Beth Meyer – CELA Keynote

[This post is my notes from CELA 2012 at the University of Illinois
Urbana-Champaign blogged live - so pardon the rough grammar and 

Elizabeth Meyer, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Virginia. Professor Meyer is one of the leading theorists in landscape architecture today. Meyer has lectured on four continents, and published essays on practice and theory of contemporary landscape design, notably “The Post-Earth Day Conundrum: Translating Environmental Values into Landscape Design” in Environmentalism in Landscape Architecture (Dumbarton Oaks 2001), “Sustaining Beauty: The Performance of Appearance,” in the European Journal of Landscape Architecture (Spring 2008), and “Slow Landscapes: A New Erotics of Sustainability,” featured in Harvard Design Magazine (Winter 2010). Meyer’s teaching and scholarly interests focus on three areas: modern landscape theory, contemporary practice of landscape criticism, and the idea of site interpretation. In 2011, Meyer was named one of the year’s “most admired educators” in the annual Design Intelligence rankings.

-CELA program [PDF]

Beyond Sustaining Beauty. Musing on a Manifesto

Published in raw form as a manifesto, it was not a very scholarly essay. Didn’t know what she was getting into. Republshed from JoLA in LAM – response was unexpected – tears of joy, shouts of disgust – so here are musings about unexamined assumptions. An intellectual and political work in process. Parts will be a new book shortly. Close readings of landscapes and immersion in cultural and ecological theory. Musings and reflection are of value for finding voice in non-academic work. Intended to provoke as much as persuade – so manifesto allowed challenge to status quo. Manifestos allow students to ground themselves into the theory.

The tenets of the manifesto:

  1. Sustaining culture through landscape
  2. Cultivating Hybrids: Language of Landscape
  3. Beyond Ecological Performance
  4. Natural Process Over Natural Form
  5. Hypernature: The Recognition of Art
  6. The Performance of Beauty
  7. Sustainable Design = Constructing Experiences
  8. Sustainable Beauty is Particular, Not Generic
  9. Sustainable Beauty is Dynamic, Not Static
  10. Enduring Beauty is Resilient and Regenerative
  11. Landscape Agency: From Experiences to Sustainable Praxis

Post-generative sites don’t engage entanglement such as  AMD Park, pictures of Tear Drop Park, Allegheny Riverfront Park, Royal Botanical Gardens (Australia). 10th point least substantiated, based on Ann Spirn and Dewey’s.


1. Beauty isn’t mailable – public taste is fixed, only pleasurable and insipid. Kantian disinterest. Ohlmstead’s Fens example. Barbeiri’s photos of interchanges, inspiring enrique

miralles. Fashion has changed over last 100 years and the idea of female beauty. Ugly is the origin of beauty – dissonant beauty can be seen in AMD Park.

Conchelieu (sp?), naturalization of plastic and plasticization of humanity. Plus conversation with John Beardsley – magical circumstantial. To the strangely familiar – between found and constructed nature. Inspired by photomontages of Hannah Hoch and Emmet Gowen’s photos.


Question of understanding beauty in relationship to aesthetics from folks not knowing post-modern writings of sublime, and stretching of categories into new forms.

Tangled forcefield of effects, rhythms and flows that make up the modern world. Aesthetics requires a pause, a duration – terry egleton: ‘whole of our sensate together.. rooted in the gaze and gut.’ Virginia Pastrel ‘ art of creating reactions without words… a force that generates… commonality’ into social aestherics ‘own intrinsic value’. Beauty is just one of many aesthetic experiences. Need to understand and name them and their agencies. Sarah Goldhargen’s ‘Park here’ in New Republic about Laurie Garden, Highline and ?


Aesthetics are beyond the immediate, the view or the glance. aesthetics are slow that mix cognition and perception. neuroscience of emphatic responses. delayed requires duration. it is what you know, not what you experience. Beauty is connected but not exhausted by appearance. Opening when beauty stirs the soul.  Andre Bearsten (sp?) on aesthetic intuition – feeling that supplement intuition – its own form of cognition. Neuroscience is backing up these 100 year old philosophy. marks of the creator (brush strokes) create empathy with the making of the art – so made things may provoke more response then the natural.

Role in micro and macro politics of sustainable design. So what about the micropolitics or inhabiting a place – based on experience in the Dell  (UVA). So how collective experiences become a social attractor over hours. One lens for sustainability – alternative hedonisms – such as dipping a toe in the water of a fountain. Alternative ethics of living – ritual rhythmic. In a moment and over time with materials, everyday encounters, and structures – not touchy-feelie – but an entanglement of effects.

Australian Garden RBG (Melbourne) – through that visitors center portal. Very JB Jacksonian. Juxtaposition of wet and arid.

Fred Williams paintings of Australian landscapes. other design inspirations for garden enrich experience: ‘Surrounding sea and land were very strange and beautiful.’

Contrast with Main botanical garden is english picturesque rendered in Aussie plants.

In Closing

Worth noting the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, ecosystem services include cultural . few evaluation of cultural resources as full ES, so discussion of downgrading Cultural ES to just a benefit. Great potential of constructed ecosystems on how they impact nearby communities. Registering emergent properties through landscape architecture. Sustaining beauty is an optimistic view to the future of the discipline. ‘Perhaps. Who knows? It could.’

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