The subject of this combined Landscape Architecture / Architecture studio is the resurging idea of Pilgrimage in the present. A pilgrimage promises a spiritual development, variously defined, by means of a journey of prolonged exertion— it is distinct from trip, tour, or quest. In the past the term primarily described a physical journey that was religious in nature. Over time the term's usage has expanded to include a variety of secular journey types to destinations of extraordinary places, geographical features, biological phenomena, or into the presence of an enduring cultural, political, or social icon. In some instances it is the destination that drives the pilgrimage, in others it is the path (or paths). But in all cases both are active elements of the whole.
It is a truism of the present that the relative ease of and demand for travel has meant certain traditional pilgrimage destinations and paths have become overrun, their experience devalued, or made impossible. The Hajj to Mecca now requires a constant updating and expansion of infrastructure (which began at current scale with SOM's remarkable Hajj airport terminal, completed in 1981). But it's not only pilgrims. It's hard to pray at Assisi, for example, for all the tourists taking selfies. Arguably the most well known current example of this dual phenomenon — more pilgrims and more pilgrim tourists — is the Way of St. James through Galicia to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. So many people undertake this journey that a parasitic economy — expressing itself from increased robberies to Eisenman's City of Culture building — has arisen to take advantage of the numbers, and there is now an entire literature about the dystopic nature of this experience.
That traversing the Way of Saint James has become a popular undertaking in recent years points to an interesting worldwide cultural phenomenon. The Santiago route languished in obscurity from the mid-16th through most of the 20th century. Its revived popularity coincides with a more complex and hard to define search for forms of spiritual experience in the face of challenges to traditional sources of spirituality. Probably a majority of the people undertaking that pilgrimage today are not seeking Catholic enlightenment. They are searching for something else. It is the personal experience that is important to them. The destination of the path remains crucial, but not necessarily in what it has traditionally held out. Think of the number of people who must see Stonehenge — so many that an extraordinary infrastructure has been built to protect Stonehenge from its pilgrims — then imagine the crazy variety of reasons why they must.
The notion of a personal pilgrimage has flowered in recent years. Inherent in the term is the suggestion that the destinations of personal pilgrimages are personally defined. But they are not, or not precisely. While what constitutes a pilgrimage destination has changed (though many old sites continue to draw), the set of destinations still remains generally shared. A useful example is all the major Earth-Art sites in the United States. A remarkable number of people travel, individually or in small groups, to see all of these every year. Access to many of these sites is remarkably difficult — try getting into Rodin Crater! — or requires careful planning, like getting reservations to stay overnight at the Lightning Field. But that only serves to make the whole more desirable, since it diminishes the number who can accomplish it.
As the nature of pilgrimages has changed — and as it has been abetted by a support system for worldwide touristic travel — a whole new set of pilgrimage destinations has become threatened. You cannot go into the Lascaux cave: a partial replica has been designed, part of a larger visitor center, nearby. The National Park Service will no longer tell you where major Native American art sites are inside the park system, especially those associated with celestial phenomena. You cannot enter Stonehenge most of the time (this has been the source of many lawsuits in England by people claiming to be, more or less, Druids, who demand right of access); like Lascaux, a visitor center has been built — part of its task is to reframe the experience. Now only five visitors, chosen at random, are allowed into the caves of Altamira every week. These are all pre-historic sites — which have become particularly desired destinations — but the same is true for more recently constructed places. The desecrated destinations are not all man-made, nor are all the pilgrimages to man-made destinations. Access limitations have been placed on a whole series of locations around the world — it's called the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary (in Michoacán, Mexico) for a reason!
But this need to protect, and to limit and redirect access, is also not new. Varying levels of pilgrimage activity have at times throughout history threatened the quality or existence of pilgrimage paths and destinations, a circumstance that historically has afforded extraordinary design opportunities. Arguably the best example is the ambitious creation of Baroque Rome. This vast undertaking — the cutting of axial streets, the placement of obelisks to mark the new axis,' the design of vital infrastructural links (like the Spanish Steps) and support (like the remaking of the fountains throughout Rome that supply drinking water to the populace), to the creation of correctly scaled public spaces (like Bernini's immense oval piazza offset in front of St. Peter's) and institutions (including many new churches and hostels) — and the whole regime of artwork associated with this construction — was undertaken in part to handle the vast number of pilgrims coming to Rome with the advent of the Counter-Reformation.
