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Challenging Forms of History: The Dialogic Counter-Monument


Abstract and Figures

As monuments to once revered figures receive increasing public criticism for their celebration of problematic histories, a new type of monument is emerging in our time. As its name indicates, a dialogic counter-monument is a designed response to an existing monument that challenges the monument’s connection to place and expands and recontextualizes its account of history. The term dialogic suggests that the new monument does not ignore, erase, or supersede the collective memory that the existing monument produces but instead engenders an exchange between the two for observers. A dialogic counter-monument functions similarly to interpretive signage that provides crucial background and context, but it relies on physical spatial design over written text. This paper presents the work of a graduate level studio where students were asked to design a dialogic counter-monument and harness landscape architecture as an effectual means of engaging collective memory (Wasserman, 1998). Critically, the site of this design studio was on the unceded, traditional, and ancestral territories of the ʷməθkʷəy̓əm, sḵwx̱wú7mesh, and sel̓íl̓witulh people. The design projects had to recognize and respect that Indigenous connections to place have been severed by forces of colonialism that have effaced the ongoing traditional uses and aesthetic expressions of the landscape. At the same time as they sought to foreground these preexisting yet unacknowledged ties to place, students also endeavored to design for today’s transitory immigrant population, inhabitants who similarly lack significant relationships to land. Ultimately, the design work required a sensitivity to the plurality of affective memory experiences.
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No. 9 I March 18-21, 2020
Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture
Bambi L. Yost,
Iowa State University
Jon D. Hunt, Kansas State University
Benjamin George, Utah State University
Yi Luo, University of Florida
Paul Coseo, Arizona State University
Judith Wasserman, West Virginia University
Lisa Orr, West Virginia University
Stefania Staniscia, West Virginia University
Christopher D. Ellis, University of Maryland
Taner R. Ozdil, University of Texas at Arlington
Chingwen Ching, Arizona State University
Dongying Li, Texas A&M University
Deni Ruggeri, Norwegian University of Life Sciences
Ole Sleipness, Utah State University
Byoung-Suk Kweon, University of Maryland
Chuo Li, Mississippi State
Bin Jiang, University of Hong Kong
David La Pena, Pennsylvania State University
Benjamin Spencer, University of California-Davis
Sohyun Park, University of Connecticut
Mintai Kim, Virginia Tech
Sungkyung Lee, University of Georgia
Jun-Hyun Kim, Michigan State University
Marc Miller, Pennsylvania State University
Maggie Hansen, Pennsylvania State University
Brett Milligan, University of California-Davis
Kristi Cheramie, Ohio State University
Sungmin Lee, University of Connecticut
Shan Jiang, West Virginai University
Wu Hong, Pennsylvania State University
Brian Orland, University of Georgia
Caroline Weswort, Iowa State University
David Myers, University of Maryland
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Ashley Steffens, President
Charlene LeBleu, Past President
Sadik Artunc, First Vice President
Galen Newman, Vice President for Research & Creative Scholarship
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Jun-Hyun Kim, Secretary & Vice-President for Communications
Outreach & Publications
Ebru Ozer, Treasurer
Jolie B. Kaytes, Region 1 Director
Kirk Dimond, Region 2 Director
Taner R. Ozdil, Region 3 Director
Matthew J. Kirkwood, Region 4 Director
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Elizabeth Brabec, Region 7 Director
Nadia Amoroso, Region 9 Director
David N. Myers, Region 10 Director
Forster Ndubisi, AoF Chair
Yiwei Huang, CELA Student Director
Amanda Passero, CELA Student Director
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,1 7+,6 ,668( In 2020, the conference committee accepted
421 abstracts for presentation and rejected 36 abstracts. Authors of
accepted abstracts were invited to submit a full paper. Because the
conference was cancelled, only authors whose abstracts
remained registered were eligible to submit a full paper to be
sent out for review. As a result, and after initial screening, a total
of 57 papers were received but only 32 papers were selected and
sent out for peer review. Finally, 18 papers were accepted for
publications in this issue, with 6 CELA tracks having no
accepted papers. The organization of this issue follows the
standard conference tracks listed in the table of contents.
