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Latent in Landscape

Part 2 Dissertation 2003
Toby Ware
Oxford Brookes University Oxford UK
Once Nietzsche announced ‘God was dead’, humankind had to find reason for existence. The quest for unification with a benevolent divinity had ceased, and instead we had to quantify and qualify another meaning. Whilst philosophers set out to understand our ‘new’ beginning, a beginning of worldly reality rather than celestial transcendentalism, sciences evolved in the hope of discovering absolute ‘truths’ that would free man from his predicament, who had no longer been conjured under the veil of god, but had evolved as ‘children of the land’ under Darwinian principles. Meaning was not to be found beyond nature, but in Nature itself, and thus the landscape became the fundamental bearer of both humans and their architecture.

This study takes the landscape as one of the fundamental contexts for architecture and aims to look at the underlying qualities that shape our gestures within it, trying to understand the nature of architecture as a mediator between humankind and the landscape, or as a ‘third nature’ described by Jacopo Bonfadio and Bartolomeo Taegio. Assuming architecture occupies the realm between humans and landscape, could it be that it contains aspects of both? The question is therefore; what are these latent qualities hidden within the existing ‘landscape’ and how are they perceived by people? Or put another way, how is the esoteric ‘narrative’ drawn to the surface, and cast in stone before us?

To try to gain some understanding of a connection with landscape, in this study we join Jack on his journey through a landscape that he knew intimately as a child. Walking once again through Kent, his senses are reawakened, revealing an insight that until now had remained hidden beneath a blanket of ignorance. The so-called ‘Garden of England’ has always acted as a corridor, but the aim is not simply to re-enact this journey. It is in a sense a bodily mapping of a vertical as well as horizontal journey through the landscape, questioning where the line of architecture begins and ends.

Toby Ware

Toby’s dissertation is an ambitious and thought-provoking study. It is one of the best-researched dissertations that I have read, and yet because the subject it deals with is so vast, it only begins to hint at the topic. It asks where the actual distinction between architecture and landscape can be drawn. Is it a physical divide, or a conceptual one, or something that can only be experienced directly by our presence?

Toby uses a dual structure for the study, the first element being a narrative journey through the Kent landscape from the chalk cliffs of the coast to the borders of London. It echoes the work of Iain Sinclair and Patrick Keiller, yet differs in being more intensely about an individual’s quasi-autobiographical evaluation. Whenever points arise out of this experiential description of the journey, factual and theoretical side-notes spring up as amplification or reflection. An astonishing range of issues (geographical, cultural, philosophical) are tackled with commendable economy and intelligence.

Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of the dissertation is the way that Toby has blended in a sequence of his own black-and-white photographs of the journey across Kent. It is the judgement that has gone into the selection of these incidental details, and their sheer beauty, that makes it a joy to read. It is a superb piece of work, one that in many ways possibly tries to take on too many ideas about our understanding of landscape in relation to building, and yet ends up as unique and memorable.

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