The Center for Cultural Landscapes produces research and creates new models of innovative cultural landscape stewardship in the region, the nation and around the globe. We are an interdisciplinary group of anthropologists, historians, landscape architects, architects, and planners who are connected to, and collaborating with, a larger group of associated professionals and organizations to achieve this mission. Our work focuses on increasing awareness of the historical and ecological value of cultural landscapes through innovative scholarly research, site documentation and fieldwork, planning, preservation, management and design.

The Center for Cultural Landscapes is funded by the UVA Sara Shallenberger Brown Cultural Landscapes Initiative, UVA Vice Provost for the Arts, and the UVA School of Architecture Dean's office.

Present Challenge

The destructive aspects of urban renewal and the homogenizing tendencies of suburban sprawl are not new concerns. Valuable cultural landscapes in our region have been threatened for decades—civil war battlefields, Piedmont farmlands, crossroads villages, houses and their gardens, mill complexes, coal country tipple stations, and urban neighborhoods. Their demolition and development has damaged local ecosystems and erased social networks and cultural memories. Today, urban and rural cultural landscapes are threatened by two recent trends. The first is the tendency of globalization to homogenize development practices and to destroy the unique, and varied, characteristics of urban and rural cultural landscapes. The second is our narrow conception of cultural landscapes; we identify small enclaves of unchanging thematic, urban entertainment, or rural preservation, enclaves as worthy of protection.

While we value this second role, and are cognizant of the importance of renowned, well-documented sites in the Commonwealth associated with our nation’s presidents, such as Monticello, Montpelier and Mount Vernon, cultural landscapes associated with the practices of everyday life are especially of interest to us. Too often, cultural landscapes are set apart; time stands still. We recognize that the separation of cultural landscapes from everyday life and active development practices reduces their ability to transform, evolve, and adapt to contemporary culture. This tendency robs cultural landscapes of their continuing vitality and utility, and marginalizes cultural landscape thinking to the reactive, preservation mode. There is a need for new theories and innovative practices that situate cultural landscapes within contemporary debates about the proper form and meaning of sustainable places and communities, from the peri-urban condition to the shrinking, post-industrial city. This is happening on other continents, in Europe and Australia, while theory and practice in the United States is hampered by twenty-year old professional standards that are in dire need of updating.

Our faculty has a long-standing reputation for inculcating an ethic of stewardship and preservation for the built environment in the students we teach.  For us, design and planning for the future are not separate from preservation and sustainability. Creative design and innovative stewardship are tied both to respect to our common natural and cultural resources, and to the regeneration of the designed places we call home—our buildings, our cities, our countrysides, and our post-industrial complexes. We are committed to this critical perspective on place—one that gleans key lessons from the past and present, from historical patterns and ecological processes, in order to imagine how to regenerate places for the future. Our understanding of cultural landscapes includes buildings, landscapes, infrastructure and settlement patterns that are manifestations of the cultural values and everyday practices of communities, in a particular geography, over time. As architects, historians, landscape architects, planners, and preservationists, we deploy our analytical methods and research skills as tools so that we can engage a place, profoundly, deeply, and imaginatively. We believe this grounds our theories and practices, allowing us to move forward sensitively and creatively.