Assistant Professor, School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, University of British Columbia.
As monuments to once revered figures receive increasing public criticism for their celebration of
problematic histories, a new type of monument is emerging in our time. As its name indicates, a
dialogic counter-monument is a designed response to an existing monument that challenges the
monument’s connection to place and expands and recontextualizes its account of history. The term
dialogic suggests that the new monument does not ignore, erase, or supersede the collective
memory that the existing monument produces but instead engenders an exchange between the two
for observers. A dialogic counter-monument functions similarly to interpretive signage that provides
crucial background and context, but it relies on physical spatial design over written text.
This paper presents the work of a graduate level studio where students were asked to design a
dialogic counter-monument and harness landscape architecture as an effectual means of engaging
collective memory (Wasserman, 1998). Critically, the site of this design studio was on the unceded,
traditional, and ancestral territories of the ʷməθkʷəy
̓əm, swx
̱wú7mesh, and sel̓íl̓witulh people. The
design projects had to recognize and respect that Indigenous connections to place have been
severed by forces of colonialism that have effaced the ongoing traditional uses and aesthetic
expressions of the landscape. At the same time as they sought to foreground these preexisting yet
unacknowledged ties to place, students also endeavored to design for today’s transitory immigrant
population, inhabitants who similarly lack significant relationships to land. Ultimately, the design
work required a sensitivity to the plurality of affective memory experiences.
1.1 Keywords
Design studio, monument, place, land, decolonization.
The authors are solely responsible for the content of this technical presentation. The technical presentation does not necessarily
reflect the official position of the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA), and its printing and distribution does not
constitute an endorsement of views which may be expressed. Citation of this work should state that it is from a CELA conference
paper. EXAMPLE: Author's Last Name, Initials. 2018. Title of Paper. Blacksburg, Virginia: CELA. For information about securing
permission to reprint or reproduce this paper, please contact CELA at
March 18-21, 2020 (canceled due to COVID-19)
Monuments, as intentionally designed objects that bridge landscape and architecture, are
conceived to establish a link to the past and to anchor time in place. Constructed for the public sphere and,
ostensibly for the public good, they represent people, dates, and narratives that become ingrained in
collective social memory. A statue to Christopher Columbus, for example, establishes a temporal connection
between his landfall on October 12, 1492, and the present day as well as a spatial link between the location
of the monument and a larger notion of the Americas. After all, Columbus is not credited with ‘discovering’
Guanahani in the Bahamas, where he physically stepped off his boat, but instead the entire American
continent. Individual statues of Columbus, therefore, link their locations together and help to build the
concept of a connected territory, one that would later become occupied by European settlers in the years
following Columbus’ voyage. In recent years, however, monuments to now controversial figures such as
Columbus have become objects of increasing public scrutiny. The indelible link between Columbus’ actions,
the subsequent genocide of Indigenous peoples, and the ongoing occupation and colonization of Indigenous
lands are crucial factors to an increased desire to have monuments to Columbus and similar figures
removed from public spaces and the collective consciousness. In recent months, statues in the likeness of
Christopher Columbus have been removed from display in Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota,
Ohio, Texas, and Virginia, among many other locations.
Similar to the example of statues to Columbus, the current debate over monuments to controversial
figures has been focused on their static control of collective memory. As Josep Lluís Sert, Fernand Léger
and Sigfried Giedion state plainly in their Nine Points on Monumentality, “Monuments are, therefore, only
possible in periods in which a unifying consciousness and unifying culture exists” (1958, p. 48). This
statement accurately describes why, in our time of increased political polarity which has seen greater
support for ongoing minority opposition to public monuments, that the existence of commemorative sites
would be challenged. However, this assertion overlooks the ability of a monument to bring into being a
greater sense of unity. Indeed, the very removal of monuments and the attendant forgetting has led some,
like Kenneth E. Foote, to suggest controversial monuments, by their very nature, are important in order to
focus dialogue and challenge what is and what is not included in our recollections of history (1997, p. 6).
