Sunday, October 30, 2016
New York City
The Last 100 Days of the Presidency of Barack Obama
Nature, they say, abhors a straight line. Our good guide quotes the nineteenth century.
“ Land use” was the extraordinary preoccupation of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead.
The archive of his firm’s designs held in the Fairsted Park offices and studio are a cause for wonder. Out the window the margins of the grounds contour in and out of the green lawn’s base to celebrate the color and shapes of plant and tree. In photographs and drawings the careful archive documents the way Olmsted & Co. figured how to cut into and remove earth to raise and lower its depth while turning a flat space into a slight hill and slope so eye and body moves up, down and across accordingly. The park was a shrine without being a shrine. Secular to the core, the evidence was crucial preparation to each project and the preservation of its transformative history including the continued cultivation of its beauty and public use.
Yes, as the guide continues to reveal, in mid-nineteenth century United States, Olmstead’s vision of parks called for a way for the country to heal from the Civil War. Equally important was the desire for a community reprieve from the ravages of industrialization. Workers came home cheeked with sulphur, mercury, coal and ore. Dyed and cut, the whole panopoly of wood and iron residues coursing through every bone and muscle. Olmstead’s democratic park would invade and share the body with natural contours and the charms of trees, grass and plant. Escaped from the factory’s cutting room floor, adventuresome paths, human voices, music stages, political argumentand the play ofsports were the park’s gift to the life ofCity.
Yes, to bring democracy back into the body. To save the land as sacrament. To defeat those who would endlessly violate and exploit the ground to serve financial greed. To make the land a site of beauty and use. To make places that breathe instead of suffocate. That was Olmstead’s transforming vision. He so clearly wanted to save the country from ecological, if not spiritual devastation. Like Thoreau, Lincoln and Whitman, Olmsted’s work and vision is to be vigorously savored and honored. I do.