Archives at the End of the World


We meet the character Nigel early in Alfonso Cuarón’s masterpiece apocalyptic thriller Children of Men. Early enough that even a repeat viewer will forget them by the end of the first act, holding tightly as we do onto the protagonist Theo for dear life--white-knuckled, breathing short and fast, and ultimately shaken, somehow traumatized, and not entirely able to recall and come to terms with all that we experienced. More than a decade now since its release, Children of Men has rightly received an appreciative if anxious reappraisal in the context of environmental migration, Brexit, and state racism and violence. The most trenchant to my mind opened Mark Fisher’s brilliant Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (2009), in which the author introduced the Nigel character’s prescient model of ultimate impotence, completely incapable of even imagining any future, let alone a different, maybe brighter one. It’s excruciatingly poignant to see this point made so efficiently by making Nigel a curator--a self-servingly amoral collector and didact of human cultural heritage. In a society facing almost certain extinction, Nigel jealously lords the charge to preserve the remaining touchstones of human artistic achievement for...whom?  “I just don’t think about it,” is their perfunctory answer to that existential question. And to be sure, as the world burns and society howls, Nigel is only sustained by their own intellectual and aesthetic vanities. I think about Nigel a lot these days.

“A hundred years from now there won’t be one sad fuck to look at any of this.” Theo asks: “What keeps you going?” I have thought about it--I do think about it--but honestly I don’t know how different, effectively, my answer would be.

As Fisher was still writing his treatise ten years ago, I was making, studying, and teaching documentary films. Then as now, my primary impulse was to understand how and why human beings arrange, narrativize, and historicize fragments of evidence and their own memories in order to make sense and meaning of the immediate world. I trained on two filmmakers in particular who came increasingly to define the boundaries of my vision: Errol Morris and Werner Herzog. Morris, the consummate detective, always seeking to uncover the truth hidden among strewn fragments of decontextualized evidence; Herzog, the mystic, imploring us to know society by its collective unconscious desires and fears. In 2008, Morris released his Abu Ghraib documentary Standard Operating Procedure, the first in a series of investigations (along with The Unknown Known [2013] and Wormwood [2017]) that end in exasperated shrugs at the truths and deeper meanings originally sought. Herzog concurrently released Encounters at the End of the World, his journey to Antarctica to discover the dreams that human beings bring there with them and what they leave behind as a species. I always identified more with Morris epistemologically and I still read him into much of my current work as an archivist. But Herzog, or Encounters in particular, has always haunted me.

Morris frames the creation of an icon in   Standard Operating Procedure  .

Morris frames the creation of an icon in Standard Operating Procedure.

Scientists listen for the world under Antarctic ice in   Encounters at the End of the World

Scientists listen for the world under Antarctic ice in Encounters at the End of the World

I’d left filmmaking by 2009, resigned that I could read and reread until the end of time, but that I had no vision or novel methodology of my own to share. I retreated back to the archives, where I was empowered to chase my recondite questions about memory and knowledge while earning a steady paycheck at the bottom of the great recession. I have few answers of any merit today, but all the while I’d encouraged myself that I am engaged in the noble preservation of human achievement that could someday, as Herzog put it in his film, enlighten and educate the alien archaeologists who encounter our planet after the species expires. This satisfied my ego for a decade, but no longer. Useful if a bit silly as it was as an abstraction, this trite fantasy in fact provides no more motivation or even consolation to a very real life spent waiting for climate change to invalidate all of my hustling to make rent. It’s endemic to the reflexive impotence with which Fisher diagnoses us who came of age under late capitalism; transcending mere cynicism, it fills a void where my imagination should be and recycles my energy back into the same destructive system that I ostensibly reject. 

“Look, Karl,” she instructed me. By 2015 I was working to develop an architect’s archives into an online resource for her rapidly expanding practice. I obediently looked down to where she pointed, around at my feet. “Arcus!” she exclaimed, referring to a recently completed social justice leadership center building. Indeed, here on the shore of Lake Wandawega in Wisconsin we stood on an aged cordwood construction that resembled the new center’s unique facade. The project brief describes the old-fashioned wood masonry technique as an intentional, green intervention to reduce carbon pollution, “one of many environmental issues embraced by social justice movements.” I understood it as a designer’s aesthetic expression of nostalgia for an upscale wilderness retreat. I was hired to build a business development and process improvement tool like the one that I’d managed for a landscape architecture practice. If anything a legacy project to the founder, to his firm this was an opportunity to extract any remaining resources that could be monetized towards reducing labor spent on new development and construction. These were enjoyable opportunities to fetishize, curate, and control interesting traces of artistic vision and rigor, but in the for-profit sphere they exist only insofar as they are good for business.

The shrine of/to flowers, garlanded by popcorn and preserved in the ice under the magnetic south pole.

The shrine of/to flowers, garlanded by popcorn and preserved in the ice under the magnetic south pole.

Memory and the archives can be tools of reconciliation, emancipation, even indeed imagination and creativity. I desperately needed a living reminder of this when I got it and then some from “The Ferguson Effect on Local Activism and Community Memory” (video), the panel of activists and organizers at Documenting the Now’s December 2017 Digital Blackness in the Archive symposium. People with more facility to envision a future than I have right now, and themselves the subjects of naive attempts to record the Movement for Black Lives for posterity, explained what they had learned from the civil rights leaders who preceded them and demonstrated what they could teach the generations that follow. If we care at all about survival, then I think that this is in essence the mission that every memory worker must pursue: to empower the inheritors of memory to find meaning as they will and to apply what they learn to realizing the more just and equitable society that they deserve. Extraction and accumulation alienate us. Nostalgia and aesthetics commodify our birthrights to our peril. If there is to be a future then it demands new vision, so I don’t know if I have a place in it, but I’m thinking about it.   

Reading design from a distance: Mining environmental design web archives

As important as it will be to future historians to access websites as they appear to us today, web archiving--the process of collecting, preserving, and enabling access to web material--also presents opportunities for different, novel forms of analysis that we can begin to explore and enable for future generations. The following, for instance, summarizes a small project that I recently engaged to collect websites of importance to architecture and the environmental design realm more generally, and to analyze them more as a collective corpus of data than as discrete artifacts. I hope that it provokes a few new ideas among the many diversely focused collectors as they seek to curate and preserve the richest possible stores of information for future research into this field’s growth and change.

This spring I convened a panel of librarians and archivists to discuss the present and prospective futures of digital design documentation collections at Natural Connections, the third joint conference of the Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA) and the Visual Resources Association (VRA). Stewards of practitioner, teaching, and historical repositories shared their work to ensure the accessibility of born-digital and hybrid analog+digital collections of design documents and information resources in all of their challenging contextual as well as technical complexity. To understand these efforts and hear their discussion, you can watch a complete recording of the event here: Terra Fluxus: Surveying the Digital Information Landscape of Environmental Design.

