Cultural Landscapes (2007 - 2009)

Pencil drawing: frontal perspectives
Tilting, Fogo Island (Newfoundland): detail of the front of a house (top), and the linear placement of houses on Green’s Point (bottom). © Robert Mellin


The Cultural Landscapes option ran from 2007–2009 following its establishment at the School of Architecture by Professors Annmarie Adams and Robert Mellin. Cultural Landscapes attracted a considerable number of students whose areas of expertise fell between History & Theory, Housing, and Urban Design. As such, Cultural Landscapes overlapped with the other options of the Post-professional program in significant ways, and prompted open and collegial relationships among students and faculty. 

The major focus of cultural landscapes scholars is the ordinary, everyday built environment, sometimes described as “vernacular.” Cultural landscapes are all inclusive, however, ranging from architect-designed monuments to modest dwellings. The use of the term “landscape” (which in this context means “the interaction of people and place”) is a direct reference to the unofficial founding of the approach by J.B. Jackson in 1951, when he began Landscape magazine. In many ways, Cultural Landscapes has acted as a critique of traditional, art-historical approaches to architectural history.  

In terms of academic disciplines, Cultural Landscapes drew heavily on material culture, vernacular architecture studies, cultural and historical geography, folklore, American/Canadian studies, women’s studies, and museum studies. In addition to Jackson, the pioneering work of American scholars Henry Glassie, Dell Upton, Paul Groth, John Stilgoe, Robert St. George, Elizabeth Cromley, Bernard Herman, Jerry Pocius and others, was associated with the development of the field. The most relevant academic and professional association for studies in cultural landscapes continues to be the Vernacular Architecture Forum (VAF).

At McGill, the emphasis was on 20th-century North American subjects. This focus drew easy support from a number of significant interdisciplinary centres, especially the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC), the McCord Museum, and the McGill Centre for Research and Teaching on Women (MCRTW).  The School of Architecture was an obvious place for such a program, with its long history of vernacularists (Traquair, Bland, Schoenauer), whose papers are still housed at the John Bland Canadian Architecture Collection (CAC) at McGill.

Like the other options of the School of Architecture’s Post-professional program, the core courses in Cultural Landscapes were a trio of seminars and an exploratory studio, followed up by independent research by students. The expected time to completion was three semesters. A particularly innovative course was Research Methods, team-taught by Adams, Luka, and Mellin, whose rotation exposed students to a wide range of research methods. The other two seminars were dedicated to specialized topics that would yearly change. Finally, the introductory studio was modelled on a successful course taught by Mellin on the Griffintown area of Montreal in 2007.

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