Cultural Landscapes Blog

The Daughters of Zion Cemetery in Charlottesville has been the site of restoration efforts to preserve this significant African American historic resource. Facilitated by a mix of public and private funds, these efforts have included site clean-up, maintenace and restoration, and education/awareness. Most recently, a historic site inventory was undertaken with contributions from Center for Cultural Landscapes affiliate members Liz Sargent and Steve Thompson. The purpose of the survey is to look for evidence of forgotten and unmarked burials in order to inform landscape architects and preservationists on how they might redesign the site. A recent article in The Daily Progress by Chris Suarez profiles the preservation work underway at the cemetery. You can read an excerpt below and the full piece here

On an unseasonably warm day last month, a skeleton crew was camped at a historic Charlottesville cemetery looking for evidence of forgotten and unmarked burials. Pushing a lawnmower-like, ground-penetrating radar machine up and down the partially sloped, verdant section of the historic African-American graveyard behind Oakwood Cemetery, the crew diligently scanned the open field for clues about what may have been there before time and nature weathered and hid its history. 

A recent article in UVA Today chronicles a $35,000 planning grant from the Dominion Foundation to explore a historic trail between Morven Farm, James Monroe’s Highland and Thomas Jefferson’s home and plantation, Monticello. As the author Jane Kelly writes, the grant will support "faculty and students from several disciplines, including architecture, law and environmental science, will investigate the historic landscape, land use and trail alignments, as well as legal and institutional instruments involving public access, liability and maintenance." As part of this effort, Rob McGinnis, Lecturer in Landscape Architecture and Fellow with the Center for Cultural Landscapes, will focus his spring course LAR5230: Cultural Landscapes, on researching, interpreting, and examining a potential "future link [of the historic trail] with the Saunders-Monticello trail, a two-mile recreational trail that is made available to the public free of charge by Monticello." You can read an excerpt of the article below and the full piece here

Organizers say the new planning experiences will be invaluable to students as they enter professional careers like law and landscape design.

Morven Farm, a 3,000-acre property owned by the UVA Foundation, “provides a unique location to examine the link between the history of the Piedmont region and career opportunities in the modern world,” said Stewart Gamage, who directs programs at the property. The trail traces its 4,000-year history to a pathway created by Monacan tribes who used the Morven property – a tract initially identified by European settlers as “Indian Camp” – as a seasonal hunting ground. Used by Native Americans and former U.S. presidents, the trail also provided a means of transportation and communication for free and enslaved families and servants. In 1795, Jefferson purchased the Morven property for his colleague and former secretary, William Short. Jefferson and Short experimented with various forms of crop rotation and innovative sustainable practices on small tenant farms. 

An article by Henry Grabar in Slate Magazine profiles Mapping Inequality, a new digital resource from the University of Richmond Digital Scholarship Lab that explores the history of how federal housing policy crippled black neighborhoods through a database of more than 150 federal “risk maps. You can read an excerpt below and the full article here

If you want to understand the modern American city—and so much else about this country—consider exploring a new interactive mapping project from the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab. Building off several previous projects, Mapping Inequality is a database of more than 150 federal “risk maps,” the New Deal DNA that would dictate decades of disinvestment in cities. These maps, as Oscar Perry Abello writes for Next Cityillustrate "how the great government-baked wealth-creation machine of the 1930s only worked for white people." They’re a reminder that letting huge swaths of the American city fall apart was essentially federal policy beginning in the Great Depression, when banks began to withhold lending from certain communities based on color-coded risk maps.

The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, or HOLC, brought together mortgage lenders, developers, and real estate professionals in hundreds of American cities to design four-color maps. Neighborhoods were shaded green (“best"), blue (“still desirable”), yellow (“definitely declining”), or red (“hazardous”), in descending order of credit-worthiness. These maps, which came to shape not just the distribution of mortgages but other types of lending and investment, were the origin of the term “redlining.” This kind of discrimination was not made illegal until 1977, and continues in practice. The innovation of the Mapping Inequality project is that it links maps from scores of American cities with contemporaneous neighborhood reports, which allows you to toggle easily between maps and more detailed descriptions. What’s revealed is how the mapmakers’ obsessive focus on racial “infiltration" dominated the outcome of appraisals.

