic issues; it has profound ecological ramifications and influences on the future of the planet; it deals with the whole community as well as the individual; it is contributing to a human ecology and, in that sense, it must be multi-sensory and holistic. And, I think, holistic is the operative word.

Perhaps more importantly, landscape design must go much deeper than image-making, which simply trivializes it. It is, after all, not a matter of constantly changing style, as some people think -like the redesign of new fashions each season. It has nothing to do with old-fashioned carpet bedding or modish, intricate gridded patterning on the ground, which is the more recently stylish way of doing things.

Landscape design is about social relevance, it can become poetic and symbolic, but, perhaps most importantly, it can articulate a culture’s most spiritual values.

For its best meaning, it can strive to externalize and make feasible spiritual values-for individuals, for a community, and for the whole planet. The role of the landscape designer can be similar to the role of a Shaman who, in the Dutch teacher Beuy’s words, “can transform base materials into mystical touchstones.” Beautiful term.

ln that way, landscape design is like alchemy. That is what makes it an important art form, and why, in fact, it is worthy for us to pursue this particular profession. Some of the most remarkable transformational environments l have personally experienced exhibit manifestations of spiritual values. They have altered my life.

What they seem to do is release in people something inherent inside them, something that is already there. They evoke some basic need, which lies dormant until it is evoked.

These environments speak to us at a basic, human, archetypical level, revealing to us our latent human and spiritual values.

Lawrence Halprin, Design as a Value System (1989)

Lawrence Halprin, Sea Ranch Sketches and Views (1972)



Fragmenting the experience of place in the abstractions of the special disciplines reinforces the split between our methods of feeling and our methods of thinking. It also spoils the human environment, vitiating our ability to build and inhabit good houses, communities, and cities, because the conventional ways of thinking about housing and urban spaces do not grasp the reality of places as wholes.

The integrity of a place suffers when what we learn by ear gets disconnected from what we perceive with the eye – still more when what we imagine seems irrelevant. The imagination makes sense. It is, moreover, an organ of perception – like our eyes, ears, and legs. We get to know a place when we participate in the local imagination. The whole synthesis of located experience – including what we imagine as well as the sights, stories, feelings, and concepts – gives us the sens of a place.

We are threatened today by two kinds of environmental degradation: one is pollution – a menace that we all acknowledge; the other is loss of meaning. For the first time in human history, people are systematically building meaningless places. However, we are a living through the end of an era, experiencing the demise of modern architecture, a revulsion from “futurism,” scepticism about planning, and a reaction against urban renewal programs. As we contemplate the ruins and dislocations of our cities, another way of understanding the built environment and the natural landscape is struggling to emerge. Today, everyone yearns for renewal, but from a holistic perspective, what does the renewal of a city mean? It is not merely physical reconstruction, as many people think – demolishing slums and replacing them with new buildings. Historically, the renewal of a city was experienced as a mental and emotional transformation, an improvement of the spirit, a rebirth of psychic energies.

Eugene Victor Walter, Placeways: A Theory of the Human Environment, (1988)


Recognizing and fostering regional and cultural differences in landscapes will probably be the strongest challenge of this global age. As with the disappearance of species, countless cultural traditions related to landscape will disappear in coming decades due to the increased political, economic, and environmental pressures of globalization. French geographer Augustin Berque reminds us of the very particular relationship that humans have with their natural environment, a relationship that differs strongly and symbolically from one society to another, from one language to the next. Berque defines this bond with nature as the ecumene and reminds us of the unfathomable differences between cultures of the Orient and the Occident, and the North and the South. The ecumene expresses, therefore, a society’s attachment to a particular landscape reality, an ontological predisposition toward nature, where the relationship to landscape is understood as a set of strong beliefs and signifiers. Our relationship to the world is the complex product of language, work, culture, and myth, and the idealized expression of this faith in nature often merges at the cusp of strong cultural divides, where things can barely be explained, let alone be sensed. Commonalities and environmental concerns will thus continue to face prevailing linguistic and cultural divides, nurturing strong distinctions and discrepancies between human societies. As cultures disappear, other hybrids will arise, underlining the prevalence of local lore over globalization, and each landscape will thus become an invitation to express a culture of difference in an act of superb creative defiance.  

