Late In The Day

The land­scape archi­tect Arthur Shurtl­eff changed his name to Arthur Shur­cliff in or around his 60th year. Beat­rix Jones became Beat­rix Far­rand at 41, almost 20 years into her career. Hav­ing also changed my name rel­a­tive­ly late in life, I won­der about their expe­ri­ences. Far­rand faced a long prece­dent, hav­ing just been mar­ried, and I can only guess worked through a strong enough social net­work that the change did not much harm her pro­fes­sion­al prospects. What drove Shurtl­eff? Did Shur­cliff sound more hero­ic? Had peo­ple per­sist­ed in call­ing him Shur­cliff until he gave up? Did the word Shur­cliff more close­ly resem­ble a landscape?

A few high-pro­file cas­es rein­force the sense of land­scape itself as some­thing that is come to late in life. Rep­ton and Olm­st­ed both fall into land­scape in their mid-30s with lit­tle in the way of direct qual­i­fi­ca­tions. We are no doubt doing some vio­lence to the truth in draw­ing a direct line between these cas­es and the MLAs of today — those flee­ing par­tial ful­fill­ments or failed first starts for a whole new begin­ning. Mak­ing such a con­nec­tion is all the more allur­ing when we begin to assign some gen­er­al con­di­tion of late­ness to the top­ic — that land­scape archi­tec­ture is by, of, and for late, and late in Adorno’s sense of a late style. This is not the sense of a gen­er­al mas­tery or ful­fill­ment of your field, but of hav­ing grown to the point of falling aside from your ori­gins entire­ly — a satel­lite leav­ing orbit.

little nemo growing
Little Nemo growing past 1908.

It is an odd point of pride to me that land­scape archi­tec­ture — which we tend to think as a miss­ing key, some­thing peo­ple die for want of — should be mis­laid, should be dis­tant, should only be stum­bled upon. That it should reflect a way of see­ing antag­o­nis­tic to the every­day world, the world where humans are par­a­sites on a skin of nature. That it should be a world apart, where peo­ple are mis­tak­en for land. That it should come to its name so late. That it could only come at the end of the sto­ry, too late to change the course of things.

living monolith
Ahmet Abdol, fka the Living Monolith.

(October 2016)