Exploring Our Collective Relationship to the Expansive and Remote National Landscapes
Camping is both locative practice and timeless process.
—Charlie Hailey, Campsite (2008)
A foundational myth of North America is our collective relationship to the expansive, often rugged, and remote national landscapes. From Thoreau’s cabin in the woods, to 19th century cottages offering urbanites respite from the city in the summer, to the iconic images of the Group of Seven, the notion of retreat and the restorative role of immersive landscape experiences has formed part of the North American conscience. Camping in North America did not develop on a large scale until after World War II, when increased leisure time, car access, and the possibility of camping with motorized vehicles greatly expanded the activity. This growth was served by public and commercial campsites which offered a range of camping experiences.
Modern day camping is the product of multiple, simultaneous evolutions over the past century: legislation that created national parks; the evolution of camping gear which shadowed the advent of new materials and technologies; and transformations in the actual configuration and layout of campsites. Private campgrounds catered to recreational vehicles by offering paved parking areas in picturesque locations. Public camp grounds, often in national or provincial parks offered remote campsites and more accessible car camping. The layout of most campsites embrace a suburban plan and density. A distribution of camping plots are sheltered by trees but within viewing and hearing distance of each other. The car or RV pulling into each lot serves as the first act of setting up camp.
The enduring appeal of camping over the past century is driven by the desire to escape modernity, and a primal interest in the “primitive hut.” The desire for immersive experiences by reducing the envelopes and infrastructures that traditionally separate us from our environment. Yet, we are increasingly far from this experience, embracing a suburban, technologically mediated relationship to wilderness. The architect Charlie Hailey identifies camping as a phased process: “We leave home, we arrive at site, we clear an area, we make and then finally break camp before departing.” (Hailey, 2008)
With so much attention placed on gear and material innovation, little attention has been paid to the campsite itself. This project foregrounds the campsite as a design question. Is there a possibility for other forms of collectivity in the remote? The Making Camp series of proposals consider new possibilities of collective camping and the processes they entail. It questions the role of the campsite, the experiences enabled by it, and the environments created by camping infrastructures. The project highlights five possible formats for camping that synchronize environment and spatial order. The designs explore how campers relate to each other, how camping rituals are enacted and inform spatial order, and how the campsite interacts with its context.
Who influences you graphically?
For the Making Camp project we were mostly influenced by representation associated with national identity. In particular North American attempts to unify and represent national parks in a guide, trail map, or other document for spatial orientation. These materials are found at national, provincial, or state park entries. Simple illustrations and maps are arranged as a sequence within them based when they are encountered. They are often intended as a serial publication, with the intent of universality to their overall often using woodcut-like drawings. For example, the series of 17 trails guides produced by the Friends of Algonquin Park, with illustrations by Howard Coneybeare, are elegantly informative (link: http://store.algonquinpark.on.ca/cgi/algonquinpark/00086.html). Also there are these amazing Lake Depth Maps that were made to help canoeists and anglers navigate 24 of the most popular lakes (link: http://store.algonquinpark.on.ca/cgi/algonquinpark/00309.html). These attempts at serial “standards” and universal identity influenced the approach to the design drawings as well as the instructional assembly drawings.
More generally, several artists have influenced the theme, colour, and mood of the drawings and renderings. We really admire the art of Josh Keyes (American, b. 1969), and how he integrates debris of modern life with wildlife. We are also inspired by the way he uses the partial axonometric and cutaway to reveal details as embedded clues. The prints of Kenojuak Ashevak (Canadian Inuit, 1927-2013) and Pitseolak Ashoon (Canadian Inuit, 1904-83) have also inspired our approach. Ashoon uses strong ink outlines and flattened silhouettes with earth colour palette, while Ashevak is more bold in colours and uses gradients.
How does the use of colour help in reading and processing the proposals information?
The project designs and assembly manual used only one colour and small range of its tones. Originally, this was simply intended to help distinguish projects from each other, but it came to help unify the printed pamphlets as a series. For the project rendering collages, we used a very muted, almost bland colour range, with low contrast. The hope here was that they appeared faded and worn, almost like an amateur photograph rather than crisp and bright like advertisement.
Your proposal revolves around the search for the primitive which we have long lost. How does the type of imagery and computer aided design programs used stand in conflict with this?
Even though the project is seeking a position on the question of the primitive hut, we didn’t think it necessitated a false primitive tool set. We are comfortable with digital drawing and think that as a tool, it is diverse for us to address timeless design issues and opportunities. I think we also more accustomed to how we can use digital tools to convey context, environment, and atmosphere of a project in addition to the project itself. This is of particular interest in our design work and research – the specificity and idiosyncratic attributes of place that make an architecture belong.
How does the format reinforce the proposal?
We wanted the drawings to be technical and measured, and convey their making and assembly. So, the isometric drawing was useful way to give depth from a universal vantage point, yet anti-perspective. The instructional drawings were also important so that each project could reveal not only how it is made, but—more importantly—how it is used. These were compiled into a folded pamphlet on newsprint. The perspective collages were either 3:1 or 1.5:1 ratio landscape format. Here, we were just trying to emphasis the breadth of the environment and really nestle projects into place, so sometime the intervention is small or off to the side to let it breath in the frame of the environment.
What dictated the choice of 5 possible formats and how these would be rendered/revealed to the viewer?
We selected five proposals based upon five environment and site conditions found in Canada. Of course, there are endless site and context conditions, but we wanted to show a range of ways that a campsite could become an architecture embedded in an environment and ecology. The drawings do the work of conveying its materiality and making. The rendering collages do the work of giving it an arrival experience.
What were your main concerns when depicting these scenarios?
The five design projects are intended to directly address Reyner Banham’s observation of the environmental behaviour of a tent and the environmental conditions around a camp fire. We are also trying to integrate thermal challenges with an alternate approach to gear-integrated campsite design. Projects would have technology embedded in the skin or structure of each. Representing them required the need to convey temperature, weight, scale, as well as use and wear. So, each drawing had a specific role in positioning the proposal, but we hoped they could be read as serial and related in their broader provocation.
Lateral Office is an award-winning design practice maintained by Lola Sheppard and Mason White in Toronto, Canada.
They are interested in the line where architecture becomes environment.
Lateral Office: Lola Sheppard, Mason White, and Alex Bodkin with Miriam Alexandroff, Quinn Greer, Sarah Gunawan, Kinan Hewitt, Laurence Holland, Daniela Leon, Karan Manchanda, and Safoura Zahedi.
John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture: Thomas Abromaitis, Johnny Bui, Matthew Drake, Paul Kozak, Deagan McDonald.
Printing support from Creative Silhouettes, Weller Publishing, and Toronto Image Works.
The project is generously supported by the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial and the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design.