“The landscape tells - or rather is - a story. It enfolds the lives and times of predecessors who, over the generations, have moved around in it and played their part in its formation. To perceive the landscape is therefore to carry out an act of remembrance, and remembering is not so much a matter of calling up an internal image, stored in the mind, as of engaging perpetually with the environment that is itself pregnant with the past” (Tim Ingold)
The active presence of our environmental surroundings is fortifying and, without doubt, there is a special kind of magic born of the combination of atmospheric qualities that linger here in the Lowcountry. There are already ample descriptions of the smells, sounds, and sights unique to this place. Suffice it to say that beauty lurks around every corner of this landscape. This is not an abstract idea, it is the magic of real things in the world.
Architecture often addresses these qualities through place-making. This means designing spaces in relation to the specific qualities of a place—its natural patterns (wind, sun, climate, topography), its special ecology (forests, rivers, estuaries, marshes), as well as the history and traditions of its built environment (buildings, gardens, infrastructure, etc.). These are understood as the minimum set of values for designing-in-place. Commonly, these values are more or less adhered to in the process of designing a building. The expected results are architecture which is generally understood as a building. Inside of the architecture is the interior design and outside is the garden or landscape. This understanding commonly leads from well-intentioned beginnings to limited results—competent interiors within buildings inscribed by walls within their respective context. Such buildings are not bad, they may even be good in so much as they provide for the necessities of use, but they are limited by the exclusion of the subtlety and specificity available in the specific context.
My intention is to adopt a perspective which brings the landscape’s unique capacities to bear within the realm of architecture—not at its periphery but at its formative center—privileging the everyday experience of people through their direct involvement in the world and this place. This means understanding the landscape not as the ground which surrounds a building, but as the space in which a building comes fully into existence—incorporating the conditions specific to our experience of a place.
This simple reframing allows the specificities of the environment and its particular qualities to engulf the ‘interior’ within its atmosphere. What’s more is that these qualities are universal, that is to say outside of fashion and taste. They are direct and immediate in the way they refocus our senses, making us more present in the world. They are at the same time powerful and understated, pervasive and full of nuance. And, best of all, they are free. It may be that all is needed is a new set of conditions that helps amplify or draws one’s attention to them. It could be that these new conditions compliment what is already there or counterpose them. Whatever the strategy, the intent is toward the warming up of what is present.
This understanding also allows for spaces which can neither be described as architecture nor as landscapes but rather something in between. These in between spaces are full of possibility and have a rich tradition here in the Lowcountry. Consider elements of the vernacular forms buildings grew into in response to this environment—the veranda, the dog-trot, the deep eave, the porch, and so on. Place-centered design approaches often revere vernacular forms. But it is not the image of the porch that is useful. We should consider these forms for their spatial alliances with the landscape. They arose as spatial descriptions of where rain is allowed, or how air passes through, or about sun, or shade, or dry land. These spaces are about engagement—about blurring the relationship between inside and outside. They gather from the landscape. Moreover, they describe how what we build binds us to the environment rather than how we are separated.
So in my work, my interest is not with the creation of new environments but rather with the description of edges and thresholds that borrow from atmospheric qualities that are already here. This reframes building as an act of engagement with—and recognition of—the latent possibilities of a particular place. It means that one can often accomplish a lot with ordinary things in as much as simple changes can engender outsized effects.
The act of building is damaging. It is ecologically harmful, resource heavy, and energy consuming. Much is lost in the production of new spaces. The best architecture provides, as W.G. Clark writes, “a replacement of what was lost with something that atones for the loss. In the best architecture this replacement is through an intensification of the place, where it emerges no worse for human intervention… In these places we seem worthy of existence.”
Understanding building as an act that enfolds the environment into the spaces of our everyday experience requires an uncommon sensibility. One that prioritizes humility, modesty, precaution, and care. One that brings us down to Earth. If we are to build, we should do so respectfully in such a way as to, as Peter Handke puts it, “equip the objects of a mute planet…with eyes that look at us approvingly."
Simply put, we ought to be thoughtful about what it means to live and build here now. This is a special place and as its stewards we must effort to do it justice as we proceed.
“A place owes its character to the experiences it affords to those who spend time there— to the sights, sounds and indeed smells that constitute its specific ambience. And these in turn, depend on the kinds of activities in which its inhabitants engage. It is from this relational context of people’s engagement with the world, in the business of dwelling, that each place draws its unique significance. Thus with space, meanings are ‘attached’ to the world, with the landscape they are ‘gathered from’ it.” (Tim Ingold)
W.G. Clark, Replacement; Three Places; Lost Colony
Tim Ingold, The Perception of the Environment; Being Alive
Martin Heidegger, Building, Dwelling, Thinking
Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern; Down to Earth
Peter Handke, The Sun of Words
Jorge Luis Borges, Dreamtigers
Nathaniel Dorsky, Devotional Cinema
Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time