Elizabeth Meyer’s Scholarship on Sustaining Beauty Generates New Critical Thought One Decade Later
Over the past decade, critical dialogues in the discipline and practice of landscape architecture have centered around the relationship between sustainability and aesthetics. UVA Landscape Architecture Professor Elizabeth Meyer’s contributions to this discussion have been so profound that the Journal of Landscape Architecture(JOLA), has dedicated a recent issue, titled Sustaining beauty and beyond, to her scholarship and her impact in the field, both in practice and in theory. Issue editors Imke van Hellemondt and Bruno Notteboom noted the significant impact of Meyer’s highly influential 2008 article, Sustaining Beauty: The Performance of Appearance: A Manifesto in Three Parts, as well as her 2015 follow-up that addressed the reactions her first piece elicited, entitled Beyond Sustaining Beauty: Musings on a Manifesto.
The original article, which Meyer has called the "least scholarly of her writings published over the past thirty years, but also the most impactful," stemmed from a lecture on the subject that she delivered in London and in Beijing to audiences made up of landscape architects and geographers. The response was so strong that Meyer was asked to publish the work in numerous journals which in turn extended its reach to a much larger academic and practice-based audience. "More and more, designers, planners, and their clients recognize that new forms of landscape aesthetics are fundamental if we want to build a larger constituency for sustainable cities. What is clear to those who are experts on sustainability and climate change is that policies and regulations are not enough. Human hearts, not just minds, need to change. Only then will individual behavior and a new environmental ethos emerge. Only then will individual behaviors align with the policies and practices necessary to create places that are healthy and sustainable for generations to come." Meyer's articles, the JOLA editors wrote, served as a starting point for the continuing discussion to which the issue was dedicated, examining how landscape architecture can contribute aesthetically, socially, and culturally to tackling issues around sustainability and aesthetics, particularly as all who share the earth face the ever-increasing threats posed by climate change. "With her repeated reflections on sustainability and aesthetics since the end of the 1990s, Meyer has situated herself in the tradition of thinking about how to create a landscape that serves both the interests of human beings and nature in the best way possible." The continuing response to her manifesto, Meyer said, has been heartening. "A scholar, theorist, and critic hopes that their writing matters," she said. "That my essay has generated a decade of discussion and debate, as well as changes to design practice across several continents, gives me much joy."
We are proud to note that Elizabeth Meyer was recently named 19th Laureate of Vincent Scully Prize which she accepted during the public program at the National Building Museum this past October. The Vincent Scully Prize was established in 1999 to recognize exemplary practice, scholarship or criticism in architecture, historic preservation and urban design.