caldwell – directors cut

“Compared with the land, everything else is an illusion. The cities are startled thoughts of sleep.”

Caldwell, “The Living Landscape

I was recently converting some portfolio items so that I could access them on the Ipad  and dug out an old piece that I wrote for the Cultural Landscape Foundation to promote an event at Lake Point Tower for the ASLA national convention in Chicago in 2009.  I provided some general background info on the project and a brief biography of Alfred Caldwell but really conceived the piece as a photo essay, contrasting images of the garden  with his writings from the same period.  His words are powerful, edgy and full of fire, the images are quiet and layered. Of course, it was a little ambitious and not the kind of warm and fuzzy content of a promo piece. No sour grapes for CLF, they just needed a quick promo piece and I was interested in something else. That’s the reality of a client designer relationship of any project, building or writing.

What really initiated me to post the missing parts was this years WASLA conference that I attended a few weeks ago.  With all of the current events with the potential to elicit outrage, passion and a call for action only Grant Jones and others to a certain extent (Duane D.), had any substance or unique point of view in a full day of presentations. Grant put forth a challenge to take a leadership roles in projects and our communities and suggested we become designer/advocates, searching for creative outlets to affect change. That really resonated with me and in many ways reminded me of Caldwell’s writings.

So here are the missing pieces of the TLC essay starting with the lost paragraph and including the photos and quotes. I am blown away that some of the quotes are even more relevant today than when they written 40-50 years ago. Enjoy the rage.

“Ongoing environmental degradation and the use of nuclear weapons were serious concerns and Caldwell’s socialist leanings are clearly represented in these two pieces. It is difficult to imagine Caldwell writing these fiery diatribes while at the same time designing such a wonderfully quiet and restrained garden. During this period Caldwell was in exile in many ways, away from his Bristol home and the comfort of his prairie landscape. The writings, especially when paired with the Lake Point Tower garden, provoke thought about this complex and poetic landscape architect. Maybe in the margins we can hope to better understand the man.”

“Of course what lies about us everywhere is a ruin that we do truly not see, because we have always seen it. It is a ruin of defaced and broken stones, with grave images of bankrupt gods overturned on a marble stair. There is a door ajar in an ancient alley, and someone passes fugitive and anonymous. Nay, it is Paleolithic kitchen midden, a junkyard of used parts like the automobile dumps, both fact and symbol.”

Caldwell, “A Job for Durga and Shiva”

The building itself is a pathological straining for effect. And interesting shapes are the doctor’s order of the day. Every building is meant to set a new fashion and outdo the others. What results, an assault upon the optic nerve, is a crass and repellant vulgarity, as it were a love of ugliness for its own sake, a thing unique within the history of the human race on this planet. It is a parade of fashions, if such they are to be called.”

Caldwell, “A Job for Durga and Shiva”

“Rome fell from sheer boredom. To the rich, the empire was a gorgeous, pretentious, and yawning emptiness. To the middling sort of people and especially the farmers riddled by debt and victimized jumpy markets, it was a system frustrating and restrictive, so rigged by the power clique that it was impossible to feel wither loyalty or interest. By the time the barbarians arrived it hardly mattered.”

Caldwell, “A Job for Durga and Shiva”

“The future is clothed with impenetrable darkness, and the past is known only as from a great distance. We are like travelers looking down from a jetliner upon some improbable country, girt by green seas. From the great height, so great that we have lost all sense of distance and the far seems something near that is strangely diminutive, the little indentations of the coast are legendary harbors. The impregnable castles and fortresses, which once defended them, do not even register on the retina.”

Caldwell, “A Job for Durga and Shiva”

“The dams impounding the waters of a continent, the beautiful intricacy of derricks swung against the sky, the high power transmission lines, the factory with its mile long shell of glass, are all the creative spirit of man, like a giant out of the ruins. Once again, as in the ancient past, is a powerful statement on the soul of man.  Architecture is not in the bogus and self conscious playing with shapes and fashions for a crumbling civilization. Architecture is the world of making and doing. That is structure: that is Shiva.”

Caldwell, “A Job for Durga and Shiva”

“Thus art lifted life above the intrinsic absurdity of mere zoology. Every human activity from the commonest to the highest was once expressed as art. Every man was an artist. Ditches were dug by art and bread was baked by art.”

Caldwell, “Lost Cities of America”

“From the el platforms in Chicago you look westward over the tens of thousands of acres of slumland, with the factory water tanks, chimneys, and church steeples thrust up through the tenement aggregations in a kind of grim self-assertion. It has always looked like a catastrophe yet to be cleared.”

Caldwell, “Lost Cities of America”

It was a city of buying and selling, and making. It was a thriving city of the factory districts, with their imported Polacks, Hunkies and Liths. It was the city of the stockyards, where they packed the doped and contaminated meat and worked the immigrants to desparation. It was also a city of dreams. It was the one unique city with electric air and cosmic tremelo.

Caldwell, “Lost Cities of America”

The tract house inhabitants, as if chained to the tortures of Tantalus – always reaching for a life in the country always daily denied – fiendishly commute back and forth, either to the tottering factories of the old Chicago or to the central business district, that is, the Loop, that is, the gaudy acropolis of a frontier town, lined with catchpenny skyscrapers.”

Caldwell, “Lost Cities of America”

Putting a man on the moon was irony. This event was achieved in the very midst of a ruinous war, in the midst of the ecological desolating of the earth, the withering and hostile touch of person to person, the brutality of cities. It was like a kind of spermatozoon out of bygone earth:  that missle’s hurl to leave it all behind – polluted corpses of American Baghdads, speculative lechers of suburban hill and dale, virulent rivers and cesspool seas, industrial fumes like rotten eggs of the air. In flicker of box those billions of dollars for bravo. A girl’s white breast, moonglow on the lost earth, suckles the strontium young, curdles the milk from vats.”

Caldwell, “Lost Cities of America”


About jim gerlach

A seasoned landscape architect living and working on beautiful Vashon Island.
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