American Landscape and Architectural Design, 1850-1920: a Study Collection from the Harvard Graduate School of Design
American Landscape and Architectural Design, 1850-1920, presents a historical view of American buildings and landscapes. The photographs, plans, maps, and models in the collection show the work of Harvard faculty, such as Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., and of prominent landscape architects throughout the country. The collection offers views of cities, buildings, parks, estates and gardens, and a complete history of Boston's Park System.
These online exhibits provide context and additional information about this collection.
- Boston's Emerald Necklace
- Glacier National Park, 1925
- Harvard University Buildings
- New York City Parks in Use, 1912
These historical era(s) are best represented in the collection although they may not be all-encompassing.
- Development of the Industrial United States, 1876-1915
- Emergence of Modern America, 1890-1930
Related Collections and Exhibits
- Architecture and Interior Design for 20th Century America, 1935-1955
- Built in America: Historic Building and Engineering, 1933-Present
- Frank Lloyd Wright: Designs for an American Landscape, 1922-1932
- Mapping the National Parks
- Touring Turn-of-the-Century America, 1880-1920
Recommended additional sources of information.
Specific guidance for searching this collection.
For help with general search strategies, see Finding Items in American Memory.
American Landscape and Architectural Design, 1850-1920, provides students historical materials related to the history of American design that will also assist in understanding the turn-of-the-century culture and the challenges and opportunities that were created as the nation industrialized and urban centers flourished. Many images can be used to learn about the City Beautiful Movement and the work of Frederick Law Olmsted. In addition, these materials reflect the relationship between humans and the environment in images related to westward expansion, and architecture and design.
1. History of Architecture and Design
One unique aspect of American cultural history is the history of American design. Browsing the collection's Indexes and Special Presentations provides a thorough and concrete sense of the development of architectural and landscape design in America, from trefoils and tiger rugs to national parks.
The Names Index can be used to learn about some of the landscape designers and architects who shaped the history of American design. Browse this index to find their names and examples of their work. Do the examples reflect individual styles? Through outside research, find out about these architects' backgrounds and lifestyles. Which designers and architests were most prolific? Most influential? Return to the collection and look for evidence of the influences these architects had on cultural values and preferences.
One of the most well-known American architects is Frank Lloyd Wright. Search on Frank Lloyd Wright to find images of several of the houses and parks he designed. Trace the influence of his style on other architects and designers as well as on the physical landscape.
- What features recur in Wright's designs? Determine if these features influenced others by browsing items from the Subject Index and looking for those features in other architects' works.
- What is the nature of the relationship of Wright's buildings with the environment? How does his style compare with those of other architects?
2. Turn-Of-The-Century Culture and Values
Architecture, in general, reflects the values of the architect, the financial backer, and the society-at-large at the time of its creation. One can learn of the cultural values in America at the turn of the century by observing the styles of the buildings and sites in this collection.
Search on architectural terms such as interiors, doors, and gardens to retrieve images of these items. Using these images, answer the questions below to gain an understanding of turn-of-the-century values.
- Are sites ornately decorated? Or are the designs simple? What does this decorative stiyle suggest about American values? The economy?
- Is there a revival of an earlier time period's design style? Examine the murals from the Boston Public Library (left). How are these people dressed? What are they doing? When and where would they have lived? Why might Americans in the late nineteenth century have emulated this time period? Why would this painting appear in a public library?
- Are the images in the collection representative of the average American's living situation? If not, how did other people live? From these various living conditions, what do we learn about American cultural norms? Social and economic systems? For more details on the history of the collection read the online summary About the Collection.
3. Industrial and Urban Development
Rapid urbanization, an outgrowth of rapid industrialization, during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, created new challenges and opportunities in American life. Using this collection to examine landscape and architectural features, one can study the variety of ways that urban designers responded to the development of visually apparent class distinctions in American society, to overcrowding, and to shrinking amounts of available land in urban areas. In determining architects' solutions, note the opportunities that the industrial age offered in the form of raw materials, tools, labor, money, and innovation.
Search on the terms residential, street, and city, to find various built landscapes and compare residential and industrial or commercial areas.
- How did architects create enough built space for the population? What raw materials, tools, and innovations made these built environments possible? For example, how are the following resources used: steel, electricity, elevators, cars, mass transit, and mass production?
- What transportation options are made available to people? Note the streets, sidewalks, and rail lines.
- What visual clues help determine if these are impoverished or wealthy areas?
- What evidence, if any, is there that an urban planner may have been involved in designing this built landscape?