Others have argued that instead of removal, the building of more monuments is required, or more
specifically the design of what has been called the “dialogic counter-monument”. This is defined by Quentin
Stevens, Karen A. Franck and Ruth Fazakerley as a “monument that critiques the purpose and the design
of a specific existing monument, in an explicit, contrary and proximate pairing” (2012, p. 952).
A dialogic counter-monument serves a comparable function to that of an interpretive plaque
installed next to a controversial monument, yet importantly it aims to recontextualize an existing monument
through a spatial design instead of written text. Maya Lin’s 1982 Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a well-known
example of a dialogic counter-monument, which “establishes contrasting spatial, thematic and experiential
relationships to Washington’s existing commemorative topography” (Stevens,, 2012, p. 964). The
imagined vectors extending from Lin’s ‘V’ shaped monument point to both the Lincoln Memorial and the
Washington Monument, yet Lin chose to sink her structure into the earth and use a somber and reflective
black granite surface material. Instead of an uplifting and hopeful monument to be seen from a distance,
Lin produced an introspective space more reminiscent of burial and death. As an indication of how quickly
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was recognized as a counter-monument, and one that challenged the
history of war as a glorious act, only two years after it was completed did Frederick Hart add yet another
dialogic counter-monument to the Mall. Recontextualizing Lin’s monument, Hart’s 1984 The Three
Servicemen reemphasized heroism and valor through three larger-than-life armed military figures.
As the works by Lin and Hart make clear, monuments are no longer necessarily static objects that
preserve the memory of legendary figures and momentous one-sided histories. Rather, they engender
contemplation and conversation, and often work in dialogue with other statues and sites. As opposed to
listing dates and providing answers, they provoke viewers and invite questions. This paper explores the
purpose, and the potential power, of monuments today. It presents the work produced during a graduate
level studio from the University of British Columbia in which students were asked to design a dialogic
counter-monument to Captain George Vancouver, a European seagoing explorer whose pursuits and
actions, similar to Columbus, are being questioned, recontextualized, and reexamined. The student work
reveals an expanded concept of the monument, where design becomes a reflective practice that challenges
once celebrated pasts and rethinks history’s ties to place.
March 18-21, 2020 (canceled due to COVID-19)
The studio course necessitated an understanding of the colonial history of Vancouver in British
Columbia, Canada. 1827 marked a permanent change in relations between the Indigenous peoples of the
land known today as British Columbia and seagoing Europeans. In this year, the construction of Fort Langley
by the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) established a permanent defensive trading center on the “Fraser”
river. This fortification facilitated direct access to European markets and signaled a shift from an exploitation
colonialism to settler colonialism (Harris, 1997, p. 76). Fort Langley was soon followed by Fort Victoria, built
in 1843 on the island which would be renamed Vancouver Island. A few years later, in 1849, the entire
island was claimed by the British Empire as the Colony of Vancouver Island to which the HBC was given
exclusive property rights and as a result, increased efforts to establish a settler colonial city (Clayton, 2000,
p. 386). The claim of sovereignty over the island was quickly followed by a larger territorial claim on the
mainland. In 1858, Richard Clement Moody (His Excellency, Major-General The Honourable, a member of
the Royal Geographical Society, the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Royal Institute of British Architects)
founded the Colony of British Columbia as a representative of Alexandrina Victoria (Queen Victoria, Queen
of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and later, the Empress of India). The Colony of British
Columbia and the Colony of Vancouver Island amalgamated in 1866, and several years later joined the
Canadian Confederation, becoming part of the Dominion of Canada under monarchical rule.
