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Lorn Clement, J.D., ASLA Landscape Architecture Kansas State University . New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston. Narrative Tropes. Expanding a conceptual framework Narrative theory and figurative language as a means of constructing meaning Stories (content and expression)

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Lorn Clement, J.D., ASLA

Landscape Architecture

Kansas State University

New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston

narrative tropes
Narrative Tropes

Expanding a conceptual framework

Narrative theory and figurative language as a means of constructing meaning

Stories (content and expression)

create impressions,

organize experience, and

create memories

Design strategies



Revealing & concealing








Four major tropes in LN (shortlist)





Forms of transference, ‘carrying over’ meaning from one term to another, ‘turning’ our language from the literal to the figurative …

Utility of expanding the list:

more concepts, strategies, ideas

precision in communication


Bernstein, The Careful Writer

Thirty one entries in list of “rhetorical figures and faults”

allegory and alliteration to zeugma

Parallels of thought and expression in the visual and literary arts

Layout of slides:

Verbal definition and example

Visual example and explanation


Aristotle, Poetics, ‘proportional metaphor’

Comparison of components in parallel, relationship is key

Usually used for explanation:

“The garden walls surround space in the same way that a parent’s arms hold a baby.”

Distinguish simile, which uses ‘like’, consider metaphor to be one implied

Zipper walks at Nelson Atkins Museum; Dan Kiley

Functional concern: linking major parts of the spatial composition

Juxtaposition of opposites

Pope: “The learn’d is happy nature to explore; the fool is happy that he knows no more.”

Hegelian dialectical reasoning:

thesis, antithesis, synthesis


Bloedel Reserve; Richard Haag

Spatial sequence

(garden of planes); moss garden; reflection garden

Intellect … gut … spirit

… zen experience / transcendence


Incongruity between expectations or appearance, and reality …


Subdivision names (toponyms) for the natural resources lost by development

Splice Garden; Martha Schwartz

Gene splicing, green plastic

… questioning traditional notions

… manipulation of Nature

Discrepancy b/t ideal and real

Greater diversity; less consistency in the interpretive community: ironies abound

Photo by Alan Ward


Direct substitution and identity

Comparison without word “like”

Intellectual illumination with emotional response

Fewest parts

“Life is a dream”

Poetic vs. prosaic purpose

Aristotle, three fundamental categories of language:

  • Logic (to explain, to be clear)
  • Rhetoric (to persuade)
  • Poetry (to inspire)

Holocaust Memorial in Boston;

Stanley Saitowitz

Six; steam rising; glass; Krystalnacht


Uses concrete or tangible terms to convey abstract or intangible states

  • ‘the heart’ for ‘the emotions’

Dominant trope in landscape architecture

Association by location

  • Historic preservation of sites (events, periods, people, styles)

Magnolia leaf for Bessie Smith

Ross’s Landing, TN; S.I.T.E., EDAW, Stan Townsend



Nonsensical or self-contradictory pairing

  • “Conspicuously absent”
  • “bittersweet” or “chiaroscuro”

Polarity … dynamic equilibrium?


Shuttlecocks at the Nelson-Atkins; Clas Oldenburg

Scale jump



Seemingly contradictory or absurd, but well-founded or true

“Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til its gone …” Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi

Unity of Opposites?

Gas Works Park, Seattle;

Richard Haag

Recreational amenity and/or environmental threat?


Endowing lifeless objects or ideas with human form or characteristics

Treib: “… long driven underground by the onslaught of urbanity, suburbanity and modern technology, the genius [loci] was a bit hesitant to reemerge in the 20th century sunlight, and as a result, came out squinting.”

  • Portal Building, Wagner Park, NYC; Machado and Silvetti
    • Embodying “a private contemplative individual … with a set of references to the body … to support the inscription of the individual in the park.”
    • Berrizbeitia and Pollack

Drawing by Machado & Silvetti


Fragment represents the whole, or … vice versa

  • hands for workers
  • wheels for cars
  • indicator species in LN

Relating individual phenomena into a more integral whole versus a literal or reductive nature (metonymy)

Walls as moving thresholds, boundaries

KSU campus; reflection on the growth of the institution over time

cautionary note
Cautionary note

Bernstein … dangers in use of allegory:

  • Obscurity,
  • Unskillful presentation, or
  • Obviousness

Increasingly diverse interpretive community

Increasingly a-literate culture

cautionary note15
Cautionary note

Terence Hawkes on the expansion of lists:

“Of course it would be possible greatly to extend and complicate the list… But it is doubtful whether much is to be gained from this when it comes to the practical application of them …”

“The distinctions between the categories become so finely drawn … it becomes impossible to use them without a simple-minded ‘reduction’ of the work they are intended to illuminate.”


More tropes: more strategies, concepts, ideas … stronger critical thought;

more precise communication; and

better criticism

Places are palimpsests, over-written texts

Hirsch on reading poetry:

Making, constructing meaning: a collaborative process between writer and reader

(Treib, Must Landscapes Mean?)

Evolution of meaning and inevitable change do not preclude a profound experience of place


Concentrate on the activity and doing of projects versus an array of verbal categories

Rely on intuition as much as intellect

Engage design processes fully, freely, with numerous iterations, multiple drafts

Describe, analyze, and interpret carefully, be the purpose to:

e x p l a i n

p e r s u a d e

i n s p i r e


literature cited

Bernstein, Theodore M. 1968. The Careful Writer: A modern guide to English usage. New York: Atheneum. 

Berrizbeitia, Anita and Linda Pollack. 1999. Inside Outside: Between Architecture and Landscape. Gloucester, MA: Rockport.  

Burke, Kenneth. 1969. Essay entitled “Four Master Tropes” in A Grammar of Motives, Los Angeles, U.C. Press. 

Chatman, Seymour. 1978. Story and Discourse: Narrative structure in fiction and film, Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 

Harmon, William. 2000 A Handbook to Literature, 8th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. 

Hawkes, Terence. 1972. Metaphor. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd. 

Hines, Susan. 2004. “Back to the drawing board: Diana Balmori urges landscape architects to rediscover the language of ideas,” Landscape Architecture

Hirsch, Edward. 1999. How to Read a Poem. New York: Harcourt. 

Potteiger, Matthew and Jamie Purinton. 1998. Landscape Narratives: Design practices for telling stories. New York: John Wiley and Sons. 

Saunders, William S., ed. 1998. Richard Haag: Bloedel Reserve and Gas Works Park, Landscape Views I, New York: Princeton Architectural Press with Harvard University Graduate School of Design.