Searching on the terms house and slum will retrieve images useful in understanding how increasing differences in class and income in American society reflected an increased disparity between the rich and the poor. Would the people who lived in these areas ever have interacted? Has this situation changed today?
The increased disparity and tensions between classes, the rampant materialism, crime, and poverty of the turn-of-the-century metropolis caught the attention of social reformers. One group of reformers, consisting mainly of white, upper-middle class men, created what was called the City Beautiful Movement. Championed by landscape architect and city designer, Frederick Law Olmsted, the City Beautiful Movement sought to beautify the city so that it might help and inspire civic and moral virtue in its people, particularly the poor.
This collection contains over five hundred images of Olmsted's projects, which reflect the variety of his work. In addition to Central Park in New York City, Olmsted created Boston's network of parks, the Emerald Necklace, and countless other city parks. He designed entire communities such as Riverside, a suburb of Chicago, college campuses, state capitols, private estates, and the grounds for the 1893 World's Fair. He also planned designs for the conservation of Yosemite and Niagara Falls.
In his 1870 essay, "Public Parks and the Enlargement of Towns," Olmsted wrote:
We want a ground to which people may easily go after their day's work is done, and where they may stroll for an hour, seeing, hearing, and feeling nothing of the bustle and jar of the streets . . . We want the greatest possible contrast with the restraining and confining conditions of the town, which compel us to walk circumspectly, watchfully, jealously, which compel us to look closely upon others without sympathy.
Olmsted compared the park to a "tea-table with neighbors and wives and mothers and children, and all things clean and wholesome, softening and refining." He provided a contrasting description of street culture:
Consider how often you see young men in knots of perhaps half a dozen in lounging attitudes rudely obstructing the sidewalks, chiefly led in their little conversation by the suggestions given to their minds by what or whom they see passing in the street, men, women, or children, whom they do not know, and for whom they have no respect or sympathy. There is nothing among them or about them which is adopted to bring into play a spark of admiration, of delicacy, manliness, or tenderness.
Examine some of the images of Olmsted's work as well as images of other parks and consider the following questions:
- Do the images of Olmsted's parks show them to be places of refuge from city streets and street culture?
- How do you feel about Olmsted's view of street life?
- How does Olmsted's upper-middle class background impact your understanding of his views and goals?
- The City Beautiful Movement emerged from a period of violent class strife and labor unrest expressed in Chicago's Haymarket Riot of 1886 and the Homestead and Pullman strikes of 1892 and 1894. How does this information impact your understanding of the movement and the motives of its practitioners?
- How do Olmsted's other works, such as private estates, relate to his concept of refinement?
- How would you describe Olmsted's interpretation of refinement? Is it dainty or grand, simple or elaborate, extravagant or tempered, formal or quaint? Explain using examples.
- What are other designers' parks like? What goals and values do they reflect?
- What relationship between humans and the environment is the City Beautiful Movement based upon? Do you find this idea realistic? Do you see evidence of this idea in your own life, in the places you go and the way people behave?
- What were other city reform movements around the turn of the century like?
5. Humans and the Environment
This collection offers a unique opportunity to explore the complex relationship between humans and the environment in the early modern era of United States history. Browse the Subject Index for a sense of the variety of land uses in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Sample items from subject headings such as arboretums, Chinese gardens, factories, forest reserves, open spaces, playgrounds, skyscrapers, and streets and consider the following questions.
- What do these images reveal about Americans' relationships with, and attitudes toward the environment?
- What evidence is there of an attitude toward the environment as a supply of natural resources?
- What do the photographs suggest about people's awareness of their own impact on the environment?
- Do the images reflect a belief that the environment is something to be protected or managed by humans?
- Is there evidence of reckless disregard for the environment?
- What do the images suggest about people's opinions about the beauty of nature?
You can consider these materials and the attitudes they reflect within a broader historical context through the collection, Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920 and its Special Presentation of a timeline. What does the timeline tell you about the effects of economics and politics upon land use? For example, how did these factors effect the creation of national parks? Search on the term national park in American Landscape and Architectural Design, 1850-1920 to retrieve representations of federal parkland in the United States.
- What is the nature of the relationship between people and the environment, expressed in the creation of national parks?
- How does this relationship compare to your own experiences in national parks?
- What values and economic and political conditions do the existence and uses of national parks reflect? Do the parks attempt to preserve or conserve national landscapes?
- Which communities do national parks serve? Is access equally available to all Americans?
The American Memory collection Mapping the National Parks can be used in further research of national parks.
