Late In The Day

The landscape architect Arthur Shurtleff changed his name to Arthur Shurcliff in or around his 60th year. Beatrix Jones became Beatrix Farrand at 41, almost 20 years into her career. Having also changed my name relatively late in life, I wonder about their experiences. Farrand faced a long precedent, having just been married, and I can only guess worked through a strong enough social network that the change did not much harm her professional prospects. What drove Shurtleff? Did Shurcliff sound more heroic? Had people persisted in calling him Shurcliff until he gave up? Did the word Shurcliff more closely resemble a landscape?

A few high-profile cases reinforce the sense of landscape itself as something that is come to late in life. Repton and Olmsted both fall into landscape in their mid-30s with little in the way of direct qualifications. We are no doubt doing some violence to the truth in drawing a direct line between these cases and the MLAs of today - those fleeing partial fulfillments or failed first starts for a whole new beginning. Making such a connection is all the more alluring when we begin to assign some general condition of lateness to the topic - that landscape architecture is by, of, and for late, and late in Adorno’s sense of a late style. This is not the sense of a general mastery or fulfillment of your field, but of having grown to the point of falling aside from your origins entirely - a satellite leaving orbit.

little nemo growing
Little Nemo growing past 1908.

It is an odd point of pride to me that landscape architecture  - which we tend to think as a missing key, something people die for want of - should be mislaid, should be distant, should only be stumbled upon. That it should reflect a way of seeing antagonistic to the everyday world, the world where humans are parasites on a skin of nature. That it should be a world apart, where people are mistaken for land. That it should come to its name so late. That it could only come at the end of the story, too late to change the course of things.

living monolith
Ahmet Abdol, fka the Living Monolith.

(October 2016)