Already by 1881, the social, economic, and ecological organization of what became the Lower
Mainland, on which today we find the city of Vancouver, had been radically transformed. Central to this
transformation was the reorganization of land, its parcelization, ownership, lease and sale, combined with
its occupation, working, and trade. All of this was dependent on a European imagination that conceived of
land as an exclusive possession. Thus, in this “colonial regime, the emphasis of power had shifted towards
the control of land and the management of movement thereon” (Harris, p. 101). Ultimately, this imposed
spatial discipline forcibly reorganized, and continues to control, the ways in which residents and guests
relate to, move through, and experience the land. As early settlers claimed property, Indigenous residents
were forcibly resettled to discrete and isolated reserves. The First Nations village site of X
̱way, for
example, was demolished to make way for a road in what later became a park named after Lord Stanley,
the 16th Earl of Derby and the sixth Governor General of Canada.
With control of land being both the object and the source of colonial power, it makes sense that the
province was designated “British Columbia,” as this name is an assertion of national territorial control (Rose-
Redwood, 2016, p. 194). A quick scan of the local geography reveals the comprehensive use of this strategy
of naming and claiming: Port Moody, Moody Park, Moody square, or the City of Victoria. Incredibly, even
time has been bent to recognize British rule, notably Victoria Day, a permanent holiday celebrating the birth
of the Monarch. Vancouver Island and the City of Vancouver owe their name to one man, Captain George
Vancouver, a British officer of the Royal Navy.
George Vancouver sailed along this coast years before Richard Moody and is best known for his
five-year expedition that began in 1791. The plaque under his larger-than-life statue, which sits upon a plinth
at a central location outside of Vancouver City Hall, reminds us that his “geographical accomplishments are
venerated to this day.” Ken Brealey’s reflection on this point is instructive: “while taking nothing away from
Vancouver’s navigational and surveying skills evidenced in the almost exquisite details with which he
measured and charts one of the world’s most convoluted coastlines the professional detachment of his
cartographic record is unsettling” (1995, p. 142). Unsettling is a key term in describing Vancouver’s maps.
Even as the coastline was drawn with precise measurement, Vancouver recorded no Indigenous presence
on the land. Looking back over the work, we feel unsettled not just by his singular focus but also, in a much
more insidious way, by his maps’ displacement of local Indigenous peoples. With their presence, indicating
details including habitation, land use, or named features, absent from cartographic representation,
Vancouver’s work supported Britain’s claim to the region, as the discovery and naming of this coastline was
now theirs. The maps supported the position that this land was terra nullius, or empty of use and available
for new occupation (Simpson & Bagelman, 2018, p. 559).
However, it remains a fact that the city of Vancouver is fully within the unceded, traditional, and
ancestral territories of the ʷməθkʷəy
̓əm (Musqueam), swx
̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-
Waututh) people. To acknowledge that the land is unceded recognizes that this territory has never been
March 18-21, 2020 (canceled due to COVID-19)
turned over to the British Crown by treaty, war, or other agreement. Any and all claims of ownership by the
British Crown, and subsequently by colonial subjects, are matters of dispute. To be clear, this is stolen land.
Figure 1. Statue of George Vancouver (2019). Photo by Fionn Byrne.
Nevertheless, the City of Vancouver has overseen a capitalist development on and of the land, from a
resource extraction port to today’s modern real estate driven metropolis. Ongoing control and access to the
land is necessary for the success of the settler-colonial project, yet it is this same land which has
continuously provided the material and spiritual sustenance of the Coast Salish people (Coulthard, 2014, p.
7). The relationship to land is then a matter of concern to Indigenous and settlers alike, and this idea served
as the starting point for the studio course.
