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‹‹‹ Contents page for this issue     |     Summer 2009

Beauty and quiet revealed at the boundaries of a major city

By Barbara Micale, Virginia Tech National Capital Region

Equipped with maps, phones, compasses, and cameras, 21 enthusiastic master of landscape architecture (MLA) students in the National Capital Region embarked on a local expedition to the nation’s capital. Their assignment from MLA Program Director Laurel McSherry was to create temporal recordings of the city from eight geographically separate vantage points.

First, they were to locate Washington, D.C.’s, original boundary markers (placed between 1791 and 1792, making them the oldest federal monuments on record) at mile-points along the city’s 40-mile perimeter. Then, synchronizing their watches, the students in the eight different locations photographed the District of Columbia from these inscribed stone markers at the exact same time.

Beginning at 2:45 p.m. on Oct. 30, 2008, students took photographs facing each of the four cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west) at five-minute intervals. They made two photographs while facing each direction. The first photo was a clapboard posting the date, time, location, and direction. The second photo captured the scene.

Co-mingling the resulting images gives viewers a sensation of inhabiting different places simultaneously.

The assignment was inspired by “line walking,” a common practice in field archaeology. In 1999, while a fellow at the American Academy in Rome, McSherry learned the practice first-hand and, in the intervening years, has led walks through watersheds, cities, and along the U.S./Mexico border. Traveling inherited lines — routes whose placement have little bearing on a landscape’s inherent geometry — enables students to perceive connections among elements previously considered disconnected or unrelated. “For me, line walking dramatizes the sometimes strange but imperative interdependence of people, things, and unknown others in a landscape,” says McSherry.

 

Above and below: Photographs taken from original District of Columbia boundary stones, 2:45-3:00 p.m., October 30, 2008