Image © Aisling O’Carroll

Project summary

The work focusses on the influence that geological and historiographic studies had at the turn of the nineteenth century in establishing a reading of landscape as a physical archive and informing a new mode of historical engagement with landscape. This research question is investigated through a detailed study of French architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc’s investigation of Mont Blanc. The study of Viollet-le-Duc is expanded through consideration of those practitioners in the arts and geosciences whose practices were contemporary to, or influenced, his own. This expanded field includes the work of English art-critic John Ruskin as well as several early Swiss and French geologists, including, in particular, Horace Bénédict de Saussure.

The work is developed by studying, interpreting, and comparing the methods of documentation, description, and visualisation of landscape contained in the archives of the individuals studied. Through the study of notebooks, diaries, correspondence, and sketches made during field work, a comparison of modes of engagement with landscape and descriptions of landscape as archive will be developed. These records are further interpreted to understand the social, cultural, and heritage implications of the interpretations of landscape embedded in these readings, and the longer-term influence of such views and perspectives.

Progress and activities

To date, much of the archival work has been carried out in France and Switzerland, while the UK archival work will be completed in 2020. Additionally, to support the work, field work was conducted in the summer of 2020 to retrace (and re-enact) several of the excursions made by the architects and geologists in question around the Mont Blanc massif, in particular, a re-enactment of Viollet-le-Duc’s 1872 excursion across the Mer de Glace has informed new readings of his archive in relation to our current context of climate and environmental change.

Portions of the work have been presented in Copenhagen, as part of the KADK’s 2019 WORKS+WORDS Biennale, and in London, as part of The Bartlett School of Architecture’s 2020 PhD Research Projects Exhibition.

Podcast on ‘De/Reconstructing the Archive’

Presented by Aisling O’Carroll in May 2019 at LRG’s Landscape Justice: Borders & Boundaries event in Lancaster, UK

Introduction by event chair Kenneth Olwig, followed by Aisling’s presentation. MP3, 7MB


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Applicant: Aisling O’Carroll, UK.