A recent article in UVA Today by Caroline Newman profiles Professor Andrew Johnston, Director of the Historic Preservation Program and affiliate member of the Center for Cultural Landscapes. You can read an excerpt of the piece below or the full article here

For an architect focused on historic preservation, taking a job at a UNESCO World Heritage Site opens a world of opportunity. Associate professor Andrew Johnston is in his first year as the director of the University of Virginia School of Architecture’s Historic Preservation Program, one of the oldest preservation programs in the U.S. He and his wife, associate urban and environmental planning professor Jessica Sewell, came from Suzhou, China, where Johnston was the founding director of Xian-Jiaotong-Liverpool University’s graduate programs in both architecture and urban design. Since arriving last year, Johnston has already begun to plumb the secrets of Thomas Jefferson’s Academical Village. “UVA’s Grounds are a fabulous resource, because there is significant work yet to be done on the study of the Academical Village,” Johnston said. “UVA’s staff also includes preservation architects, architectural historians and conservators who are great resources for teaching.” Last year, Johnston and professor Louis Nelson walked students through the hidden attics, cellars and crawl spaces of UVA’s Lawn and surrounding buildings, looking for clues about the lives of the enslaved laborers who once lived and worked there. Their two-semester course sequence, “Field Methods in Historic Preservation,” taught students how to collect physical data and integrate their findings with broader historical evidence about the site and time period. Collaborating with colleagues at the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities and the UVA Library, Johnston led students in creating digital interpretations of their sites.

Now, Johnston is teaching another course, “Community History, Planning and Design,” that puts students directly in the field. This time, his students are working with public officials and community members in nearby Gordonsville to imagine proposals for heritage-grounded community revitalization projects, ranging from rethinking the town’s Main Street to strengthening rural resources as a magnet for tourism. “We spend a lot of time working with officials in Gordonsville, which would be a big part of our job if we go into historic preservation work,” said Kelsey Dootson, a graduate student in Johnston’s class. Johnston emphasizes that the skills students are learning in these classes – whether working with public officials or unearthing the history of the site – are applicable in almost any architecture, planning or landscape architecture project. “Most architects and designers do not get to work with a tabula rasa,” Johnston said. “They are working on existing structures or in environments where there is a significant heritage component.” Johnston is using his own background as a registered architect and certified planner, as well as an architectural historian and preservationist, to ensure that the historic preservation program trains professional designers in the importance of heritage as a theme in practice. “The UVA preservation program is unique in its integration with professional programs in architecture, planning, landscape architecture and architectural history,” Johnston said.

On Saturday, November 5, 2016 Battersea Foundation will host the event Oysters, Barbecue, Battersea! at their site in Petersburg, Virginia. 

Battersea is a substantial stuccoed brick house located north of Upper Appomattox Street in the city of Petersburg, near the south bank of the Appomattox River. Even though the 35.5-acre property is bordered by a 19th-century neighborhood and a light industrial area, it still retains its historic rural character. The house on the property is one of the earliest and finest surviving examples of a five-part, Robert Morris-style Palladian house form in the United States, and is the earliest surviving, fully developed example of this house type in Virginia. To learn more, visit the website.

The oyster roast will benefit the work of the Battersea Foundation to preserve historic Battersea and offer educational, artistic and cultural experiences that inform, enrich and inspire the public. It will feature live music from Kristie Kream and the Sugar Daddies. Tickets are $40 per person and may be purchased online

A recent article in the Places Journal by Rod Barnett (Chair of the Graduate Program in Landscape Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis) begins with the premise that Native America is not over, that there is no “after colonialism.” With that in mind, how do we create public spaces that enable true contact between cultures? To address this question, he considers the methods of landscape as curation, narrative, and encounter, as well as the implications of deterritorialization. He notes the absence of references to indigeneity in the field of landscape architecture and turns instead to theories developed in art history, cultural studies, anthropology, and geography to examine what might seem on the surface to be a common sense tenent of the discipline: "The creation of public space where ‘you are free to be who you are’ necessarily involves those who would be free as part of the process."

You can read an excerpt of the article below or the full piece here.

Let us start by rejecting the false opposition of settler and native, migrant and inhabitant, bad species and good. Landscape architecture has always had a complicated relationship with the indigenous. Its practitioners work on the front lines of environmental change, often in situations where the meaning of place is contested. They are relativists by training and temperament. Yet in practice they tend to prioritize site and existing conditions, even as they acknowledge that everything is in motion: geologies, ecologies, hydrologies, ethnicities. In the American Midwest, where I live, a curious sort of place-fetishism has taken hold. Native plants are all the rage, but native humans are bracketed out. Landscape architecture reflects (and refracts) a larger culture in which most “nationals” wish to distinguish themselves from the migrant and the indigene — wish themselves, that is, to displace both.

Image: Members of the UVA team, the National Park Service and "Let's Move!" gather in front of the arbor in the White House garden.

A recent article by Caroline Newman in UVA Today chronicles the results of a four-month design collaboration between the National Park Service, the First Lady’s Let’s Move staff and UVA architecture and landscape architecture students to renovate the White House Kitchen Garden. The invitation to work on this project is recognition of several of UVA School of Architecture’s characteristics—expertise in working on significant urban cultural landscapes, and design strengths across scales—from concept to fabrication, and our cross-disciplinary culture. Beth Meyer, Director of the Center for Cultural Landscapes, led the School of Architecture's participation, and students were advised by several faculty members, notably Julie Bargmann, Tanya Denckla Cobb, Melissa Goldman and Nancy Takahashi. The fabrication and installation of the garden arbor, tables, and benches was undertaken by UVA alum Roger Sherry (MLA 1998) of Plank Road Studios in Albemarle County.