6. Westward Expansion
This collection offers the opportunity to examine Americans' movement west as both a search for more natural resources and a story of ecological and environmental change. Browse the State Index to see images of western states. Included are many vivid images of national parks and landscapes. Compare these images of western landscapes with those of eastern landscapes. What natural resources and opportunities are available? What are the environmental features of the landscapes and the state of the built environments of each region?
- What resources were factories such as this dependent upon for operation?
- Were these resources readily available? Who controlled the availability of these resources? Were they affordable to those who needed them?
- Why might these factors have led to the exploitation of western resources?
Some images illustrate the changes wrought upon the physical landscape by westward expansion. For example, search on San Francisco to see images of this city whose population exploded after the discovery of gold in California in 1848.
- What evidence is there of civilization's impact on the natural environment? Draw a picture of how you think this area would have looked before the effects of civilization.
- How are people using this area? For residential usage? Industrial usage?
- Is there evidence of attempts to conserve and preserve the landscape?
- What hindrances and opportunities does the landscape present for industrial development?
American Landscape and Architectural Design, 1850-1920, provides materials that will aid in the development of various critical thinking skills. For example, the wealth of images documenting the period of estate-building in America can be used to form and test comprehension of this movement. Comparing images, you can practice identifying evidence of change and time. Numerous plans and photographs of design projects provide an opportunity to use analytical and interpretive skills in determining the decisions and values that shaped these materials. Other images tell the story of the design of Washington, D.C. and provide the opportunity to analyze and form opinions about the issues and decisions that influenced the city's development.
The collection offers a number of ways to practice identifying, organizing, and examining information in regard to its place in time and to change over time. Examining the collection's photographs from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, try to identify and articulate the way architecture changed over time. You may want to focus on one particular aspect of design, architectural feature, or location, using the Subject Index and the State Index. Create a photographic timeline that reflects the changes you see. For a more complex project, use the collection's images to create a timeline that locates different architectural styles in history. Or, use the Names Index to create a timeline that illustrates the career of one architect and the development of his or her signature style.
Compare and contrast these images of houses built in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
- What are the building materials and design style of each house?
- What social and economic classes do you think the owners of these homes belonged to? Why?
- What are the relationships of these houses to the natural environment?
Retrieve images from the collection that are not dated and try to determine when the structures may have been built, using information gleaned from other, dated images. What factors do you need to take into account to determine the date of a building? For example, how might Revivalist styles complicate your efforts at determining a date? The lantern slides may have been created long after the sites were originally built with motorized cars and electric lines appearing in images of houses built before these innovations existed. What other changes might throw you off track?
Historical Comprehension: The Country Place Era
In the late nineteenth century, wealthy American industrialists such as John D. Rockefeller and Edsel Ford commissioned private country estates, creating what has come to be known as the Country Place Era in landscape and architectural design. The era lasted until about 1920 when the Great Depression chilled estate building, and designers' attentions were turned toward the public projects that were sponsored by the federal government.
This collection contains images of hundreds of private estates, including the country estates commissioned by entrepreneurs such as George Washington Vanderbilt, Henry F. du Pont, and William Gwinn Mather, as well as John D. Rockefeller and J. B. Ford. Search on these names to locate images of their estates. Or, use the Name Index to find examples of the work of the Era's leading designers, such as Charles Sargent Sprague, Beatrix Ferrand, Fletcher Steele, Frederick L. Olmsted, Charles Platt, Warren H. Manning, Jens Jensen, Ellen Shipman, and Marian Crugger Coffin. Finally, you may also browse images of estates using the links to houses and gardens on the collection homepage. These images convey a sense of the immense wealth of the period, as well as of the characteristics and tastes behind the Country Place Era.
- Estate gardens were typically divided into "garden rooms," separated by walls and gates and joined by corridors. What effect would this create? How would it feel to be in such a garden or one of its rooms?
- If you owned this estate, why would you go to the garden? How would you use it? Who else would use it?
- How much attention is given to formality and to naturalism in these gardens? What does this suggest about the tastes of the owners and designers?
- The landscape architecture of the Country Place Era is characterized by a mixture of Italian, French, and English influences. Why would entrepreneurs of the age want to reference European tastes and traditions?
- What do these estates suggest about their owners and their roles in society?
- Gardens on these estates mimicked the axial arrangements, reflecting pools, and fountains of European palaces, such as Versailles. What does this suggest about the owners and what they wanted to convey through their estates?
- The Country Place Era was also an era of rapid urbanization. Explain the creation of these country estates within the context of social change caused by the growing American metropolis.
- Why might there have been so many women in the field of landscape design as compared to other professions at the time?