For my own part, I wanted to stoke the discussion among presenters and attendees by speculating a little bit about the design researcher of the near future and how she or he might prefer to explore our contemporary born-digital design records and resources, preserved and served to them in all of that rich complexity, in order to better understand the state of environmental design today. My curiosity originates from my own small experience stewarding the archives and information resources of environmental design firms founded on either side of the digital revolution, but extends even now into my work as a web archivist.

I work for Archive-It, the subscription web archiving service and partnership among hundreds of collectors around the world and the Internet Archive. Founded in 1996, ‘the Archive’ is in fact a brick-and-mortar public library in a converted Christian Science church in San Francisco’s Inner Richmond district. Stop by on any given Friday and you can get a tour of the building and collections with our founder. What you will see in place of book stacks and acid-free boxes, however, are the many racks of servers--some of them nestled into the church’s original niches--from which which we share millions of digital books, videos, and audio recordings.

The Archive is now also increasingly collecting software and software-dependent resources as well. In addition to the Internet Arcade, full of your favorites 80’s and 90’s video games, this work extends to the preservation and emulation of whole operating systems and constituent applications. I hope that this portends a fruitful collaboration and future service model for the computer-assisted design realm, but much of the foundational work to make fully functional repositories of obsolete and even current CAD software and files is still being done by the indispensible volunteers in bodies like the Software Preservation Network and the CAD/BIM Taskforce of the Society of American Archivists’ Architectural Records Roundtable.

Still, the Archive’s defining service may yet be the Wayback Machine--the world’s oldest and largest collection of archived web pages, now nearing 500 billion individual URLs from the web as they first appeared, going back to the Internet Archive’s founding in 1996. Browse the collection and you’ll find lots of interesting little artifacts from the web of the past, including the public presences of environmental design firms and their observers. Far beyond mere artifacts Web 1.0 design--glorious as those may be--I argue that these records fill important gaps in the documentation of why, where, and how designers practice that are left between and beyond the slick monographs that researchers can pull from design library shelves.

Environmental design’s history on the web is nonetheless quite incomplete. While the Wayback Machine’s automated web crawler casts a very broad net across the web at any given time, that same breadth means that necessarily few if any design websites can be archived to completeness or with the temporal coherence that researchers will need to fully review the ideas and online discussions that shaped our environment. It’s a broad but often shallow collection, one which may not take the researcher far beyond a given site’s landing page, and which can provide them no wayfinding towards those critical resources buried deep within a trove as vast in scope as the World Wide Web.

To address this, Archive-It empowers libraries and archives to use the Internet Archive’s technologies to create and curate focused collections of their own--collections of websites that compliment their thematic collecting strengths in traditional media, and which they can then preserve and serve to their patrons long after those sites have changed or disappeared. I like to cite the illustrative example of the Francine and Sterling Clark Art Institute Library towards this end. Since 2013, the Clark has archived the websites of and related to the Venice Biennale in order to accommodate the future historians of the event and its legacy. Because of their efforts, these researchers 5, 10, hopefully 50 years from now will enjoy the same unencumbered access to online ephemera as they do to the paper-bound records of the event.

I took inspiration from the Clark’s collecting efforts to build a similar archive, and beyond that to posit how such a future researcher may prefer to engage with it. It’s scope is  the Chicago Architecture Biennial, which ran for three months this past fall and winter in my newly adopted hometown. The first such endowed and international exhibition of architectural ideas in North America, its organizers proudly purported that it exhibited the state of the art of architecture. Naturally, my immediate response as an archivist was to say, ‘well, if it’s the state of the art, then surely someone ought to capture and preserve it for future reference.’

The Chicago Architecture Biennial 2015 web archive therefore includes all of the likely online reference points that a future researcher would desire: the event’s official website as it appeared throughout that timespan; press coverage from the newspapers, magazines, and blogs that extensively covered it; the web pages built by exhibitors and participants to represent, advertise, and document their contributions.

Critically, I think, this archive also includes the social media that surrounded the event: the tweets, Instagram posts, and Facebook feeds through which official partners as well as attendees shared their observations, hashtagged #ChicagoBiennial.

Individually, these artifacts will be accessible to that researcher of the future in their native browser-bounded format and can be understood and interpreted as such. However, as an archive of all of the source code, text, and graphic material that constitutes websites, pages, and social media feeds, other forms of access, borrowed largely in this case from our colleagues in the digital humanities, begin to emerge. As a large corpus of text, for instance, one can analyze the collection for otherwise obscured patterns representative of overarching themes.

One theme posited by the Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne, for instance, was that the Biennial’s vision of the state of the art eschewed the work of well-known ‘starchitects’ of our age in favor of the more emergent generation of designers. To experiment with this thesis, I used a suite of services available to Archive-It partners to derive and analyze the key data and metadata from the comparatively massive web archive right on my laptop. Specifically, I was able to extract all of the “named entities”--persons, places, and organizations--from the collection and deposit them in a structured data format from which I could query and retrieve the most frequently recurrent terms.

The results of this little test bear out some aspects of Hawthorne’s thesis while complicating others. Certainly names like Gang, Gramazio & Kohler, Pezo & von Ellrichshausen, and Gil were new to many among the contemporary audience, though they differ entirely from those that Hawthorne specifically observes were “given pride of place” at the exhibition hall: Andres Jaque, Tatiana Bilbao, Bjarke Ingels, Junya Ishigami, and Sou Fujimoto. And while Hawthorne rightly observes that archetypal starchitect Frank Gehry was given no place at all there, his enduring presence on the list above indicates just how difficult it may yet be to conduct these conversations online without invoking him. At the other end of the spectrum, Hawthorne contends that another architect not exhibiting in the official program “hovers above it as a kind of glimmering presence.” No, it’s not Mies, but instead David Adjaye, whose name ranks 24th in the index. Adjaye’s concurrent exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago might herald a vitality to the state of the art that the Biennial’s curators missed, but this archive of their exhibition instead strongly suggests that to know what they considered the state of the art in 2015, a future architecture scholar would do well to brush up on more modernist and distinctly midwestern icons.

Of course there’s a logical extension to this very focused kind of collecting and data mining. If we can do this at the scale of a discrete event, that is, then what about the rest of the field around it? Could we collect, archive, and analyze the broader practice of environmental design as it is represented on the web in order to learn anything about its language, personalities, and priorities at a given time or timespan? To test the limits of this idea, I’ve begun building the Environmental Design Practices web archive. Far from yet being a comprehensive repository of the field, it is a modest collection of the official websites and social media feeds of roughly 150 firms that practiced architecture, landscape architecture, civil engineering, or similarly affiliated professions at the end of 2015. For the moment it includes a lot of big prestige firms--American in disproportion to true demographics of the field, most likely--but it provides a suitable sample on which to experiment.   

