A Meaningful Landscape

Briar Chapel, Raleigh, North Carolina

The other day I was with a couple of friends, talking about gardening and catching up. We are all landscape architects, all graduates from the same school. Despite having the first two elements shared, it was clear that, based on the nature of our conversation, we had very unique views on what constitutes a “meaningful landscape”.

We stood on my friend’s property, which had been cultivated into what she described as her own personal oasis, complete with apiaries, chickens, and even mushroom logs…it was quite a peaceful place. I complimented her on her work, and how it had all come together over the years.  As we were talking about how her property was starting to have a new life of its own, growing from woods to now this woodland farm, I mentioned my own neighborhood, Briar Chapel, in comparison. Her response took me aback – She asked me how I could have such an appreciation of her property, and yet live in such a soulless place as my planned neotraditional development.

While my other friend and her continued to chat about the merits of bio-char, I questioned this notion of place, and its soul, and her judgement of my neighborhood.



I live in a neighborhood that peers in the profession have nominated for awards and used as case studies for new developments, celebrating conservation easements, integrated community farms, and even the rebirth of the front porch community. This evening, I walked around Briar Chapel in the light rain, which helps you see a place without others around, to really exam it through a more objective eye.  I can see her perspective,.but then I also leave with a broader question of concept versus context and how we all differ from one another. It is definitely a young neighborhood, and there is still a lot to be done, but there are little pockets, fragments of the past and seedling spaces for the future that can make this neighborhood a soulful place.

One of these places is an old Chatham County tobacco barn. It is an early 1800s structure that was found very late in development and now is a center piece of the newest park square. I believe it was the intention of the designers of my neighborhood to create a soulful place.

The challenge in our profession, however, is having the faith that the landscape, through its users and over time, will develop as a poignant and meaningful place.  It is only with this vision that we can continue to create spaces that may not mature until long after our own time is gone.


  1. Old tobacco barns have a romantic beauty and tell an interesting story about the past. I saw some in Kentucky driving around the countryside years ago. They are a little bit like the mining shacks around Colorado. Nice to see this one saved.

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