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Anne Whiston Spirn

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Anne is a Professor of Landscape Architecture and Planning at MIT, where she teaches courses on urban landscape design and planning, photography, and landscape history. Before MIT, she taught at Harvard and at the University of Pennsylvania. Her most recent book, Daring to Look: Dorothea Lange’s Photographs and Notes from the Field (University of Chicago Press, 2008) received the 2009 Great Place Book Award from the Environmental Design Research Association and the 2009 John Brinckerhoff Jackson Book Prize from the Foundation for Landscape Studies for a book that “breaks new ground.” It was a finalist for the Art Historian Association\'s 2009 Art Book Award and for the American Association of Publishers\' 2008 PROSE Awards in Art and Art History. Her first book, The Granite Garden: Urban Nature and Human Design (Basic Books, 1984), is still in print and has been published in Japanese and Portuguese. In 1984 it received the President\'s Award of Excellence from the American Society of Landscape Architects, and, in 2009, the American Planning Association named it one of the “essential books” of the past century. Her second book, The Language of Landscape (Yale, 1998) is a required text in landscape architecture and landscape studies.

Keywords

anne whiston spirn, granite garden, landscape, language of landscape, dorothea lange, landscape architect

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Human survival depends upon adapting ourselves and our landscapes – cities, buildings, roadways, rivers, fields, forests – in new, life-sustaining ways, shaping places that are functional, sustainable, meaningful, and artful, places that help us feel and understand the relationship of the natural and the built. My career as an author, photographer, landscape architect, and teacher has been dedicated to this goal.
Author
The Eye Is A Door
Daring to Look: Dorothea Lange’s Photographs and Reports from the Field
The Language of Landscape
The Granite Garden: Urban Nature and Human Design
Landscape Journal, Special Issue: Nature, Form and Meaning
Photographer
Landscape Architect
Teacher
On Landscape
On Design
 
 
 
 

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I write to understand why and how things come about and to envision what they might be. As an author, I want to inspire readers to see their world afresh and to imagine new possibilities.
I photograph to discover ideas and stories, hidden and real, that are embodied in the world. As a photographer, I want to inspire others to see the extraordinary in the everyday, to pause and look deeply at the surface of things, and also beyond that surface to the stories landscapes tell, to the forces that shape human lives and communities, the earth, and the universe.
Action is another way of knowing. As a landscape architect, I work with people to design their neighborhood, city, and region, using action to develop and test theory, and theory to reflect on experience. Making things happen is a messy process full of unforeseen obstacles and opportunities. Unexpected events challenge assumptions.
As a teacher, I want to help my students discover: to see and think, to be able to reason and imagine through words, images, and action. I create a framework for learning where students’ insights grow out of their independent and collective work, and where I too can learn.
My work ranges across far-flung territories, from rural countryside to inner city neighborhoods, and it crosses many boundaries. Landscape and design are the threads that connect the whole. Landscape is an association of people and place. A dynamic partnership. A mutual shaping.
Design is a way of imagining and telling new stories and reviving old ones, describing the shape of a possible future. Design is for me a frame of mind, a habit of looking for opportunities where others see problems and then of devising solutions that combine function, form, poetry, and justice.
All my work – design, teaching, photography, and writing – is devoted to helping people recognize the good and the beautiful that exist in the world, to bolster and build from them, and to recognize the ugly and the dangerous, to avoid them.
Welcome to this site, which is a gateway to my work.

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landscapes door events opportunities continue language granite imagine books 1984 surface inspire garden recognize discover shape daring shaping dorothea listen studies university history architecture theory city places photography connect field project received 2008 understand projects learn crosses ranges neighborhoods rural territories far-flung boundaries threads countryside challenge unforeseen obstacles unexpected dynamic process messy reflect experience making assumptions students insights grow independent students’ learning images create framework collective function mailing join share essays west upcoming announcements ugly dangerous avoid gateway philadelphia visit granite garden language of landscape dorothea lange landscape architect anne whiston spirn sites classes online creek interviews build bolster frame habit problems devising future describing mutual imagining telling reviving solutions combine helping good beautiful exist devoted writing develop poetry justice teaching partnership photograph japanese portuguese president excellence published print publishers prose awards basic society architects 1998 required text intro yale century named “essential books” historian finalist pennsylvania lange’s notes chicago harvard taught professor teaches courses press great foundation “breaks ground ” prize jackson environmental john brinckerhoff survival depends possibilities ideas hidden embodied afresh readers issue meaning write envision extraordinary everyday earth universe knowing neighborhood communities lives pause deeply forces journal reports fields forests life-sustaining functional rivers roadways adapting cities buildings sustainable meaningful career dedicated goal lange’ built natural artful feel relationship region