The development of the city of Vancouver required the violent imposition of a foreign spatial order
over the preexisting landscape (Simpson & Bagelman, 2018, p. 559). Abstract geometries of land division,
usage zoning, and infrastructural servicing were inscribed into the material organization of the city, legible
in the ground, water and air. Constructed through a foreign legal system and mediated with maps, the fabric
of the city today reflects little of the traditional uses of the land, nor the ancestral connections established
here. The Indigenous caretakers of this landscape have had their access to the past obstructed by an
intentional and forced erasure of place. For example, the easily visible twin peaks among the North Shore
Mountains, known by the Squamish name Ch'ich'iyúy Elxwíkn (Twin Sisters), remains as a sacred ancestral
marker of a historic peace treaty between the Squamish and Haida people. Yet in the late nineteenth
century, John Hamilton Gray renamed these mountains The Lions because, it is said, they reminded him of
Edwin Landseer’s Lion Statues in London’s Trafalgar Square. Thus, a long-standing connection to past and
place for Indigenous peoples was superseded by a tenuous connection to a European motif.
March 18-21, 2020 (canceled due to COVID-19)
Without suggesting an equivalence, the sense of disconnection from place is also pervasive among
the diverse non-Indigenous settler population. While many in the city are first generation immigrants, even
those who have grown up in Vancouver remain as uninvited guests residing on land where title is
illegitimately held. Establishing connections to place and locating oneself in time through ancestral
relationships has been challenged for settlers by parallel forces of colonialism that have effaced the ongoing
traditional uses and aesthetic expressions of the landscape for Indigenous peoples. How does a non-
European immigrant to Vancouver relate to the Lions of Trafalgar Square? How does an established settler
appreciate the history of the Lions and Vancouver’s development while simultaneously accepting that this
history is written over a longer and prior understanding of place? And equally challenging to answer, how is
a transient mobile population, who will live in Vancouver for only a few years, expected to understand the
history of this geography and establish meaningful connections to place?
In Vancouver, just like in any other modern colonial city, settlers remain profoundly unsettled as
they move around the globe following capital, for education or work. As geographer Yi-Fu Tuan reminds us,
the “modern [individual] is so mobile that [one] has not the time to establish roots; [their] experience and
appreciation of place is superficial” (1977, p. 183). This has profound importance because as Tuan writes,
and as we know intuitively, we have greater respect for the places to which we feel attachment. For
Indigenous residents whose roots are forcibly severed and for the uninvited guests who are denied a way
of life that facilitates establishing roots, connections to place wane. It is likely that this disconnection from
place contributes to our patterns of consumption and waste, which, in turn, have had such negative impacts
on the environment. We can speculate on whether a disconnection from place makes consumerism
palatable or if a consumptive economy necessitates being mobile, but without doubt, it is certain that the
earth won’t be able to accommodate this willful destruction of the environment for much longer without
experiencing significant and irreversible changes.
Returning to the notion of the dialogic counter-monument, we are led to ask how one would design
this type of monument to George Vancouver. Currently, his likeness rests at the entry to the Vancouver City
Hall. Dressed in his Naval uniform, he is commemorated holding a scroll, perhaps a map or a claim of title
to land, and he points north (Figure 1). Unsatisfied with resting in the city that bears his name, he aims
forward, continually discovering, continuously expanding the Empire. This monument to consumption and
motion seems prescient, preceding Manuel Castells and Ricardo Bofill agreement that “the new architectural
monuments of our epoch are likely to be built as ‘communication exchanges’” (Connerton, 2009, p. 111),
moments of transfer between networks in motion, like intermodal transfer areas. Think of Santiago
Calatrava’s World Trade Center Transportation Hub, opened in 2016, for example, the epitome of
commemorating consumption and motion. Communication exchangers, such as airports, railway stations,
warehouses, or data centers, focus on speed of movement and are often experienced exclusively as interior
spaces. Having limited connection to the environment, these sites necessarily negate the slowness and
fixity of the landscape and nullify landscape’s ability to act as a site of collective memory.
There is, however, a different path which points towards an alternative type of monument for our
epoch, one which is necessarily contextual, culturally engaged, and site specific. As Judith Wasserman
argues, “landscape architects have a unique contribution to make to the memorial landscape” (1998, p. 60),
and they can do this by designing spaces whereby the expressions of the physical landscape aspire to
connect people to place. The work of the studio presented in this paper sought to reject the commemoration
of excess wealth through ongoing exploitation of land, choosing instead to critique a colonial history and
ask how we can design differently. The studio endeavored to better understand what the significance of
memory is in a place that has purposefully, and violently, effaced connections to an ancestral past.
