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 academics and designers who are connected to, and collaborate with, a larger group of associated professionals and organizations to achieve this mission. Our work focuses on increasing awareness of the historical, ecological, and social value of cultural landscapes through innovative scholarly research, site documentation and fieldwork, planning, preservation, management, and design.

Founded in 2015, the Center for Cultural Landscapes received inaugural support from the UVA School of Architecture Dean’s office. Our projects and events have been funded by the UVA Sara Shallenberger Brown Cultural Landscapes & Sites Initiative, UVA Vice Provost for the Arts, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Jefferson Trust, an initiative of the University of Virginia Alumni Association.

The Cultural Landscape Approach

The Center for Cultural Landscapes advocates for a cultural landscapes approach that examines the relationship between a physical environment and the culture of the people who shaped and use that environment. Cultural landscape thinking brings together the human and the non-human, the built and the bio-physical, the vernacular and the designed, all as part of a culturally constructed system. It is as concerned with people and the contested meanings they attach to landscapes as with the physical territory itself. This transdisciplinary research method acknowledges the cultures of all people connected to a place, including laborers, the enslaved, and the dispossessed. It understands the importance of a place both historically and in the present, recognizing a continuum of landscape change over time.

A cultural landscapes approach is increasingly embraced by preservation practice, for example in the National Park Service, UNESCO, and UNESCO’s Historic Urban Landscapes (HUL) recommendations. It addresses the need for new theories and innovative practices that situate places within contemporary debates about the proper form and meaning of sustainable communities, from the peri-urban condition to the shrinking, post-industrial city. This is happening on other continents, such as Europe and Australia, while theory and practice in the United States is hampered by professional standards that are in dire need of updating.

The Present Challenge

Today, urban, peri-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. Their demolition and development has damaged local ecosystems, and erased social networks and cultural memories. The second is the often too-narrow conception of cultural landscapes in which only small unchanging enclaves are deemed worthy of protection. We recognize that the separation of culturally significant landscapes from everyday life and active development practices reduces their ability to transform, evolve, and adapt to contemporary culture. This tendency robs landscapes of their continuing vitality and utility, and marginalizes cultural landscapes thinking to the reactive, preservation mode.

We are committed to a 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. Creative design and innovative stewardship are tied both to respect for our common natural and cultural resources, and to the regeneration of the places we call home—our buildings, our cities, our countrysides, and our post-industrial complexes. Our understanding of cultural landscapes includes buildings, landscapes, infrastructure and settlement patterns as manifestations of the cultural values and everyday practices of communities, in a particular geography, over time. As an interdisciplinary community of scholars, designers, planners, and preservationists, we deploy our analytical methods and research skills as tools to engage a place, profoundly, deeply, and imaginatively.