Christophe Girot, Topology and Landscape Experimentation (2017)

Christophe Girot, Invaliden Park (1997)






Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Corn Harvest (1565)

A landscape is not a natural feature of the environment but a synthetic space, a man-made system of spaces superimposed on the face of the land, functioning and evolving not according to natural laws but to serve a community.

John Brinckerhoff Jackson,  Discovering the Vernacular Landscape (1984)




The older I grow and the longer I look at landscapes and seek to understand them, the more convinced I am that their beauty is not simply an aspect but their very essence and  that beauty derives from the human presence. For far too long we have told ourselves that the beauty of a landscape was the expression of some transcendent law: the conformity to certain universal esthetic principles or the conformity to certain biological or ecological laws. But this is true only of formal or planned political landscapes. The beauty that we see in the vernacular landscape is the image of our common humanity: hard work, stubborn hope, and mutual forbearance striving to be love. I believe that a landscape which makes these qualities manifest is one that can be called beautiful.

John Brinckerhoff Jackson, Discovering the Vernacular Landscape (1984)

AGA Estudio Creativo et alt, Wawa Pukllaycoparaque Workshop (2013)


Pastoral Ideal

The pastoral ideal has been used to define the meaning of America ever since the age of discovery, and it has not yet lost its hold upon the native imagination. The reason is clear enough. The ruling motive of the good shepherd, leading figure of the classic, Virgilian mode, was to withdraw from the great world and begin a new life in a fresh, green landscape. And now here was a virgin continent! Inevitably the European mind was dazzled by the prospect. With an unspoiled hemisphere in view it seemed that mankind actually might realize what had been thought ia poetic fantasy. Soon the dream of a retreat to an oasis of harmony and joy was removed from its traditional literary context. It was embodied in various utopian schemes for making America the site of a new beginning for Western society. In both forms -one literary and the other in essence political- the ideal has figured in the American view of life which is, in the widest sense, the subject of this book. (…)

The notion that pastoralism remains a significant force in American life calls for an explanation. At first thought the relevance of the ancient ideal to our concerns in the second half of the twentieth century is bound to seem obscure. What possible bearing can the urge to idealize a simple, rural environment have upon the lives men lead in an intricately organized, urban, industrial, nuclear-armed society? The answer to this central question must start with the distinction between two kinds of pastoralism– one that is popular and sentimental, the other imaginative and complex.

Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden (1964)

Walter Hood, National Museum of Wildlife Art (2012)



The bricoleur is someone who works with his hands, using devious means. His universe of instruments is closed and the rules of his game are always to make do with ‘whatever is at hand’, that is to say with a set of tools and materials which is always finite and is also heterogeneous because what it contains bears no relation to the current project, or indeed to any particular project, but is the contingent result of all the occasions there have been to renew or enrich the stock or to maintain it with the remains of previous constructions or destructions. The set of the bricoleur’smeans cannot therefore be defined in terms of a project. It is to be defined only by its potential use, because the elements are collected or retained on the principle that ‘they may always come in handy’. The bricoleur derives his poetry from the fact that he does not confine himself to accomplishment and execution: he speaks not only with things, but also through the medium of things: giving an account of his personality and life by the choices he makes between the limited possibilities. The bricoleur may not ever complete his purpose but he always puts something of himself into it.

Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Savage Mind (1962)


The author collected the responses of various architects – and, in my case, a landscape architect – to the question: how do you use your collection for designing? My way is very simple. Girls and boys have a Sunday walk, and families always collect leaves or stones and take them home like treasure. In my case it was the same. I started when I was nine years old but with a very high level of botany as I had joined a society.

Claude Levi-Strauss, the French philosopher, explains that there are two ways to design. One is bricolage – people collecting things or just using what is on the table, at hand, and then arrange that into something. And this is bottom-up designing. And the engineer is top-down. In the office we decide depending on the project: are we bricolage or are we engineer? Those kind of people that collect and arrange things – when you ask them why they collect, they say “Ah, well you never know!” So collecting can be either bottom-up or top-down. When I start a project I sometimes ask my colleagues: can you choose one of the objects of the Wunderkammer and put it on the table? So people all bring one piece. And then we discuss why they bring this piece, and this is to start a discussion about what is our first approach or priority or attitude to a new project. It can really be helpful. Then there’s more top-down work, but it starts with bottom-up.