You can read an excerpt of the UVA Today article below and the full piece online. You can also view a video of the President and First Lady in the garden here

Early this summer, a team of faculty members and students in the University of Virginia School of Architecture landed the kind of client that many architects only dream about: the first lady of the United States.

The Charles F. Gillette Forum on landscape design will be presented November 3 and 4 at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.

"Making Beauty Sustainable" features four prominent designers and writers who explore the modern expression of ecological landscape design. The speakers are: Julia Czerniak (Professor and Associate Dean, School of Architecture, Syracuse University); Thomas Rainer (Principal, Rhodeside and Harwell and co-author of Planting in a Post-Wild World); Mary Lydecker (Senior Associate, Hargreaves Associates); Margie Ruddick (Principal, Margie Ruddick landscape and author of Wild by Design). 

The symposium honors the legacy of Charles F. Gillette, a leader in the field of landscape architecture, by engaging the public in a conversation about the importance of landscape design. For more information and to register, visit the website

On September 15, 2016, the Center for Cultural Landscapes presented a panel on "Confronting Race & Memory in the Charlottesville Heritage Landscape" as part of the Human/Ties forum. The panelists included UVA professors Lisa Woolfork (English), Kirt von Daacke (History), and John Mason (History). The panel was introduced by Mayor Mike Signer and moderator by Frank Dukes. NBC29 covered the panel in the days after the event. You can read an excerpt below and the full article here.

A panel of University of Virginia professors is helping people learn about Charlottesville’s history with race and heritage. The panel examined the history of race in the city along with the ongoing controversy over its confederate history. The theme can best be summed in a quote from one of the presenters:  "What happened in the past doesn't change, but how we understand it does." UVA Associate Professor John Mason spoke about the historical monuments with the Blue Ribbon Commission in Charlottesville. “The commission has been working very hard having hard but honest conversations. What the recommendation will be I can’t say but I can definitely say that I’ll fight really hard to connect the past with the present,” said Mason.  “These statues are silent on the long decades between the end of the war and the time they were constructed in the 1920s.” 

Other speakers chimed in with their views on how race history is mishandled, and how even today, the burden of moving past racial issues is on the wrong party. “I think that it becomes very tiresome when you come to the bereaved group and set them to be the ones to fix it,” said Lisa Woolfork, an associate professor at UVA. “White supremacy is the foundation on which this society was constructed up until 50 years ago,” said Mason. 

But the conversation moved from how Charlottesville got its problems to how the city and its allies can solve them. “Working to initiate a process of acknowledgement, reconciliation and repair with our own community at UVA and with the broader community we've embedded in for 200 years,” said Kirt von Daake, an associate professor and assistant dean at UVA. “One thing I can say is that we will recommend that young Charlottesvillians be taught their history,” said Mason.

On Saturday, September 10, 2016, Bruce and Jacqueline Gupton hosted a reception for the UVA Community History, Planning and Design workshop class members and Gordonsville community members at their home, The Rocklands. The reception was an opportunity for students and community members to meet and discuss possible areas of research for the partnership. Speakers included Dean of the UVA School of Architecture Ila Berman and Gordonsville Mayor Bob Coiner. 

The workshop is part of the graduate Historic Preservation program and is taught by Director Andrew Johnston. This year, the workshop is partnering with the mayor, town council, and a variety of stakeholder groups of the town of Gordonsville, Virginia to explore ongoing challenges in their community, and propose possible futures from the varied perspectives of a range of disciplines.  

On Saturday, October 15 the workshop students, Professor Andrew Johnston, visiting Professor and UNESCO advisor Philippe Revault, and community members gathered at Christ Episcopal Church in Gordonsville for a design charrette. The charrette included a walking tour led by members of Historic Gordonsville Inc. and participation from over 25 Gordonsville community members, including Mayor Bob Coiner, Town Manager Deborah Kendall, Jacqueline and Bruce Gupton, UVA School of Architecture Professor Emeritus Theo van Groll and lecturer Pam Black, and many others. Philippe Revault, Professor Emeritus from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Paris la Villette, is a 2016-2017 UVA Innovations in Practice visiting professor who provided students guidance during the charrette. 

Part studio course and part seminar, the Community History Workshop is both an in-depth historical analysis of the architecture, urban form, and planning of a selected community, and a forum for speculative futures and plan making for the community, informed by a methodologically-driven in-depth analysis of the community in partnership with stakeholders. This heritage-focused course explores the existing significance of the built landscape as an element in, and an expression of, the social and cultural life of the community and as key for plan-making and design for the future.