Furthermore, recognizing that “the very processes of globalization have effectively abolished the temporal
and spatial distance that previously separated cultures” (Enwezor, 2003, p. 57), this studio looked to
landscape to reassert and make legible unique processes of nature inextricably rooted in time and place.
Through this ecological lens, landscape emerges as a cultural project and a force of resistance against
totalizing globalization.
Within this theoretical context, the focus of the studio continuously returned to two interconnected
questions. On the one hand, how can architectural form be designed to generate (or recover), gather (or
disperse), and hold (or forget) collective memory? To answer this question, we must presuppose that a
relationship does indeed exist between physical form and the spatial politics of collective memory. When
thinking about form this way, one can design to influence public interaction and behavior more purposefully.
March 18-21, 2020 (canceled due to COVID-19)
On the other hand, a second question asks, in a multicultural society, how can a monument, through the
experience of form, mobilize affect towards positive social change?
This single-term studio was open to second- and third-year graduate students at the School of
Architecture and Landscape Architecture (SALA) at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Canada, in
the fall term of 2019. A group of twelve self-elected to enroll in the course. The class contained two graduate
level architecture students (March) and ten studying landscape architecture at the graduate level (MLA).
The studio was thirteen weeks long, with three process reviews, followed by a final review in the fourteenth
week of the term.
In typical studio format, the majority of class time was scheduled for desk critiques, where students
would meet individually with the teaching faculty. Yet unlike typical design studios, this course placed
significant emphasis on reading and class discussion. The first half of the semester, divided into six one-
week themes, required students to complete compulsory readings, prepare and present precedent case
study investigations, maintain a sketchbook, and produce physical sketch models. As most of the students
enrolled in the course were unfamiliar with the studio site and context, the readings had to cover
considerable historical and theoretical ground.
The first week of readings introduced students to contemporary discussion around memorials,
where Erika Lee Doss’s Memorial mania: Public feeling in America (2010) was a central text. The readings
in the second week provided a design perspective to the subject, introducing students to Keller Easterling’s
Subtraction (2014), John Brinckerhoff Jackson’s The necessity for ruins, and other topics (1980), and Kevin
Lynch’s What time is this place? (1972). Students were then given design strategies in week three, and
counter-strategies in week four, with key readings including Owen J. Dwyer and Derek H. Alderman’s
Memorial Landscapes: Analytic questions and metaphors (2008) and Quentin Stevens, Karen A. Franck,
and Ruth Fazakerley’s Counter-monuments: The anti-monumental and the dialogic (2012), respectively.
Week five initiated a conversation on the past and present of colonialism in British Columbia, relying on the
work of local scholar Cole R. Harris’s The resettlement of British Columbia: Essays on colonialism and
geographical change (1997) and Glen Sean Coulthard’s Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial
Politics of Recognition (2014), among others. Finally, week six emphasized colonialism as an ongoing
design project among the fields of landscape architecture, city planning, and ecological science. Students
read, for example, Daisy Couture, Sadie Couture, Selena Couture, and Matt Hern’s On this patch of grass:
City parks on occupied land (2018) and Michael Simpson and Jen Bagelman’s Decolonizing urban political
ecologies: The production of nature in settler colonial cities (2018). In total, twenty course readings
introduced the students to important themes and grounded their eventual design work in the literature.
To compliment the course readings, students also had to study precedent design projects. A set of
twenty-one case studies offered a diverse range of responses to the act of making a monument. The
students analyzed such well-known work as Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Geoffrey Jellicoe’s
John F. Kennedy Memorial, and Hood Design Studio’s International African American Museum. Students
also researched lesser known but equally significant projects, including Alan Sonfist’s Time Landscape,
Gunter Demnig’s Stumbling Blocks, Agnes Denes’ Tree Mountain, and Jonas Dahlberg Studio’s Memory
Wound, 22 July Memorial. In each case, students studied and redrew specific design details from these
projects, including key dimensions, materials, or phasing.