Günther Vogt, Foreground Interview (2019)


Orizzontale, Gondwana (2012)



For its best meaning, it can strive to externalize and make feasible spiritual values-for individuals, for a community, and for the whole planet. The role of the landscape designer, can be similar to the role of a Shaman who, in the Dutch teacher Beuy’s words [sic], “can transform base materials into mystical touchstones.” Beautiful term.

ln that way, landscape design is like alchemy.

That is what makes it an important art form, and why, in fact, it is worthy for us to pursue this particular profession. Some of the most remarkable transformational environments I have personally experienced exhibit manifestations of spiritual values. They have altered my life.

What they seem to do is release in people something inherent inside them, something that is already there. They evoke some basic need, which lies dormant until it is evoked.

These environments speak to us at a basic, human, archetypical level, revealing to us our latent human and spiritual values.

Lawrence Halprin, Design as a Value System (1989)


John Ford, The Searchers (1956)

Monument Valley, Utah, USA



Steven Spielberg, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Devil’s Tower, Wyoming, USA



Wim Wenders, Paris, Texas (1984)

Big Bend National Park, Texas, USA



Richard Long, Sahara circle (1988)

Hoggar Region, Argelia




In the colorful reality of life there is a continuous resistance of fact to confinement within any “simpliste” theory. We are concerned with “directed activity, not premature realization” and this is the morphological approach. Our naïvely selected section of reality, the landscape, is undergoing manifold change. This contact of man with his changeful home, as expressed through the cultural landscape, is our field of work. We are concerned with the importance of the site to man, and also with his transformation of the site. Altogether we deal with the interrelation of group, or cultures, and site, as expressed in the various landscapes of the world. Here are an inexhaustible body of fact and a variety of relation which provide a course of inquiry that does not need to restrict itself to the straits of rationalism.

Carl Sauer, The Morphology of Landscape (1925)

UNESCO, Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras Cultural Landscape Inscription (1995)


UNESCO, Matobo Hills Cultural Landscape Inscription (2003)


UNESCO, Agave Landscape and Ancient Industrial Facilities of Tequila Cultural Landscape Inscription (2006)


UNESCO, Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain Cultural Landscape Inscription (2009)


UNESCO, Colombia Coffee Cultural Landscape Inscription (2011)


Header: UNESCO, Tongariro National Park Cultural Landscape Inscription (1993)



Influence of the Mind over the Body

It therefore results that the enjoyment of scenery employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it; tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus, through the influence of the mind over the body, gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system.
Men who are rich enough (…) can and do provide places of this needed recreation for themselves. They have done so from the earliest periods known in the history of the world, for the great men (…) had their rural retreats (…) private parks and notable grounds devoted to luxury and recreation (…) The enjoyment of the choicest natural scenes in the country and the means of recreation connected with them is thus a monopoly, in a very peculiar manner, of a very few, very rich people. The great mass of society, including those to whom it would be of the greatest benefit, is excluded from it (…).
Thus without means are taken by government to withhold them from the grasp of individuals, all places favorable in scenery to the recreation of the mind and body will be closed against the great body of the people. For the same reason that the water of rivers should be guarded against private appropriation and (…) obstruction, portions of natural scenery may therefore properly be guarded and cared for by government. To simply reserve them from monopoly by individuals, however, it will be obvious, is not all that is necessary. It is necessary that they should be laid open to the use of the body of the people.
The establishment by government of great public grounds for the free enjoyment of the people under certain circumstances, is thus justified and enforced as a political duty.

Frederick Law Olmsted, America’s National Park System: The Critical Documents (c.1864)


Seeking for the declaration of the first National Park, the protection of Yosemite Valley is presented as the democratization of the freeing values of untouched natural scenery. Is not a question about a freedom shaped by the God’s work, but to the contrary, a freedom born in the absence of society’s transformation of the world. So, Olmsted fosters and uses a big American tradition that goes from Emerson and Thoreau to nowadays. From this point of view, nature is seen as a relief for the mind itself of an essential evil: society and the city. This puts all the rest of Olmsted’s work in a troubled position because living in the city become something that must be regulated and controlled in the times of the big urban growth, and be paradoxically defended by uneducated people, the ones that come from natural contexts (see Landscape as an Instrument of Social Order)


Apple, Os X Yosemite Image (2014)

Header: Ansel Adams, Clearing Winter Storm (1937)