Monday, September 9, 2013

Landscapes of War: Architecture students focus on forts, combatants and environment

Panels show where fortifications ran on what is now Georgia Tech
Most of Laura Hollengreen’s architecture students in her class, “Landscapes of War,” are native Georgians. But few knew much beforehand about the Civil War, which occurred literally in their front and back yards.

Their course work and time spent producing an exhibit on display at Georgia Tech campus whetted an appetite to learn more about the conflict, and its impact on the land and people.

The class researched and assembled “Surface + Depth: Civil War History Under Our Feet,” on display on the third floor of Clough Commons until Oct. 18.

“The students felt better informed about a local history that they have probably heard about their entire lives but did not connect directly to something they are doing today,” said Hollengreen, a historian and associate professor in the School of Architecture.

Rebel line ran where Grant Field sits.
Some even visited Andersonville, site of the infamous prison, in central Georgia. The visit became a personal connection for one student who lived nearby.

“Something in the context of the class had them look again,” the professor told the Picket recently.

The exhibit, featuring informational panels and large banners depicting photos, many taken by George Barnard after the fall of Atlanta in September 1864, is divided into two parts: The history of weaponry and defensive fortifications and what happened to combatants in Civil War landscapes.

The panels provide a wealth of information, often in academic terms. Still, visitors can get a broad understanding of the impact of “total war” on the environment and people.

Hollengreen hopes they will glean a deeper appreciation of the complexity of military systems – from fortifications to communications.

Prof. Hollengreen
“The battlefield (by the Civil War and World War I) has expanded immeasurably beyond what Napoleon experienced.”

The property where Georgia Tech now stands was largely a dangerous no man’s land as Union and Confederate troops warily eyed each other during the siege of Atlanta. Most of the activity involved soldiers trading sniper fire and artillery shells.

The heavily fortified Confederate line ran east-west on hills dotting the extreme southern edge of the campus, near North Avenue.

“That is where these forts were placed for maximum, strategic advantage,” says Hollengreen. Today, those sites are home to some of Georgia Tech’s main administration buildings, including Tech Tower.

The Union front line paralleled 10th Street on the northern edge of campus. 

For their part, the architecture students in Hollengreen’s spring class learned about how historical events and settings can help foster “a notion of place, as opposed to space.”

She doesn’t expect their work on the exhibit to have a direct effect on design, but “the better informed of a history of place, the more sensitive and responsive a designer can be.”

The discourse over “place” and “space” played out in the 1970s as a backlash against modernism and buildings that “were put up pell-mell without a context of place,” says the professor.

“Those buildings were kind of arrogant and domineering and sort of generic in not responding to places where they were put.”

There was a new push to design at least some buildings that incorporate the past and context, “so that spaces are not super boring and generic, or so overbearing as to be unpleasant to be in.”

The “Surface + Depth” exhibit includes detailed descriptions of components of fortifications and where they stood on Georgia Tech. The hilly campus did not open until 20 years after the Atlanta Campaign.

One section describes memorialization of the dead, while another talks about landscapes and the human body.

"The body is the last redoubt in war: everything eventually telescopes down to that. The battlefield images exhibited here demonstrate the indignities of the dead in several of the major conflicts of the Civil War."

Diagramming fortifications at Ponder House
Visitors also will learn about the psychological toll of war in close quarters and outmoded military tactics in an era of deadlier weaponry.

"With these kinds of tactics and new heavy artillery resulting in merciless slaughter, is it any wonder that soldiers felt a complete lack of agency and control over their own fate?"

Hollengreen says her students were adept at conceiving the design of the exhibit. They chose Mylar as a material for the photo banners. Its translucent property allows visitors to see through the Civil War image to notice other visitors. "That would put the present and the past in a similar space."

A box on one edge of the exhibit shows a photograph of the damaged Ponder House. The image is broken into several successive panels to show the layers of Confederate fortifications in the area.

Such attention to detail is crucial for architects in the making.

"We want students and graduates to be .... observers of the sites they build," according to Hollengreen. "We want them to investigate those minute details (and) to see them in the first place."

• More details on the Tech exhibit

No comments:

Post a Comment