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Landscapes of Pre-Industrial Cities

Music Room, Dumbarton Oaks Museum
May 5  –  6, 2017
Fully Booked
Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium | Georges Farhat and John Beardsley, Symposiarchs

The use of the word “landscape” to describe the formation and infrastructure of cities—as reflected, for example, in current theories of landscape urbanism—largely seems to express contemporary preoccupations with the post-industrial urban condition. Indeed, the Industrial Revolution is often seen as a turning point in the emergence of the urban landscape of the modern metropolis. The large city as commonly experienced today in the world—whether vertical or horizontal, congested or diffused, and divorced from productive nature—is certainly dependent on a range of recent (or quite recent) breakthroughs in construction technology, climate control, communication, and transportation. In this view, urban landscapes appear as a historically late development and are therefore seen to embody an essentially modern and Western concept. 

Yet, features associated with contemporary urban landscapes—most notably the forms of human adaptation to and reshaping of the sites where cities develop and expand—can also be found in pre-industrial contexts in different time periods and across the globe. Pre-industrial urban settlements generally occupied land that had been used for other, mostly productive, purposes, and their development involved complex and dynamic relationships with the management of natural resources, especially food and water. While ancient cities are traditionally studied as the centers of commerce, trade, and artisan production as well as the seats of secular and religious authorities, questions of how the original clusters of agrarian communities evolved into urban formations, how they were spatially organized, and what their specific landscape characteristics were deserve further analysis and discussion. Another closely related question concerns the role of environmental factors and the presence or lack of particular natural resources in enabling this process of urbanization.

To explore these questions, the Garden and Landscape Studies program at Dumbarton Oaks is planning a symposium, “Landscapes of Pre-Industrial Cities.” Organized by Georges Farhat (University of Toronto) and John Beardsley (Dumbarton Oaks), it will be held on May 5 and 6, 2017. Topics will be drawn from a wide range of historical periods and a global geographical perspective, and speakers will address the following questions:

  • How was the modern dichotomy between the urban and the rural historically expressed in the relationship between cities and the natural environment—especially with respect to land use, environmental control, and resource management?  
  • To what extent was the ability to exert control over the natural environment and its resources through territorial expansion, hydraulic management, and land reclamation a determinant factor in the design, evolution, and historical fortunes of pre-industrial cities?
  • What sense can we make of the contemporary concepts of urban sprawl, biodiversity, climate change, connectivity, and integrated management of natural resources if applied to pre-industrial urban landscapes? What implications does this understanding have for current scholarship, design strategies, and planning policies in an age of ecological transition?

  • Suzanne Preston Blier (Harvard University), “Walls That Speak: Landscape Factors in Early West African Urban Centers”
  • J. B. Chevance (Archaeology & Development Foundation, Phnom Kulen Program, Siem Reap/Cambodia), “The Phnom Kulen’s Capital: A Singular and Early Case of Urban Planning in Ancient Cambodia”
  • Hendrik Dey (Hunter College, CUNY), "Landscape Change and Ceremonial Praxis in Medieval Rome: From the Via Triumphalis to the Via Papalis"
  • Michael Heckenberger (University of Florida), "Xingu Garden Cities: Domesticated Forests of the Southern Amazon's Arc of Fire"
  • Alan L. Kolata (University of Chicago), “The Autopoietic City: Landscape, Science, and Society in the Pre-Industrial World”
  • J. Cameron Monroe (University of California, Santa Cruz), “Seeing the Forest for the Trees: Cities and Their Hinterlands in Tropical West Africa”
  • Tim Murtha (The Pennsylvania State University), “Landscape and City in the Ancient Maya Lowlands: Regionalism, Settlement, and Ecology”
  • Timothy R. Pauketat (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), “What Constituted Cahokian Urbanism?”
  • Jordan Pickett (University of Michigan), “Hydraulic Landscapes of Roman and Byzantine Cities”
  • Christophe Pottier (Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient, Paris), “Uncovering Ancient Landscapes in Angkor”
  • Priyaleen Singh (School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi), “The Weave of Natural and Cultural Ecology: Ekamrakshetra—The Historic Temple Town of Bhubaneswar, India”
  • Monica L. Smith (University of California, Los Angeles), “Monsoon Landscapes and Flexible Provisioning in the Early Historic Cities of the Indian Subcontinent”
  • Jason Ur (Harvard University), “Space and Structure in Early Mesopotamian Cities”

Programs in urban landscape studies at Dumbarton Oaks are supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation through their initiative in “Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities,” intended to foster the joint contributions that the humanities and the design and planning disciplines may make to understanding the processes and effects of burgeoning urbanization.

12 LACES - Continuing education credits for landscape architects

Read a review of the symposium on the American Society of Landscape Architects’ blog The Dirt written by guest contributor Lindsey Naylor, MLA candidate, North Carolina State University.

Symposium Program

Speaker Abstracts and Biographies

Site of the ancient city of Pagan (9th-13th c.), Myanmar. © G. Farhat, 2016