That many destinations for pilgrimages have had to limit access in order to protect their sanctity (spiritual or otherwise) is central to the work you must undertake in this studio. For this studio, you must identify a pilgrimage path and destination that is threatened by its very value; you must then propose how to allow pilgrimages to that place to continue occurring at the new scale of visitation. The challenge for the studio participants, working in Landscape Architect / Architect teams, is to identify the theme of the spiritual enlightenment, the route of enlightenment, and the parameters for an interdisciplinary intervention that engages enlightenment without descending into a touristic facility. The design challenge is to transform site and building fabric to receive pilgrims in a reimagined location without challenging the essentials of the original.
There are many conceptual options for strategy, but they can be generally categorized as: replace, protect, update, or propose. You may identify a destination people pilgrimage to that now must be replicated to protect, which gets into complex questions of how simulacra are construed and perceived: the Lascaux cave visitor center is an example of this sort of solution. Another alternative is to identify a destination people pilgrimage to that must now be protected by dramatically altering its scale: Bernini's addition to St. Peter's model and the new visitor center to the over-visited Japanese gardens in Portland are good examples. A third alternative is that the new construction brings up to date a pilgrimage site in such a way as to recognize various new realities: a telling example of this is Piano’s work at Ronchamps, which adds in new spaces for (new) acolytes to live while organizing tourist and pilgrimage visits. Another alternative is to propose the pilgrimage itself, by inventing a landscape architecture / architecture / cultural work that capitalizes on the new definition of pilgrimage: the Bilbao Guggenheim — if that had a greater landscape component — would stand as a example of this approach.
The destination of the pilgrimage itself is open to you: the examples above are to a place (typically a landscape architecture / architecture / cultural masterpiece); but the pilgrimage could be to a geological feature, or to an event. The path itself could be the destination. Or, as is often the case, all of these variables might be acting together, as they do, for example, in the now-well-trodden Inca Way from Cuzco to Machu Picchu.
To make matters more complex, the nature of the pilgrimage is open to you as well. It can be religious, secular, political, cultural, social, or biological.
Actually, the variables in the three preceding paragraphs form a triangular matrix of possibilities. Along one side of the triangle is the strategy you wish to take: to replace, protect, update, or propose. Along another is the destination: place(s); geological feature(s), path(s), or event(s). Along the third side is the nature of the pilgrimage: personal, political, cultural, social (or socio-political), or biological. You may enter this matrix anywhere.
But there is a scalar variable that is fixed: the proposal (even if for a highly personal experience) must deal with a large number of people. What large means is to be determined, but the spirit of the design challenge is to deal with the difficulty and potential of too many people being present. The expectation for the Architecture students is that the design will produce at the very least a building of 20,000 square feet as part of the complex constructions proposed; In total the designed landscape will demand a coherent proposal no smaller than ten acres. The technical and performative requirements of the landscape architectural component are to be driven by the quantifiable impacts of the pilgrim, the architectural intervention, and its territorial context. The programmatically driven landscape shall serve the experiential, emotional and spiritual needs of the pilgrim.. The landscape architectural solution will address such requirements as procession, celebration, contemplation and the commoration of place.
This is a thesis-based studio. You will control most of the variables around a core argument that you must pose with regard to these questions and issues. Beyond the concept of pilgrimage, and the issue of scale, the other set variables is: you are entirely responsible for making of the proposal that — in terms of concept, development and completion — is in keeping with expectations for an Advanced Studio. Here is that expectation: An advanced design studio demands that a student prove their mastery of the core curriculum through the execution of a design project or projects. The project(s) shall attain a level of technical and conceptual development with sufficient sophistication and richness that it drives research, design development, technical resolution, and representation. Studio instructors have framed a topic with elevated complexity to stimulate both creativity and variety. Through focused research qualified students shall define a conceptual approach, write a technical program, propose and evaluate design solutions and resolve a project to the schematic or design development level.
The final fixed variable (beyond a pilgrimage, for too many people, in a thesis-based advanced studio) is: you must work in collaborative teams of Landscape Architect / Architect. Collaboration is the method of this studio: specifically you will be actively collaborating across the divide between Architecture and Landscape Architecture, another pressing issue currently. Collaboration might mean melting the border, or it might mean ruthless division of responsibilities. It might mean a single set of documents in the cloud with equal access — it might mean just allowing each other to see the edge of a set of lines, like a professional version of Exquisite Corpse. How should architects and landscape architects collaborate? This is an open question — no one knows the answer. But your answer — and your final presentation — must also relate to your thesis.