Thomas Jefferson, landscape architect. Part IV: Washington

East Capitol Street, Washington.

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By now we know that the 45th president of the US is not somebody who is going to spend a whole lot of attention to the relation between state and landscape. Still, there remains much to learn from the landscape architect/president. The development of the nation’s capital shows how the versatility of landscape—unlike the firmness of architecture—allows for a unification of conflicting political ideals.

For 26 years of his life, Jefferson’s energies were devoted to promoting and perfecting the new capital. Repugnant as the evils of city life were to him, he must have made a great concession in his anti-urban philosophy to devote so much time to creating the national capital. During the summer of 1790—while George Washington was the first president—two issues paralysed Congress: the future location of the nation’s capital and the question of how America’s finances and debts should be handled, “two of the most irritating questions,” as Jefferson remarked. With great effort, spending years of careful politics, he managed to broker a deal combining the two, by exchanging the south’s acceptance to pay for a larger part of the debts, for a favourable location of the new capital: on the Potomac River along the Maryland and Virginia border, far away from the commercial and urban centres, and thus expressing the vision of the United States as an agrarian republic.

At that time, professional city planning had not yet emerged from the art of architecture and science of military engineering which had for centuries been responsible for the design of European cities. The city of Washington was the first attempt to plan a national capital for a democratic form of government on a site deliberately picked for that purpose. The design of the city was to express the government and its (lack of) power. Thus, Jefferson, as a Republican, wanted it to be unobtrusive, while the Federalist President Washington envisioned a grand an imposing city.

The sketch Thomas Jefferson made for Washington.

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Jefferson’s first memorandum about the future capital stated that it should be laid out on a rectangular grid that would grow organically over time, spreading out from its centre. The city should be a city of gardens, interspersed with squares for public walks. He laid out the programme, specified as “a territory not exceeding 10. miles square to be located by metes and bounds. […] I should propose [the streets] to be at right angles & that no street be narrower than 100. feet, with foot-ways of 15. feet where a street is long & level.” Obviously, his conception of the future city was based on the conventional gridiron plan with which he was familiar. He wrote down precise rules and regulations, foreseeing almost every problem that would be encountered.

The L’Enfant plan of Washington DC, 1791.

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By contrast, the magnificent city that Washington and his chosen designer Charles L’Enfant dreamed up, would proclaim a mighty, dominant central government. The scheme that L’Enfant submitted, a radial plan superimposing the grid that Jefferson had proposed, was no other than André Le Nôtre’s design for the gardens of Versailles. However, a year later L’Enfant was fired, because of his stubborn refusal to submit to the authority of the commissioners, and Jefferson was left with the responsibility to complete the already accepted plan. With L’Enfant’s plan being so enormous that the city grew in small clusters around the important buildings instead of around a single centre, Jefferson’s improvement was to work on roads to link these separate areas.

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Even before the first houses had been built, Jefferson had suggested lining the avenues and streets with trees—after all, a house could always be erected quicker than a tree would grow to maturity. Regarding tree-felling as “a crime little short of murder,” he also told the commissioners that people were not allowed to cut existing trees that he thought to keep for ornamental purposes for the city. But with no means to enforce this, by the time he became president, most trees were lost.

While Jefferson failed to stop Washington’s and L’Enfant’s grand plans, he managed to infuse them with his own ideals. Because of the capital’s remote location and the continuous lack of funds, for many years it wasn’t a bustling metropolis but remained a rural town, reflecting both the federalist ideals in its grand plan, and the republican ones in its atmosphere of a “very agreeable country residence … free from the noise, the heat, the stench & the bustle of a close built town.”

Pennsylvania Avenue, the grandest street in town…

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sources

Nichols, F.D. and Griswold, R.E. (1978) “The City of Washington” in: Thomas Jefferson, Landscape Architect. pp. 38-75.

Wulf, A. (2011) “City of Magnificent Intentions,” in: Founding Gardeners. The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation. pp. 124-153.

 

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On the 22nd of november the Landscape Architecture master students went on another of many adventures. This time, the path led to Holwerd, a historical village in Friesland on the coast of the dynamic and beautiful Wadden Sea and to the island on the other side, Ameland.

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Being the biggest tidal area of the world, the Wadden Sea is one of Holland’s prides showing an intriguing interplay of nature’s power and man’s whit. With its rich ecology and its captivating views, the area earned its World Heritage title. And upon experiencing the site, we could all agree.

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Poetry was written all over our two day trip as we drifted away from our student life in Delft and wandered into the lives of ecologists, birdwatchers, the inhabitants of Holwerd and Ameland and the ferry captains. We saw both natures beauty in the astonishing sunset sky, the dancing bird formations and the foggy dunes in the morning light and man’s whit in the terps of Holwerd, the abstract line of the dikes and openness of the polders. When we looked up to the night sky, it was the first time in a while that we could see the stars and when we climbed up to the panorama deck on the ferry, the Wadden Sea showed off its looks presenting the tidal flats.