Using the same kind of named entities data that I extracted before, I this time focused on querying and ranking the geographic locations--urban areas, at least--mentioned across the entire collection. If we infer that these data can tell us, beyond just where their offices are located, where to find these firms’ projects and the works that they discuss and/or cite online as precedents, then we can begin to chart a novel geography of professional environmental design work up to the present time. The weighted heat map above, for instance, projects just the top 300 named urban areas in the collection, intensified relative to their frequency. While I’m sure only a rare few future researchers would be surprised to see New York City at the center of this design universe, there are nonetheless some other ideas that surface and may merit closer reading: northern California’s intensity eclipsing southern California’s; the distribution of Chinese coastal cities; the emptiness of portfolios in the global south. Above all, however, I’m eager to see how maps like this one shift and change with the collection as the latter is periodically enriched and expanded over time.

These are early and admittedly crude experiments, but I hope that they express the potential historical value of the many diverse and widely distributed environmental design web archives that we can begin building today. I’ll certainly continue to collect and to tinker, but a truly rich foundation for future research will depend upon the efforts and imaginations of design librarians and archivists everywhere.

Let's revive Pete Seeger's Rainbow Quest

Rainbow Quest was an hour-long television broadcast hosted by the incomparable American curator of folk music idiomata, Pete Seeger, between 1965 and 1966. During its 39-episode run on New York’s pioneering UHF station, WNJU, Seeger introduced viewers to folk figures, traditions, and instruments from around the world, and especially to the dozens of artists active within or most influential upon the American folk revival. “We call it the Rainbow Quest,” Seeger tells guest Roscoe Holcomb in episode 17, “because we want to give people an idea of the different ways each other live.” The mission was to paint a rainbow-colored portrait of the people of the world through their vastly diverse musical expressions, and Seeger’s joy in fulfilling that mission was evident in his enthusiasm throughout.

Look for the show on any of your favorite video streaming services online today and you will find as many as ten complete episodes. Anticipating of course that dubious copyright claims[1], uploader whims, or just your average flying jellyfish attack might someday bring them down, I respectfully borrowed copies of those videos, cleaned them up a tiny bit, and uploaded them to Internet Archive’s Community Video collection. Here they will enjoy something approaching what we might call--bear with me here--’permanence’; they’ll at least get their regular and automatic fixity checks, and they will remain reliably retrievable from Internet Archive’s secure and redundantly backed-up data storage. We all, individuals institutions alike, can moreover now download our own copies of each episode in one or more preferred format.

Needless to say though, this is a meager solution, or at least an incomplete one. The videos clearly display some wear and tear, of both analog and digital varieties. The most complete and least degraded tapes of the show--the studio masters--were transferred to video cassette tape in the 1980’s (that story is pretty interesting in and of itself). The ten videos archived and embedded below represent the selection that was later transferred to DVD by various short-lived publishers, then ripped, migrated, reproduced, and recompressed among an unknown soup of different video formats by different amateur enthusiasts before they eventually made it online. Whatever became of the masters is a mystery (to me...).    

Pieces of the series can be found on tape in libraries far and wide. At the time of writing though, you can find catalog entries for the full run of the series--in beautiful VHS format--in the collections of only four libraries: those of National University, the Ohio State University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It is my sincere hope that this reintroduction will inspire one or more of these libraries to use their own, a friend’s, or simply Internet Archive’s transfer tech in order to digitize and share their holdings. Or maybe you have a friend of a friend at one of these schools who could be convinced to borrow all 39 cassettes…? 

There are so many precious little treasures to be found among just the ten episodes embedded below that I can hardly imagine what all remains to be found among the remaining 29, but this fan page provides some hints (ancient instruments; folk dances; South African, Vietnamese, and Yiddish songs; so much more…). I’ve highlighted some of my favorite moments so far below, and I look forward to hearing about yours and to finding still more.


1. The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem; Tom Paxton

To inaugurate the show, Seeger hosts Irish folk singers the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. All of their characteristically up-tempo and cheeky songs are fun, but I might have an especially soft spot for “I Never Will Play the Wild Rover No More” (at 21:10). Tommy’s rendition of the mournful English song “The Butcher Boy” (16:35), on the other hand, is just heartbreakingly beautiful.

In act two, Seeger trades stories and songs with Tom Paxton, a regular of Greenwich Village’s storied Gaslight Cafe and the inspiration for the “Troy Nelson” character in the Coen Brothers’ folk revival film, Inside Llewyn Davis. At 31:46, Paxton tells the story of his song “My Ramblin’ Boy,” which gained worldwide popularity, and which Seeger himself performed during his 1963 set at Carnegie Hall.

That performance, I should note, happened just a few months after the Clancys’ own St. Patrick’s Day concert at the same!


3. Rosa Valentin and Rafael Martinez; Elizabeth Cotten

Around 6:30, Pete asks Puerto Rican migrants Rosa Valentin and Rafael Martinez where in New York he can attend a Puerto Rican music festival, only to be told that such things aren’t really organized and advertised. Instead, Rafael recommends he attend a less formal family gathering, which he says has the tendency to grow--in the Puerto Rican parranda style--into an all-night musical marathon. As an example of this spontaneous musical tradition, he and Rosa play an Aguinaldo, a distinctly Caribbean take on Christmas caroling. 

At 38:50, iconic guitarist Elizabeth Cotten shares the improbable story of a chance department store encounter with Pete Seeger’s stepmother Peggy that led to a housemaid’s job and a rediscovery of the ragtime music that she’d given up decades before, under pressure from her church. The family was enthralled:  “I’d cook dinner and put dinner on the table, and that’s about all the work I’d have to do. The kids would clear the table, wash the dishes, tell me to sit down and play ’Freight Train.’


12. Doc Watson, Clint Howard, and Fred Price

Seeger uses the opportunity of hosting Watson, Howard, and Price to introduce (at 12:15) the “home base” of mountain music to which he feels compelled to frequently return in spite of all of the musical globe-trotting he must do in between. On his way to becoming one of the most enduringly beloved figures in bluegrass and country music, Doc Watson was at this point still ascending in popularity, thanks largely to his set at the recent 1963 Newport Folk Festival. He, Clint Howard (no, not that Clint Howard), and Fred Price demonstrate why they are so revered for their technique on guitar and fiddle throughout the episode, but also find time for an a cappella arrangement of the gospel song “Daniel Prayed” (19:30).


17. Roscoe Holcomb; Jean Redpath

“I just took verses from one song to another to make one to suit me,” says Roscoe Holcomb (at 15:25), introducing his “Graveyard Blues” and in the process echoing one of the favorite traditions of folk music to which Seeger frequently returns throughout the show’s run. “It’s the way folk music has always been put together by folks; you remember it, but maybe you remember it a little different than the person before, so nobody sings it twice the same,” he puts it (29:32). 

Seeger contextualizes Holcomb’s trademark “high lonesome sound” within the hard living of miners, union organizers, farmers, and moonshiners of his native eastern Kentucky. And Holcomb certainly embodies that reality in more than just his music; he complains that he can no longer work construction due to the deterioration of his back, and his coughing may signify the asthma and ultimately emphysema that he contracted from coal mining. Seeger, who usually looks for opportunities to duet with his guests, spends his segment with Holcomb completely rapt in attention to the latter’s style and technique.

