“The Language of Landscape is a beautiful and original work, a book about everything that matters in our lives, a book that makes me look differently or more intensely at everything around me.” Adrienne Rich, Poet
I believe that the language of landscape is our native language. Landscape was the original dwelling; humans evolved among plants and animals, under the sky, upon the earth, near water. Everyone, in every culture, carries that legacy in body and mind. Humans touched, saw, heard, smelled, tasted, lived in, and shaped landscapes before the species had words to describe all that it did.
To read and shape landscape is to learn and teach: to know the world, to express ideas, to influence others. Through it humans share experience with future generations, just as ancestors inscribed their values and beliefs in the landscapes they left as a legacy, a rich lode of literature: natural and cultural histories, landscapes of purpose, poetry, power, and prayer. Landscape is pragmatic, poetic, rhetorical, polemical. It is language.
The meanings landscapes hold are not just metaphorical and metaphysical, but real, their messages practical; understanding may spell survival or extinction. Losing, or failing to hear and read, the language of landscape threatens body and spirit, for the pragmatic and the imaginative aspects of landscape language have always coexisted. Relearning the language that holds life in place is an urgent task. This book is dedicated to its recovery and renewal.
In the works: a new electronic edition that will feature new color photographs.
“Landscape speaks to us. But how? Anne Spirn’s superb and unique achievement is to spell out the “how” so that we can better understand landscape’s variant dialects – its distinctive personalities – and respond intelligently, with appropriate emotion.” Yi-Fu Tuan, author of Topophilia
“This remarkable book urges readers to understand the common language of landscape which speaks to all our senses every day.” Lawrence Halprin, Landscape Architect
“Anne Whiston Spirn brings to her reading of landscapes the eye of an artist, the mind of a scholar, and the pen of a gifted writer. What she has produced is nothing less than a field guide for all those who share her belief that the language of landscape is among the richest and most meaningful that any of us can hope to understand. The result is a triumph. There are few books that have the power to change the way one sees the world. This is one of them.” William Cronon, author of Nature’s Metropolis
“The Language of Landscape has established a theoretical framework for landscape architecture that extends into humanities scholarship: it situates landscapes as cultural artifacts and positions design as both a practical and poetic endeavor.” Jane Wolff, Author of The Delta Primer
“If the language of landscape were movement, Anne Whiston Spirn would be its leader.” Landscape Architecture
“As artists with an environmentally-based practice, reading The Language of Landscape was a revelation for us. It is apparent that for Anne Spirn scholarship is not an isolated, intellectual pursuit, but rather that her practice informs for writing, which in turn informs her practice, which in turn informs her teaching, which in turn informs her practice. Spirn not only teaches but embodies Ecology.” Susannah Saylor and Ed Morris, co-founders, The Canary
“Spirn’s interweaving of place, culture, biology and technology and aesthetic experience provide a frame for composition which complements the work of choreography perfectly. When I share her work with dancers, I give them access to language and examples of eco-poetic relationships and ways of understanding composition that are grounded in the fabric of nature and human experience. This is design thinking at its finest, not a recipe for creativity, but a pathway towards the integration of art, design, and sustainable living.” Chris Aiken, choreographer and director of MFA Program, Smith College