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It is safe to say that the Wadden Sea area is unique and that hopefully, the next adventure will bring us to another place like this.

Eva Ventura

Rudi van Etteger
Date: 10 November 2016

Time: 11:00 – 12:30
Location: Aula, building 362, Gen. Foulkesweg 1, Wageningen

Dissertation title:

Beyond the Visible. Prolegomenon to an aesthetics of designed landscapes

Group: Wageningen University, Landscape Architecture
Promotor: Prof.dr.ir. A. van den Brink and prof.dr. H.G.J. Gremmen
Co-promotor: Dr. R.C.H.M. van Gerwen

Abstract:

In this thesis the appropriate aesthetic evaluation of designed landscapes is explored. The lack of a specific theory for the appropriate appreciation of designed landscapes in environmental aesthetics has made it possible for landscape architects and critics to belief that landscapes are scenic entities. Actual design criticism as offered in the Landscape Architecture Europe books is shown to be based on the inconsistent belief that aesthetic experiences of works of landscape architecture are mostly visual. To explore what an appropriate appreciation should be based in, the ontology and phenomenology first of the particular designed landscape of Walcheren and consequently designed landscapes in general are explored. The exploration has provided important cues for the aesthetic evaluation of designed landscapes which form an evaluative framework for the appropriate appreciation of designed landscapes. A discussion is provided on the importance of such an appropriate appreciation for different audiences.

Extra information on:

http://www.sense.nl/graduations/upcoming/10871732/Rudi-van-Etteger

The chair of Landscape Architecture invites you to a new colloquium series in the How-Do-You-Landscape sessions entitled “SCAPES”. This series focusses on urgent and emerging themes for spatial design, such as disasters and emergencies, co-creation, social justice and new technology. We invite leading academics and practitioners with contrasting or complementary views to speak about their work in an informal setting. The presentations are followed by a discussion chaired by an academic from the faculty. A screening of a film or documentary on the same topic follows up the lectures in the weeks following.

#2 ROAD-SCAPES
The second theme in the new series is Road-Scapes, and explores the past and future role of infrastructure in shaping the conceptions and transformations of natural, rural and urban landscapes. Timothy Davis, architectural historian for the American National Parks Authority will speak about his research on the design of roads in U.S. National Parks and their influence on ideas of nature, recreation and technology in American society.  Stefan Bendix, urbanist and founder of Artgineering, will speak on his work on cycle infrastructures as a tool for spatial and socio-economic development in contemporary urban environments. The relationship between past and future infrastructure forms a central thematic for the colloquium, which concludes with a discussion between these two speakers and moderator René van der Velde, associate professor in landscape architecture. The presentations and discussion are intended to reveal critical themes and principles for landscape architects and urban planners on this most fundamental of spatial design and development instruments.

Tim Davis – Park Roads                  Park roads have been celebrated as technical and aesthetic masterpieces, hailed as democratizing influences, and vilified for invading pristine wilderness with the sights, sounds, and smells of civilization. Davis’ research traces the role of motorists, wilderness advocates, highway engineers and landscape architects in shaping these infrastructures, offering a new perspective on national park history and providing insights into evolving ideas about the role of nature, recreation, and technology in American society.

Tim Davis is a historian for the U.S. National Park Service. His writings on parks, parkways, and other aspects of the American landscape have appeared in Landscape Journal, Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture, Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes, and America’s National Park Roads and Parkways. He has taught courses on landscape history, theory and preservation at the University of Texas, the University of Maryland, and the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in Decorative Arts, Design and Culture. He received his  degree in Visual and Environmental Studies from Harvard College and a PhD in Americ
an Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. poster-roadscapes-stefan-bendiks

Stefan Bendiks – Cycle infrastructure                  The planning and design of infrastructure in urban and peri-urban contexts is an increasingly critical task. Stefan will present research and praxis projects by the office that explores the phenomenon of the route and the role of infrastructure in the spatial and social development of territories. Recent research and a publication on cycle infrastructure by the office will form the main body of the talk, a comparative study of 10 long-distance cycleways, their planning and design characteristics, and their impact on aspects such as socio-economic development, experience and mobility patterns.

Stefan Bendiks is director of the office Artgineering, an office for urbanism based in Rotterdam and Brussels. He devises and implements design strategies for complex (inter)urban conditions with particular attention to the role of infrastructure. In various research and design projects, he re-interprets the relationship between mobility, landscape and urban development. The work of Artgineering has won various awards and prizes such as Europan, the Karl-Hofer Award of the UdK Berlin and a Bauhaus Award nomination.poster-roadscapes-stefan-bendiks2