Seeger’s second guest has got to be the only woman ever awarded both the Order of the British Empire and the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels. Jean Redpath shares ancient and traditional songs from “another rocky part of the world,” her native Scotland. Then a fixture of the folk circuit in New York, Redpath would go on to become one of the world’s foremost curators of Scots music. So rich was her knowledge at this point already, that she could introduce Seeger and the television audience (at 34:53) to the role and influence of the “cant o’ the beggin tongue”--or those linguistic variations that hyperlocal communities would develop in order to distinguish one another--on the ‘English’ heard in Scots folk songs. She sings a cappella throughout, which also provides a good opportunity to demonstrate (at 41:50) the Gaelic vernacular mouth music tradition that developed in between opportunities to play with accompaniment at country dances.


18. The Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys; Cousin Emmy

Don’t let their farm country patter mislead you; the Stanleys, their Clinch Mountain Boys, and Cousin Emmy were some of most polished performers to grace Seeger’s stage due to their decades of experience on country music radio programs across the south. Tune in to the Stanley Brothers and Clinch Mountain Boys’ rendition of the classic “Worried Man Blues” (which Seeger himself would later record with Rainbow Quest guest Johnny Cash) or Cousin Emmy’s version of “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad” for an inkling of what was like to take in one of those programs.

Other moments in the episode could only ever have been appreciated in a visual medium: see, for instance, bass fiddle player Chick Stripling’s Georgia-born “Butter Paddle Buck and Wing” dance at 19:34 or Cousin Emmy’s “You Are My Sunshine” played on a homemade theremin fashioned from a rubber glove (32:52).

This episode was one of the last times, if not indeed the last time, that Stanley Brothers Ralph and Carter would appear on a broadcast together. Carter died before the end of 1966. Ralph, on the other hand, continued to perform for decades and enjoyed a resurgence very recently due to the smashing success of the soundtrack to the Coen Brothers’ (there they are again…) O Brother, Where Art Thou? That record includes the Stanleys’ “Angel Band,” several renditions of their classic “I’m a Man of Constant Sorrow,” and Ralph’s Grammy Award winning “O Death.”


23. Donovan and Shawn Phillips; Reverend Gary Davis

Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan dropped in on Rainbow Quest just months before his single “Sunshine Superman” and its eponymous album gained him notoriety in the US. At 13:45 he is joined by collaborator Shawn Phillips, who introduces an instrument heretofore rarely (if ever?) seen on American television, the sitar. At 18:10, Seeger shares film from his trip to Calcutta ten years prior, including a sitar demonstration by Imrat Khan with tabla accompaniment. This episode, I should note, would have originally aired at about the same time that George Harrison’s popularizing sitar performance on the Beatles’ ”Norwegian Wood" first circulated, and shortly before Brian Jones’s on the Rolling Stones’ ”Paint It Black.”

Adding another distinct color to the rainbow, Seeger then welcomes Piedmont Blues musician Reverend Gary Davis to the show. Davis’s influence on the folk revival of the time endures through recordings of his songs by Peter, Paul, and Mary, the Grateful Dead, and Bob Dylan, among others. Few moments may be more emblematic of Seeger’s ambition for the show than all of these diversely inspired musicians singing along to Davis’s gospel song “Oh Glory How Happy I Am” (at 37:30), or the blind Davis feeling Phillips’s sitar as Phillips explains its mechanics (45:30).


25. Mamou Cajun Band

So narrow was the reach of their musical style by this historical point that fiddler Adam Landreneau, accordianist Cyprien “Cyp” Landreneau, and trianglist Revon Reed are introduced simply as “The Cajun Band.” In fact the Mamou Cajun Band’s tours of folk festivals throughout the US and Europe in the 1950’s and 1960’s greatly expanded the audience for South Louisiana Cajun music. Seeger first encountered them performing in full Mardi Gras pomp and costume at the 1957 National Folk Festival in Oklahoma City, OK, his film from which is shown around the 8-minute mark. Reed, a schoolteacher by trade, provides Seeger and his audience a concise history of the migration that brought French speakers from the Canadian territory of Acadia all the way down to the rice farming country of South Louisiana two hundred years prior to this program (beginning at 2:57).


34. Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee

Seeger had known and collaborated with country bluesmen Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee for 25 years before hosting them on his program. At 6:08 he recalls their presence at many of the first “hoots”--parties he’d thrown with his folk singing and/or radical leftist housemates in their “cooperative apartment” in Greenwich Village:

Every Sunday afternoon, the Almanac Singers would have a rent party. We’d charge 35 cents at the door and maybe a hundred or more people would crowd in. We’d sit around all afternoon singing songs. Other friends who like to make music would drop in--Burle Ives and Leadbelly and of course you two.

In addition to several of the songs one might have heard at those hoots, like Leadbelly’s “Rock Island Line” (11:09), the three play songs from McGhee’s prodigious songbook. My personal favorite is probably “(We May be Fighting a) Losing Battle” (16:05), which Peter, Paul, and Mary also recorded in 1965 as “Tryin’ to Win.”

Few brave souls have ever, by contrast, attempted to emulate Sonny Terry’s distinctive (to say the least) harmonica style. “You never heard anything like it,” Seeger recalls telling Broadway musical writer Yip Harburg in 1947 (30:26). Hear Terry’s characteristically energetic “Hootin the Blues” at 47:56. Cinephiles will no doubt instantly recall the hollering vocal and locomotive blues harp style from its place in the enigmatic closing sequence of Werner Herzog’s Stroszek some thirty years later. 


36. Mississippi John Hurt; Hedy West; Paul Cadwell

Cutting a vibrant cross section of the rainbow, Seeger asks folk revivalist Hedy West, iconic country bluesman Mississippi John Hurt, and amateur banjoist Paul Cadwell to take turns in a circle of songs and stories.

Cadwell preserved a turn-of-the-century ragtime banjo style otherwise unheard among these shows. He had an ingeniously cost-effective strategy, too: at 9:30 he explains to Seeger how he saves money by using fishing line--gauged by the size of fish that each can reel in--to string his banjo rather than expensive nylon strings. If you ever want to know the source of the American idiom “take the cake,” by the way, continue watching for Cadwell’s performance on the cakewalk accompaniment, “Georgia Camp Meeting,” and ensuing discussion of the cakewalk tradition (beginning at 10:30). 