Historical Analysis and Interpretation: Architectural Plans
When choosing how to design a neighborhood, landscape designers, architects, and urban planners make value judgments about how they believe a community will thrive in terms of attracting home buyers and creating a safe and aesthetically pleasing environment. The natural landscape provides challenges and opportunities to the designers in the form of vistas, waterfronts, forest, and farmland. Designers must decide whether to highlight and preserve these features or sacrifice the ecology for human habitation.
Searching the collection on the term plan will retrieve drawings and images of planned communities. Analyze these environments to determine what decisions developers made and what values their decisions represent. For example, the following three drawings represent architectural plans for a competition in Chicago. Review the plans to compare and contrast architectural designs. What values do these plans represent? Analyze the first place design to determine what the judges' goals were for the project.
Designers' goals and techniques can also be better understood by analyzing the collection's images of parks in light of information in the Special Presentation on Charles Downing Lay, landscape architect for New York City. Search the collection on the terms park and playground and consider how the examples reflect the goals articulated by Lay. What techniques were used to meet these goals? What other goals and values are evident? If you were planning a park for your own town, what goals would you have for the park? How might you redesign existing parks or create new parks in your town to meet these goals?
Historical Issue-Analysis and Decision-Making: Redesigning the Nation's Capital
At the turn of the century, Senator Joseph McMillan called for a commission to redesign the nation's capital. Headed by the former Director of Construction of the World's Columbian Exposition, Daniel H. Burnham, the commission also included architect Charles McKim, sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, landscape architect and urban planner Frederick L. Olmsted, and Congressional liaison Charles Moore. Search on Washington DC to locate sketches, plans, and models from the commission's 1901 plan. In addition to expressing the commission's intentions, these materials, along with others, provide a view of the city's past and tell the story of how it came to be as it is today.
The materials include the first plan of the capital, drawn by Pierre L'Enfant in 1791. The Frenchman based his design upon models of European city capitals and royal estates. In the style of these models' "grand avenues," L'Enfant gave the city what has come to be known as the Mall, marked by the letter "H", in his plan. Other aspects of his plan included designated monument sites throughout the city, as well as the axial grid that still characterizes the city's streets today.
Unwilling to finance such a large project, the government implemented only a fraction of L'Enfant's plan. The Mall was largely undeveloped throughout the nineteenth century.
What we take for granted today as a public park and cultural center was then the site of private gardens, public markets, fairs, farms, and livestock grazing. Three-dimensional models from the 1901 plan contrast a tree-filled Mall as it existed at the turn of the century with the controlled landscape planned by the commission, akin to L'Enfant's original plan and synonymous with the Mall today.
More than bringing order to the Mall, the 1901 plan was meant to bring moral and social order to the city, which, like the Mall, had felt the neglect of the federal government throughout the nineteenth century. In the philosophy of the City Beautiful Movement, the 1901 plan sought to correct the social ills of the city through the inspiration of monuments and the restorative power of beauty. As the models show, the plan focused on the development of the Mall, with the addition of the Lincoln Memorial and of building groups designed in the Beaux Arts style of the Capitol, surrounding the Mall.
- What do the columns, color, size, and shape of Beaux Arts buildings suggest about the government that occupies them? What is the significance of the style's European influence and Greek origin?
- How did the 1901 plan change the uses of the Mall and the relationship between the Mall and the residents of the city? What kind of symbolic message does this send? Who is the Mall for?
- How effective is beautification as a solution to moral and social ills? What does the photograph of slums with the dome of the Capitol in the background suggest?
- Should the government have spent its resources on developing the Mall instead of improving the economic and social conditions of the city more directly?
- What is the value of monuments, museums, fountains, statues, and landscaped boulevards?
- What is the role of a nation's capital? How is this role expressed in its design, architecture, and in the lives of its residents?
- Is it more important that a nation's capital be a center of civic and national pride, or an exemplary urban center of social order, community, and well-being?
- What are the roles and challenges of the city of Washington today? If you were going to create a plan for the improvement of the nation's capital today, what would you do? What would you prioritize?
Historical Research Capabilities
This collection can be used to research the historical use of various architectural design elements by browsing the Subject Index. It may contain several unfamiliar terms, such as allee, frieze, puddingston, and caryatid. Research these design terms first by viewing the collection's images found when searching on the terms. Then, research the exact definition in a dictionary and compare your guesses to the true definitions.
For example, the term colonnade may be unfamiliar. However, once you search on the term and review the images, you may soon guess the definition to be "a series of columns usually supporting one side of a roof," (The Random House Dictionary, Ballantine Books:New York).
