The pastoral has been a ubiquitous landscape typology in western civilization for millennia. With roots in the vernacular and the classical concept of Arcadia, it especially becomes present in the constructed nature of the English landscape garden as a response to the modernization of agriculture during the various enclosure acts of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. The maintenance of the pastoral seems simple: the domestication of livestock creates and maintains pasture, with the resulting romanticization perpetuating its existence. But it is the English pastoral that has persisted, influencing a diverse array of resulting landscapes from the Olmstedian park to the garden city suburb, and there are many specific actors which maintain this pastoral (or beautiful) landscape beyond livestock.
Thanks in a large part to the Gulf Stream’s steady supply of warmth and precipitation, the British Isles are blessed with a mild climate suited to pastureland to what would otherwise be a devastatingly cold latitude. Livestock, and especially sheep, are particularly suited to this climate, and in their domestication, the vernacular pastoral emerges — along with its notorious cuisine, and of course, its fashion.
Wool becomes germane to the proliferation of this landscape type with the advent of the flying shuttle and spinning jenny during the industrial revolution. The mechanization of the textile industry not only enabled vast amounts of land to be converted to sheep pasture, but also enriched the landed gentry who were able to produce more wool through their newly enclosed properties. This decline in the agricultural commons in turn produced a steady of labor to the textile mills, laying the industrial foundation for the British Colonial Empire. And in the process of this global trade, we see the transmittal of the cultural landscape, ever popular by wealthy landowners as they attempted to create a facsimile of what was once the English countryside.
By identifying the many factors that maintain a landscape condition– that are instrumental to its continued existence– a designer is able to consider new relationships and collaborations that might be engaged beyond the conventional maintenance palette. By understanding maintenance through a hierarchy of geophysical, ecological and technological agents we are able to consider the evolution of human tools through modernization, and how their exchange and substitution has impacted landscape. A history of technology gives us a broader understanding of the scale and potentiality of each instrument.
Technology is not limited to our fabricated tools but also to processes of domestication (fire or livestock for example) because of the importance their invention has in redefining societal and landscape systems.
“Technology discloses man’s mode of dealing with Nature, the process of production by which he sustains his life, and thereby also lays bare the mode of formation of his social relations, and of the mental conceptions that flow from them.” i
Many of these agents are difficult to harness — the geophysical for example — yet are undeniable to landscape maintenance. With climate change threatening to redirect the gulf stream, we may see a vast rearrangement of the pastoral in the British Isles, incongruous to the original image. To maintain that type may necessitate as extreme of measures as required by a golf course in Arizona, and perhaps even produce a new shoot on the mowing family tree.
i Karl Marx, (1906 ) Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, ed. Friedrich Engels