Two other takes on long-traditional folk songs define this episode for me, though. West’s “Little Sadie” (at 17:19) preserves that dark and mournful Appalachian sound lost in so many later interpretations of that murder ballad, like Johnny Cash’s raucous “Cocaine Blues.” Hurt’s adaptation of the staple American folk tale of John Henry, in the meantime, must be my personal favorite sequence in this whole collection. His “Spike Driver Blues” (36:15) is a jaw-droppingly virtuosic demonstration of his self-taught but highly influential finger-picking guitar style. His likewise singularly soft vocal delivery may obscure it if you’re not listening closely, but the song also highlights an otherwise marginalized response to the old tale--that of the despondent railroad worker who refuses to suffer the same fate:

You just take this hammer and carry it to my captain
Yes tell him I’m gone
Won’t you tell him I’m gone?
This is the hammer that killed John Henry, but it won’t kill me
No it won’t kill me


39. June Carter and Johnny Cash

Perhaps no single group had as profound an influence on all subsequent American country/folk traditions than did the Carter Family, from their instrumental and vocal styles to the many widely repurposed songs that they wrote. “Me, I was just one of millions that thought it was the most wonderful music I heard,” Seeger says in the course of introducing their decades of presence on country music programs around the nation (beginning at 4:45). He continues to discuss the family’s legacy throughout the episode with second generation band member June Carter, who shares her own firsthand accounts of its commercial effect on things like the Grand Ole Opry. At 22:00, she quotes the Opry’s prominent tour manager J.L. Frank as saying that “without the Carter Family, we might have gone under...We’d have a whole week of good dates if we could just get the Carter Family.” You can hear a couple of the old Carter songs in the episode, including the “Worried Man Blues” (15:02) that the Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys performed in episode 18.

Along with Carter, of course, Seeger hosted “another fella,” her then-touring partner (later husband) Johnny Cash. “He’s kinda interesting.” It’s admittedly a bit awkward to watch the the visibly inebriated Cash--then in the midst of an addiction to painkillers--fidget his way through the episode. Still, he’s well lucid enough to give Seeger (at 26:08) the short history of his songwriting, from the age of 12 on up through the purchase of his first $5 guitar while serving in the Air Force in post-war Germany. The story culminates in a rendition of the song he wrote to capture his experience of the 1937 flood of the Mississippi River, “Five Feet High and Rising.” At 35:20, Seeger and Cash discuss their shared interest in American Indian plight, protest songs, and especially the creation of the first written Cherokee alphabet, all of which culminate in a performance by all three of "As Long as the Grass Shall Grow," one of folk revivalist songwriter Peter LaFarge’s contributions to Cash’s 1957 album, Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian.

Short as it is though, my favorite moment throughout the episode still has to be Seeger’s performance of ”Cripple Creek” on the 1855 model fretless banjo given him earlier by Cash. A little unwieldy to play, the instrument nonetheless has an altogether different, and I would say richer, sound than the banjo that we hear Seeger pluck throughout the the series.


[1] Update, February 28, 2017: As the original masters appear to be lost and I have not researched the chain of custody for any of the digital surrogates licensed for re-use by any third parties, I cannot confidently characterize the copyright status of this work.

Arts & Architecture magazine ads, 1962-3

Herman Miller, December 1963

Herman Miller, December 1963

Arts & Architecture, which ran from 1929 until 1967, was a leading American voice in mid-century modernist architecture and design. It was among the first American publications to disseminate and popularize the work of designers now inseparably linked to the movement, including George Nakashima, the Eameses, Thomas Church, and Garret Eckbo, among many others. Most famously, its Case Study Houses design-build-publish experiment enabled the most innovative modernist architects to dot the southern California landscape with residences that aspired to equally high levels of beauty and reproducibility. 

As you can imagine, the magazine developed its own complementary aesthetic in photography and graphic design. Like it's contemporaries, A&A can be read today as a visual roadmap through a landscape of changing ideas both about design and about the ways in which we communicate it's power.


Arts & Architecture,  November 1960, via  Aqua-Velvet

Arts & Architecture, November 1960, via Aqua-Velvet

It's fun to thumb through the abstract and frequently minimalist cover designs, looking for signs of narrative in the modernist community's periodic reflection back upon itself. At the moment though, I'm entertained by the following sampling of ads from issues published between 1962 and 1963, when longtime publisher and editor John Entenza turned control of the magazine over to David Travers. A&A's role at the center of design conversation was by this time well established; product vendors clearly thought critically about its audience's visual vocabulary and designed their ads to marry hard-sell practicality and brand iconography. 


Publisher TASCHEN produced a facsimile edition of A&A issues from 1945 to 1954. Rumors circulate about reprinting the remaining issues, but the for time being you'll have to find them in your nearest library.

All images © TASCHEN

What a holocaust denial taught me about history, collective memory, and archives

Still frame from  Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.  (1999)  © Universal Pictures

Still frame from Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. (1999) © Universal Pictures

A colleague who worked as an archivist at the New York Public Library at the time of its release recently described to me the transformative effect that Ken Burns's The Civil War had on many laypeople's perceptions of the purpose of archives. Seeing the story told through sequences of primary documentary sources created by the combatants and first-hand witnesses apparently unlocked the doors to perception so effectively that it validated to them the whole enterprise of collecting, arranging, and describing these touchstones of collective memory in the first place.

I was surprised, but in fact I can remember my own epiphany about the role of archives in history and collective memory,  long before I considered any future role for myself in them, as an impressionable teenager watching Errol Morris's documentary film Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.

Morris is taking his regular spin on the media's Lazy Susan right now because of the recent release of his newest film, The Unknown Known, about former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. At its center is the figurative blizzard of memos that Rumsfeld wrote during his tenure, the purposes that these documents might have served at the time that they were written, and their significance now as historical evidence of an especially peculiar kind. In this way, like so many of his films, The Unknown Known speaks to the very purpose of archives, and more specifically about the frequently problematic difference between knowing and remembering. The latter tension played an important role in Morris's breakout documentary The Thin Blue Line and reemerged throughout his career, in both the Oscar-winning The Fog of War and Standard Operating Procedure as well as his fantastic essays on photography, Believing is Seeing. But it's Mr. Death that I most often circle back to, and which I think most instructively crystallizes that tension for archivists in particular.

It does so in a manner both concrete and affective. In case you're lucky enough to never have witnessed them yourself, Laura Millar's 2003 Archivaria article "Touchstones: Considering the Relationship between Memory and Archives", introduces the revisionists who "seem to want to deny the legitimacy of, if not the actual existence of, the catastrophic events of World War II, by questioning the memories of survivors." Morris's film tells the story of one such man, Fred Leuchter, who sought to prove that there was no mass murder of European Jews during the war by way of his own failures to collect sufficiently empirical evidence from Auschwitz and other concentration camps of functional gassing facilities or residual cyanide.

In a pivotal sequence in the film, however, historian Robert Jan van Pelt reveals that the building archives at Auschwitz contain memoranda sent among the German officers then fitting and furnishing the camp's structures that includes references to its gas detectors, air-tight doors, air extraction systems, and even once its "Vergasungskeller" (literally "gassing cellar"). The latter word is underlined in red, while an accompanying marginal note suggests that a senior officer address the use of this word with the officer who wrote it. "There was a code," van Pelt explains, "words like 'gas chamber' would not be used...and it doesn't occur after that."

Still frame from  Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.  (1999)  © Universal Pictures

Still frame from Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. (1999) © Universal Pictures

Not only does the document indicate an intention to operate a gas chamber at Auschwitz, then, in the context of reams of memos in the same archives that skirt such language it indicates an awareness among the Nazis that these documents would indeed someday serve as the  touchstones that Millar describes; depending greatly on their precise content, they either could or could not lead to the recollection of historical events.