In addition, this collection can be used to research individual architects, urban planners, and landscape architects, such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Frederick Law Olmsted, and Louis Sullivan, as well as other lesser-known individuals listed in the Name Index. The collection can also be used to research specific locations and constructions.
American Landscape and Architectural Design, 1850-1920, provides images that can be used as the starting point for fictional and persuasive writing projects, such as the creation of travel brochures. Put other analytical skills into practice by using the collection to curate an exhibit on a theme of your choice. Or, practice public speaking by taking on the role of a planner and giving a presentation based on development plans from the collection. Numerous images can be used to explore the significance of setting in fictional writing.
1. Curate an Exhibit
This collection will assist in connecting visual content with research and documentary writing. Create a curated or documented display of images from the collection to portray a message or theme. Select a theme represented in the collection such as one of the topics covered in the U.S. History section of this Learn More About It. Searching on terms related to the chosen topic, gather images that best represent the theme or message that you would like to portray.
Having collected the images, arrange them by time, architect, or another schematic theme. Then, create captions appropriate to the images. Captions should convey the basic facts about the image such as those included in the bibliographic information. In addition, include commentary that will lead the reader towards understanding the theme of your curated exhibit.
For example, searching on the terms school garden or children's garden retrieves the images on the right. You can do further searches for playgrounds and parks and then create an exhibit about the way children played or used the outdoors at the turn of the century, comparing these activities to what children do today.
2. Fictional Writing
In contrast to the previous exercise of expository writing, use the images to inspire fictional stories. By browsing the collection with the Subject Index, find an image that interests you. Using the image as a starting point, create characters and a plot to go along with the image.
Ask yourself questions about the image to develop the content of your story. For example, using the image to the left, you might create a story about these two children. Where are they coming from and where are they going? What city are they in? What year is it? What is the emotional relationship between the children? Where did they get those hats? Who do they run into on the path? View the bibliographic record of the image to gain additional information.
In developing your story, create a plot with a climax and a resolution. Create dialogue appropriate to the characters' age, background, and education. You can create a book cover for your story using the image from the collection that inspired your work.
3. Public Speaking
Develop your research, writing, and public speaking skills by creating an oral presentation based on development plans in this collection. Search on plan to retrieve a landscape architect's, designer's, or developer's plan for a community development project. Assume the role of the plan's creator with the task of convincing the local government and community that the plan should be adopted for future growth.
Research the plan and its location. Analyze the plan to determine its benefits. Create an outline of the major points that you will focus on in your speech. A good practice is to anticipate opposition to the proposal and include counter arguments in the presentation. When writing the final speech, consider how the arguments will come across to the audience. Your points must be clear, concise, and easy to follow. You may wish to create visual aids to augment your speech.
If in a classroom setting, you can present your work to the class and share constructive feedback. A follow-up presentation will allow you to incorporate the feedback while it is fresh in mind.
4. Travel Literature
Persuasive writing techniques can be developed by writing a travel brochure for a specific location featured in this collection. The brochure should highlight all of the features of that location in a way that would draw tourists. As a starting point, gather tourist brochures from travel agents and chambers of commerce or search American Memory for travel guides, brochures, and literature. Read the materials and analyze the language used by the writers.
- How does the brochure involve the reader so that readers can picture themselves at this tourist location?
- What features of the attraction are highlighted in the materials?
- What information is difficult to find on the brochure? Might this be intentional? Why or why not?
- Is the tourist site portrayed as a family destination? An adventure holiday?
- What images of the site are included? What emotional response do they create in the viewer?
- Has the brochure enticed you to visit this location? Why or why not?
Having critiqued other travel brochures, use your observations to write your own materials. Browse the State Index to find sites of interest, such as an estate, city, park, or public building. Through outside research, gather facts about the site that you've chosen for your brochure. Then, create the travel brochure based on your research. The images from the collection can be used to illustrate the brochure.
5. The Importance of Place
The collection provides many opportunities to explore the importance of "place" in the literary imagination. Write an expository essay on the role of the setting in a specific work of American literature. Choose a fictional work and search the collection on the name of the city, town, or state where the story takes place, to locate images of that location, or use the State Index. Analyze the images and written work using the questions below and write an essay on the importance of the story's setting.
- Do the images and the story's descriptions of the setting convey the same sense of the location? What aspects and characteristics of the location does each emphasize?
- How does the location of the story relate to the plot? What is the relationship between the location and the characters?
- How does the story's setting, its appearance and culture, relate to the symbolism and themes of the work?
- Is there a relationship between the setting and the writing style?
- Could this story have been written with a different setting? Why or why not?