LOOKING at James Corner

From James Corner, Taking Measure Across American Landscapes

Chapter 8: Measures of Fit

The earth is our clock…. One, thirty, three hundred and sixty five, those are

the units by which our undertakings must be measured.

Le Corbusier

In the Landscape, measure of fit structure a beneficial reciprocity between occupant and environment.  through a careful gauging of natural and cultural circumstance, some human communities have adapted their landscapes, buildings, and programs of occupancy to construct a way of life that is in harmony with the ecology of their environment.  When things fit, there is no excess or waste, no dominion of one thing over another.  Measures that are fitted and fitting, then, unite site, circumstance, and social life with a restrained economy and grace.

Fitting measures are more than template prescriptions, however– cause-and-effect determinism remains an insufficient equation of fittingness.  Instead, a fitting measure is one that is also right for a particular circumstance.  When things fit, they not only go together physically but are proper for one another in an ethical sense, as if a mutual belonging (or at least a mutual benefit) is being fulfilled.  Equitable and reconciliatory, measures of fit precipitate good health and structure well-tempered bonds between things that are different.

Thus, fittingness derives less from calculative accuracy and technical proficiencies than from refined instants about place and culture, responding always to the play of contingency.  Likewise, measured correctness implies not just dimensional exactitude but also social and ethical propriety, bonding the individual into a reciprocal union with others.

One question that was posed this week was can the designed landscape put people in touch with ‘the sense of place in its richest possible manifestation,’ in Heaney’s terms?”

James Corner highline

James Corner: High Line

The term ‘designed landscape’ brought to mind James Corner.  His aerial photographs look at the landscape and the patterns and anomalies that occur within it.  It is unclear whether the patterns and anomalies are designed or natural.  His measured drawings confirm this confusion.  The patterns are so rooted in the particular qualities of the landscape, however, that they seem like they belong there.  They seem impossible to be removed from the place.  The High Line, of which James Corner Field Operations was a part, is a designed landscape that mixes natural processes with architectural, designed materials.  This is a beautifully successful project that present-day American landscapes should aspire to.

Lawrence Halprin

Lawrence Halprin

Lawrence Halprin who I was introduced to in “The Language of Landscape” also designs landscapes that refer to natural processes that shape material and form.  In this place, you can feel the movement of water and rock, the sharp angles created by tectonic shifts and fracture lines.  It is a place that recalls processes of the earth that you can’t always sense at the scale of a human.  These events occur on such large scales of space and time, that it is only by abstracting them into a human scale that we are able to experience and understand the spaces that they create.


James Corner

(photo 1: Dishes and Track)

Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange

Anne Whiston Spirn

Anne Whiston Spirn

This photo reminds me of one of a pair of photos from last week: the ones that show the irrigation system.  The photos call to mind a scar.  A manmade human object cutting though the raw earth.  In the first set of photos by Dorothea Lange and Anne Whiston Spirn, irrigation tubes cut across the landscape, a monumental image that reminds the viewer of the water that moves across the land, and the people that inhabit the land and rely on the water for life.

This photo by James Corner also deals with the monumentality of the landscape.  The scale of the dwarfed blue mountains along the horizon line give the sense of a vast landscape.  The railroad tracks reach out towards the mountains in the distance and disappear into the horizon.   This place seems very far away, a place that is probably not visited by people, except for this instance.  The twenty-seven dishes that are spaced over a fifteen mile-long span connect to the ground, but are also connect to the sky.  The Very Large Array (VLA) satellites are astronomical radio observatories that study the invisible universe through electromagnetic radiation.  They gather information from deep space, bring images back to earth, and sends them to astrophysicists.

James Corner

James Corner

I love this photo.  The green that moves along the edge accentuates the line that would otherwise be lost in this dry landscape.  There is a massive sectional shift that occurs along this line, which creates a earthen wall that gives shade to ground that would otherwise never be shaded.  The wandering green swath is an obvious sign of a water source.  Maybe there is a spring below ground, maybe this is an arroyo that fills with water during monsoon season, or maybe it is a trace of an old river that has dried up.


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