Fifteen years before Millar, geographer Ken Foote described [PDF] the same revisionist danger to sites of violence so horrific that future generations would prefer to simply forget, calling for archives to serve as "a countervailing force to effacement." Given the ruinous conditions of the sites that Fred Leuchter visited, the dilution of evidence from which he attempted and failed to draw specific conclusions, it's hard to imagine a more weighty application of this countervailing force, or more effective a prescription of what Millar simply calls the "antidote to attempts to reinterpret history." 

I'm generally very sympathetic to the postmodern view of archives that questions archivists' credulous claims of custodianship rather than authorship of the historical record, but I'd argue that this little case study also quite succinctly demonstrates a continuing vitality to the positivist archivist's counterclaim. The power of the Auschwitz building archives lay in its collection of normative historical evidence. Critically, the social memory that had been built around the site could be validated with evidence from the content and function of an archival document. As survivors of the holocaust increasingly leave us, I can only imagine the power of this force against effacement growing. Still, I agree with Millar that our "level of 'trust' for the record is inextricably linked to the contextual information available: factual and emotional." It was the contextual knowledge that propelled the historian in the above example to search for proof in the archives after all, not the other way around. I think that Millar is right, then, to suggest that truth can only be found somewhere between and among the records and the memories (that the positivists and postmodernists just have to get along). "There is no shortcut to reality," Morris, the former private detective reminds us.

Modernist or postmodernist, artist or scientist, custodian or interventionist, archivists share some extremely important and complicated responsibilities to communicate the past to skeptical future generations. Mark Greene, one of my favorite thinkers on all topics archival, calls [PDF] these "higher stakes and weightier burdens than many of us signed up for when we became archivists" but I find them endlessly motivating, to say nothing of fascinating.

Sixty Books for a Working Landscape Library

The interns at my office once polled the design staff on a number of important issues--ie. how many times per day do you type Ctrl-Z? How many trips to the corner deli this week?--and shared their responses. 'In case of fire,' they also asked, 'and barring the normal physical constraints, what would you first save from the studio?' Some answered 'the server' or 'the drafting tables,' but the runaway favorite was the library.

I've toyed ever since with the list of titles that I would toss down the mail chute to safety before succumbing to smoke inhalation. The sixty below represent that list as of April 2014. They're not necessarily the "best," the best-selling, or even the most popular books on the shelf. They're the ones that I would protect so a professional studio could get right back to work the next day (or the same day if we could all get Wifi in the park or cram into the same little coffee shop).

As such they are a peculiar mix of theory and practice, reference and inspiration. Some are academic, but no one ideology permeates. Several are written by practitioners, but none promote the design work of a single firm. The few that are very geographically specific were chosen more for their generalizable lessons or graphical precedents.

You can follow the "Library" link below each to find the loaner copy nearest you. In case you want to add any to your own permanent collection, there are also links to buy through Better World Books if you can, Amazon if you must, or direct from the publisher.

For this post there are sixty, but every day brings new candidates. Maybe what I need is a good, roomy, fireproof safe. What would go into yours? 

The American Meadow Garden      John Greenlee & Saxon Holt + Library   +  BWB   +  Amazon   +  Publisher

The American Meadow Garden 
John Greenlee & Saxon Holt
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Arboriculture: Integrated Management of Landscape Trees, Shrubs, and Vines      James R. Clark, Richard W. Harris, & Nelda P. Matheny + Library   +  BWB   + Amazon 

Arboriculture: Integrated Management of Landscape Trees, Shrubs, and Vines 
James R. Clark, Richard W. Harris, & Nelda P. Matheny
+Library +BWB 

The Architecture of Western Gardens: A Design History from the Renaissance to the Present Day      Monique Mosser & Georges Teyssot + Library   +  BWB    +  Amazon

The Architecture of Western Gardens: A Design History from the Renaissance to the Present Day 
Monique Mosser & Georges Teyssot
+Library +BWB 

Armitage's Garden Perennials      Allan M. Armitage + Library   +  BWB   + Amazon   +  Publisher

Armitage's Garden Perennials 
Allan M. Armitage
+Library +BWB 
+Amazon +Publisher

The Art of the Islamic Garden      Emma Clark + Library  + BWB   + Amazon  + Publisher

The Art of the Islamic Garden 
Emma Clark
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Building Codes Illustrated      Francis D.K. Ching  + Library  + BWB   + Amazon  + Publisher

Building Codes Illustrated 
Francis D.K. Ching
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Case: Downsview Park      Julia Czerniak + Library  + Amazon

Case: Downsview Park 
Julia Czerniak
+Library +Amazon

The Chinese Garden: History, Art, and Architecture      Maggie Keswick + Library  + BWB  + Amazon

The Chinese Garden: History, Art, and Architecture 
Maggie Keswick
+Library +BWB

City: Rediscovering the Center      William H. Whyte + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

City: Rediscovering the Center 
William H. Whyte
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Constructing Landscape: Materials, Techniques, Structural Components      Astrid Zimmerman + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher  + Preview

Constructing Landscape: Materials, Techniques, Structural Components 
Astrid Zimmerman
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Data Flow 2      Robert Klanten, Sven Ehmann, Nicolas Bourquin, & Thibaud Tissot + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

Data Flow 2 
Robert Klanten, Sven Ehmann, Nicolas Bourquin, & Thibaud Tissot
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

The Death and Life of Great American Cities      Jane Jacobs + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

The Death and Life of Great American Cities 
Jane Jacobs
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Design for Flooding: Architecture, Landscape, and Urban Resilience to Climate Change      Donald Watson & Michele Adams + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

Design for Flooding: Architecture, Landscape, and Urban Resilience to Climate Change 
Donald Watson & Michele Adams
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Design of Cities      Edmund N. Bacon + Library  + BWB  + Amazon

Design of Cities 
Edmund N. Bacon
+Library +BWB

Design with Nature      Ian L. McHarg + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

Design with Nature 
Ian L. McHarg
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Designing Outdoor Environments for Children: Landscaping School Yards, Gardens and Playgrounds      Mary Haque, Erin Knight, Gina McLellan, & Lolly Tai + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

Designing Outdoor Environments for Children: Landscaping School Yards, Gardens and Playgrounds 
Mary Haque, Erin Knight, Gina McLellan, & Lolly Tai
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Detail in Contemporary Landscape Architecture   Virginia McLeod + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

Detail in Contemporary Landscape Architecture
Virginia McLeod
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Dirr's Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs      Michael A. Dirr + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

Dirr's Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs 
Michael A. Dirr
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

The Elements of Style Illustrated      William Strunk, E.B. White, & Maira Kalman + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

The Elements of Style Illustrated 
William Strunk, E.B. White, & Maira Kalman
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Encyclopedia of Grasses for Livable Landscapes      Rick Darke + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

