Lessons from the Lawn: The Word Made Flesh: Dialogues Between Citizens and Strangers
ORO Editions, January 2019
Hardcover | 11 x 11 inches | 176 pages | # illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-1940743998 | $34.95
This project demonstrates the utility of heuristic thinking serving as an introduction to the central core of the book: the primer of spatial and material elements, which guides individuals and groups to analyze, engage, and initiate the constructed environment. It provides a broad overview to the analytical method Waldman has developed over half a century of teaching and practice, framing its relevance of architecture at the scales of both the garden and the city and the importance of understanding “building” as a verb. Waldman reflects here on how his lessons are all around us, first chanted as nursery rhymes, then synthetic carols, if not complex chora, to reveal the utility of orientation and the profound effects of gravity. Finally, this book lands readers on the Lawn in an essay on the contemporary relevance of Charlottesville’s Landscapes of Aggression of 8/11/2017 and resilience founded on the eschatological catalyst of Fallow Ground. Jefferson kept journals all his life at Monticello and later at Poplar Forest of both natural conditions and human consequences and made plans accordingly of building up and tearing down to make a covenant with the world, again.
In the recurrent darkness of the winter solstice, when the human imagination is stressed to cling onto the few enduring self-evident truths, the prismatic pragmatic mind articulates a primer of archaic if not primal necessities: a hearth and a well. For citizens, if not aspirational revolutionary leaders on the other side of the Atlantic in Arcadia, bringing pragmatic instrumentality and accountability to the heart of darkness in America is the goal where the wild serves the chaos of terra incognita as a paramount existential necessity. For half a century of teaching and practice I have tried to serve in the assigned role of promoting citizenship as a field guide for getting lost as a pre-requisite for a stranger’s curiosity. The tales of “Harold and the Purple Crayon,” “The Three Little Pigs,” “Humpty Dumpty,” and Jack & Jill’s mortal disaster, all foreground these lessons and carols. Joseph Rykwert in The Dancing Column (1996) prefaces architectural space in the acts of dancing as Kwinter hears the ever-present resonating also in archaic shaman chants, and punctuating congregational carols if not massive chora. National anthems and pledges of allegiance are always performed in the spatial and political agora below as well as acropolis above.
On the inside covers of Peter Waldman’s Lessons from the Lawn are keys to the images that grace the front and back covers. The front cover, at top, is comprised of four images: Thomas Jefferson’s drawing of the Dome Room, Rotunda at University of Virginia; Caravaggio’s Narcissus, 1599; a photograph of Waldman’s Eric Goodwin Memorial at the University of Virginia; and a section drawing of the same. These four images are precisely positioned and then layered across each other to create the resultant image, one of thirty collages that make up the middle section of Lessons from the Lawn. After seeing the keys, but before opening the book, I was reminded of Douglas Darden, who died in 1996 at the age of 42 but was influential in his time thanks to the publication of Condemned Building in 1993. The speculative projects in that book (he never built anything) were structured around “dis/continuous genealogies,” in which separate images were superimposed to create a new, hybrid image for each project. Darden’s skilled hand then took over and he produced designs that carried through these hybrid images until the end. His designs blended intuition, poetry, precedent, and place into something wholly his own. A similar thing comes across in Waldman’s book of “dialogues between citizens and strangers.”
At the heart of Waldman’s book is the lawn — specifically The Lawn at the University of Virginia (“The Academical Village”), laid out by Thomas Jefferson and bookended by his Rotunda on the north and Stanford White’s Old Cabell Hall on the south. Part one of the book, before the plates, consists of texts that merge essay and syllabus; I’m not exactly clear how they should be described and didn’t have the patience to wade through them. I was drawn to the plates in part two, which, like the covers, layer images from a consistent “cast of characters”: the surveyor, the nomad, and the lunatic. The plates are bookended by the cover images, printed inside the book on sheets of vellum. The plates move through a gradient of yellow background pages: from faint to strong and back again. A trio of plates near the end segue to the handful of essays in the third and last part of the book. Here, among other things, Waldman tackles the August 2017 rallies in Charlottesville, where the University of Virginia is located. Although Waldman’s collages remind me of Darden’s work and also the early, ca. 1990 work of Mike and Doug Starn, the “8/11 Landscapes of Aggression” collages pull us into the present. Although it’s clear which side of the hate/peace divide Waldman lands, his collages still force us to ponder the meaning of the images he brings together into one.
Peter Waldman studied architecture from 1961-69, first at Princeton University, and later as a Peace Corps volunteer architect in Arequipa, Peru. He served his apprenticeship in the studios of Richard Meier briefly and more substantially with Michael Graves. Since the 1970s, he has been an architect and educator teaching first at Princeton, briefly at the University of Cincinnati, then at Rice University and currently at the University of Virginia, where he is now firmly grounded in the Piedmont condition.