Encyclopedia of Grasses for Livable Landscapes 
Rick Darke
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

The Endless City      Ricky Burdett & Deyan Sudjic + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

The Endless City 
Ricky Burdett & Deyan Sudjic
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Envisioning Information      Edward R. Tufte + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

Envisioning Information 
Edward R. Tufte
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

The Garden as Architecture: Form and Spirit in the Gardens of Japan, China, and Korea      Toshiro Inaji & Pamela Virgilio + Library  + BWB  + Amazon

The Garden as Architecture: Form and Spirit in the Gardens of Japan, China, and Korea 
Toshiro Inaji & Pamela Virgilio
+Library +BWB

Garden History: Philosophy and Design, 2000 BC - 2000 AD      Tom Turner + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

Garden History: Philosophy and Design, 2000 BC - 2000 AD 
Tom Turner
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

The Garden in Winter      Rosemary Verey + Library  + BWB  + Amazon

The Garden in Winter 
Rosemary Verey
+Library +BWB

Great Streets      Allan B. Jacobs + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

Great Streets 
Allan B. Jacobs
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Green Infrastructure: A Landscape Approach      Ignacio F. Bunster-Ossa & David C. Rouse + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

Green Infrastructure: A Landscape Approach 
Ignacio F. Bunster-Ossa & David C. Rouse
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Green Roof Systems: A Guide to the Planning, Design and Construction of Landscapes Over Structure      Susan Weiler & Katrin Scholz-Barth + Library  + BWB   + Amazon  + Publisher

Green Roof Systems: A Guide to the Planning, Design and Construction of Landscapes Over Structure 
Susan Weiler & Katrin Scholz-Barth
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Handbook of Regular Patterns      Peter S. Stevens + Library  + BWB   + Amazon

Handbook of Regular Patterns 
Peter S. Stevens
+Library +BWB

High Performance Landscape Guidelines: 21st Century Parks for NYC      Design Trust for Public Space & New York Department of Parks and Recreation + Library  + Amazon   + Free PDF

High Performance Landscape Guidelines: 21st Century Parks for NYC 
Design Trust for Public Space & New York Department of Parks and Recreation
+Library +Amazon 
+Free PDF

Interior Planting: A Guide to Plantscapes in Work and Leisure Places      Lynn Lockwood Seignot + Library  + Amazon

Interior Planting: A Guide to Plantscapes in Work and Leisure Places 
Lynn Lockwood Seignot
+Library +Amazon

Land Mosaics: The Ecology of Landscapes and Regions      Richard T.T. Forman + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

Land Mosaics: The Ecology of Landscapes and Regions 
Richard T.T. Forman
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Landscape Architectural Graphic Standards      Leonard J. Hopper + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

Landscape Architectural Graphic Standards 
Leonard J. Hopper
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History      Elizabeth Barlow Rogers + Library  + BWB   + Amazon  + Publisher

Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History 
Elizabeth Barlow Rogers
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

The Landscape of Man: Shaping the Environment from Prehistory to the Present Day      Geoffrey Alan Jellicoe & Susan Jellicoe + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

The Landscape of Man: Shaping the Environment from Prehistory to the Present Day 
Geoffrey Alan Jellicoe & Susan Jellicoe
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

The Language of Towns and Cities: A Visual Dictionary      Dhiru Thadani + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

The Language of Towns and Cities: A Visual Dictionary 
Dhiru Thadani
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Life Between Buildings: Using Public Space      Jan Gehl + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

Life Between Buildings: Using Public Space 
Jan Gehl
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Low Impact Development: A Design Manual for Urban Areas      University of Arkansas Community Design Center + Library  + Amazon  + Publisher  + Free PDF

Low Impact Development: A Design Manual for Urban Areas 
University of Arkansas Community Design Center
+Library +Amazon
+Publisher +Free PDF

Manufactured Sites: Rethinking the Post-Industrial Landscape      Niall Kirkwood + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

Manufactured Sites: Rethinking the Post-Industrial Landscape 
Niall Kirkwood
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Materials for Sustainable Sites      Meg Calkins + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

Materials for Sustainable Sites 
Meg Calkins
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Meaning in Landscape Architecture and Gardens      Marc Treib + Library  + BWB   + Amazon  + Publisher

Meaning in Landscape Architecture and Gardens 
Marc Treib
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

The Measure of Man & Woman: Human Factors in Design      Alvin R. Tilley + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

The Measure of Man & Woman: Human Factors in Design 
Alvin R. Tilley
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Mississippi Floods: Designing a Shifting Landscape      Anuradha Mathur & Dilip da Cunha + Library  + BWB  + Amazon

Mississippi Floods: Designing a Shifting Landscape 
Anuradha Mathur & Dilip da Cunha
+Library +BWB

The Modernist Garden in France      Dorothee Imbert + Library  + BWB  + Amazon

The Modernist Garden in France 
Dorothee Imbert
+Library +BWB

Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: A Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers   Gary L. Hightshoe + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: A Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers
Gary L. Hightshoe
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Petrochemical America      Richard Misrach & Kate Orff + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

Petrochemical America 
Richard Misrach & Kate Orff
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Planting: A New Perspective      Piet Oudolf & Noel Kingsbury + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

Planting: A New Perspective 
Piet Oudolf & Noel Kingsbury
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Private Paradise: Contemporary American Gardens      Charlotte M. Frieze + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

Private Paradise: Contemporary American Gardens 
Charlotte M. Frieze
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World      Emma Marris + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World 
Emma Marris
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs      Ellen Dunham-Jones & June Williamson + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs 
Ellen Dunham-Jones & June Williamson
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Rising Currents: Projects for New York's Waterfront      Barry Bergdoll + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

Rising Currents: Projects for New York's Waterfront 
Barry Bergdoll
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Site Construction Details Manual      Nicholas Dines & Kyle Brown + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

Site Construction Details Manual 
Nicholas Dines & Kyle Brown
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Site Engineering for Landscape Architects      Steven Strom, Kurt Nathan, & Jake Woland + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

Site Engineering for Landscape Architects 
Steven Strom, Kurt Nathan, & Jake Woland
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Soil Design Protocols for Landscape Architects and Contractors    Timothy A. Craul & Philip J. Craul + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

Soil Design Protocols for Landscape Architects and Contractors 
Timothy A. Craul & Philip J. Craul
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Theory in Landscape Architecture: A Reader      Simon Swaffield + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

Theory in Landscape Architecture: A Reader 
Simon Swaffield
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Therapeutic Landscapes: An Evidence-Based Approach to Designing Healing Gardens and Restorative Outdoor Spaces      Clare Cooper Marcus & Naomi Sachs + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

Therapeutic Landscapes: An Evidence-Based Approach to Designing Healing Gardens and Restorative Outdoor Spaces 
Clare Cooper Marcus & Naomi Sachs
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Up by Roots      James Urban + Library  + Amazon  + Publisher

Up by Roots 
James Urban
+Library +Amazon

Urban Regions      Richard T.T. Forman + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

Urban Regions 
Richard T.T. Forman
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

A Visual Dictionary of Architecture      Francis D.K. Ching + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

A Visual Dictionary of Architecture 
Francis D.K. Ching
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Wetlands      William J. Mitsch & James G. Gosselink + Library  + BWB  + Amazon  + Publisher

William J. Mitsch & James G. Gosselink
+Library +BWB
+Amazon +Publisher

Landscape Architecture Magazine covers from the 1960s

Landscape Architecture , January 1968 © American Society of Landscape Architects

Landscape Architecture, January 1968 © American Society of Landscape Architects

I like the latest design of Landscape Architecture Magazine. Still, it's hard not to get inspired by these covers printed before the dominance of the high-res digital photo. Considered in sequence, these snapshots of the professional discourse actually provide a nice little timeline of its development during a tumultuous period of change, and under the editorship of the exuberant pot-stirrer Grady Clay



Apply an even wider lens and still other stylistic or rhetorical dramas come into frame...  


Landscape Architecture Magazine , January 1961 (left) and August 2013 (right) © American Society of Landscape Architects

Landscape Architecture Magazine, January 1961 (left) and August 2013 (right) © American Society of Landscape Architects

You can't judge a magazine by its cover, but these artifacts of professional culture clearly have enduring value of their own to design researchers and practitioners alike. So what do they say to you?

Everyone Maps the Internet

I'm a big fan of The Internet Mapping Project by artist/futurist Kevin Kelly. I share the collection of user-submitted internet maps with friends and colleagues whenever a project to visualize quasi- or non-spatial information concepts requires a jolt of inspiration. Slide through a few of my favorites below. You can browse all of the submissions through Kelly's Flickr set.  

The Internet Mapping Project asks anyone and everyone to sketch out a map of the internet as they understand it. Rather than help anyone to get from point A to point B, these maps teach us how individuals interpret the internet’s structure and distribution; with a modicum of cartographic vocabulary the project makes a personal, aesthetic experience universally accessible.

Some kind of aesthetic and utilitarian harmony defines the most effective maps (of anywhere or anything). I often fear, however, that exponentially expanding data sets, their modeling technologies, and an eagerness to borrow credibility with loosely applied cartographic best practices increasingly reduces aesthetics to the realms of color choice and line weight. Using a map is--or ought to be--a rich aesthetic experience, especially when that map represents extraspatial concepts and features. When making display choices, prioritizing that experience can still yield quite informative results.

What, after all, is so enriching about a map that imposes the conventional constraints on representing areas and distances of features that have no actual spatial attributes?

Web Trend Map 4   (2009) © Information Architects Inc.

Web Trend Map 4 (2009) © Information Architects Inc.

The annual Web Trend maps created by Information Architects (iA) make for an instructive example. Antithetical to Kelly's project, iA's maps are top-down products of meticulous professional design, were rapturously received online (insofar as they 'went viral'), but left us with no lasting impression of the internet's landscape beyond the hubs that dominate annual pageview counts and the broadest color-coated categories into which they fit. Based graphically on some of the greatest achievements in subway mapping--among the most effective maps ever produced--iA's maps could of course never help users to orient themselves nor navigate anywhere online. More importantly though, and in spite of their visual richness, they do nothing to otherwise convey the experience of traversing this immensely complex information landscape. These are not maps, then, so much as they are very pretty bar graphs with pretenses of scientific accuracy that they do not earn. 

Attempts to map the internet are as old as the internet itself, and seemingly impervious to the paradox of mapping a place without space. With each successive failure the effort seems to become less centralized, more experimental and iterative, and even more playful. iA produced their fourth and final trend map in 2009, the year in which Kelly launched his project. And given the power and ownership relationships that each represents, I'm glad to see the latter continue. 

Reading Roberto Burle Marx

Plan for the roof garden of the Ministry of Education and Health, Rio de Janeiro, 1938. Gouache on board. (Ellen Grossman, courtesy Conrad Hamerman)

Plan for the roof garden of the Ministry of Education and Health, Rio de Janeiro, 1938. Gouache on board. (Ellen Grossman, courtesy Conrad Hamerman)

Landscape architect Amy Magida moderated a fascinating discussion between Dennis McGlade, FASLA and Conrad Hamerman, FASLA for the latest issue of Context, the quarterly journal of the AIA's Philadelphia chapter. McGlade and Hamerman reflect upon the early inspiration that Roberto Burle Marx provided each of them to pursue landscape architecture, in spite of and inspiring still more contradictions of the type Burle Marx would no doubt be proud. McGlade, the bored business student in Chicago, discovered his own passion for design in the artistry of Burle Marx's built work. Hamerman, who first encountered Burle Marx while wandering the botanical gardens of Brazil as an itinerant artist and aspiring horticulturist, would become his friend and mentor's unofficial American business partner and press agent.    

Assisting Amy in her initial research for the piece was an opportunity to get reacquainted with the great Brazilian modernist myself. And while he and the critical reception of his work were equally prolific, I think I was able to reduce the full bibliography down to a list of essential texts (two books, two catalogues, and one published interview) that I would recommend to anyone whose curiosity is piqued.

The best place to start is Marta Iris Montero's Roberto Burle Marx: The Lyrical Landscape, which includes a brief but insightful introduction to Burle Marx's life as well as a visually rich tour of his work (both on the land and on canvas). Montero's survey precedes a comprehensive project list and bibliography.

Left: Roberto Burle Marx painting, ca. 1940 (Roberto Burle Marx office archive, photographer unknown).  Right: Consulting a book on De Kooning, Sitio, 1991 (photograph by Conrad Hamerman).

Left: Roberto Burle Marx painting, ca. 1940 (Roberto Burle Marx office archive, photographer unknown).

Right: Consulting a book on De Kooning, Sitio, 1991 (photograph by Conrad Hamerman).

Conrad Hamerman conducted an interview of Roberto Burle Marx himself for a special Brazil-themed issue of the Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts in 1994. The conversation, mournfully entitled "Roberto Burle Marx: The Last Interview" (free online through JSTOR), is a very personal reflection on Burle Marx's life and work that benefits from Hamerman's special access to both.

Roberto Burle Marx: The Modernity of Landscape is a companion to the 2011 retrospective of Burle Marx's work by the Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine in Paris. It includes his own essays "Concepts of composition in landscape architecture" (1954) and "Landscape architecture in the city" (1983), as well as critical readings that place his work at the nexus of modern art, urban planning, and ecology.

© Actar Publishers

© Actar Publishers

Roberto Burle Marx: The Unnatural Art of the Garden is a slim companion to the 1991 Museum of Modern Art exhibit that highlighted Burle Marx's aesthetic influences and objectives, most notably the effects of abstract and modern painting on his garden designs.

Roberto Burle Marx: Landscapes Reflected, from Princeton Architectural Press's "Landscape Views" series, is a very short collection of essays that place Burle Marx's work in the context of Brazilian landscape architecture and the Brazilian modernist movement.