In the second half of the semester, students worked to develop a single design proposal in detail.
Specifically, they were required to design a dialogic counter-monument to the statue of George Vancouver
at the Vancouver City Hall. With the readings and discussions intended to situate the students’ projects
within the discipline of landscape architecture and with respect to the history and context of the physical
site, students endeavored to apply the concepts and theoretical frameworks gained from reading and
research toward their design proposals. However, students were encouraged to find their own voice in
defining, designing, and defending a unique response to the studio brief. The location, scale, program,
material, and specific objective of each project was self-generated, and students used their design work to
explore the space between the course themes of memory versus history, place versus space, time versus
chronology, and absence versus presence.
Design emphasis in this studio was placed on formal expression, ecological transformation, and
programmatic occupation of a designed addition or subtraction to the site. Students were thus expected to
March 18-21, 2020 (canceled due to COVID-19)
challenge the metaphorical and literal significance of the existing statue’s form, to question the unchanging
material palette of the statue and its surrounding site, and to introduce novel programming that would
engender new modes of public interaction. As students researched the various features of the existing
statue, they were encouraged to respond with a designed alternative. Through this process of designing
Figure 2. Marking Time: A temporary lifeworld (2019). Image by Nicole Crawford, Karen Tomkins.
their own responses, students came to better understand how the existing monument operates on both
personal and societal levels. Primarily interested in actions and intervention responsive to existing
conditions, this studio treated the exercise of siting a new monument as a means of producing social impact
through small-scale design, as opposed to a broader urban design challenge.
Four of the twelve students in the studio chose to work in partnership, which resulted in ten final
projects. Each project was presented in the final week of studio to an external jury of peers. Students were
responsible for positioning their project relative to the preceding readings, developing their own
representation style, and articulating their own definition of a counter-monument. In the following discussion,
four of the twelve projects are described in detail below. These four examples demonstrate the broad range
of responses to the studio brief. Exploring concepts of time, truth, value, and engagement as they pertain
to history and place, each project contributes to new understandings of the counter-monument and its
6.1 Time
Nicole Crawford and Karen Tomkins, two third-year landscape architecture students, explored the
relationship between history and memory in their project “Chronos: Kairos.” Through their work, they sought
March 18-21, 2020 (canceled due to COVID-19)
to respond critically to the ways in which monuments institutionalize and freeze time, preserving only certain
moments in perpetuity. The students characterized the dominant mode of memorialization as marking an
event or person as important, creating a distinct formal object to signify that which is to be memorialized,
and selecting a material palette that will ensure the continuity of the object into the future. They understood
that this act implicitly accepts a linear understanding of time, where past, present, and future line up
sequentially and the objective of this form of memorialization is to unite the three for as long as possible.
To support this claim, Crawford and Tomkins drew from Sert, Léger, and Giedion’s Nine Points on
Monumentality, referencing the statement, “Monuments are human landmarks which men have created as
symbols for their ideals, for their aims, and for their actions. They are intended to outlive the period which
originated them and constitute a heritage for future generations. As such, they form a link between the past
and the future” (1958, p. 48). Through studying all forty monuments dedicated and designated by the
Vancouver Heritage Register, Crawford and Tomkins learned that only a very shallow slice of history was
being commemorated and preserved. The monuments they researched prioritized a colonial history of
occupation, and almost all of them were dedicated to white men of European descent who lived in or visited
In response to their observations, Crawford and Tomkins designed three counter-monuments that
critically reevaluated the temporal dimension of a monument. Sited in proximity to a pre-existing and
permanent memorial in the city of Vancouver, their project gave form to a new type of monument, one that
would register and make legible the passage of time. In their design, they mobilized the cyclical properties
of nature and the concept of deep time through geology. For one of their proposals, the students envisioned
planting a multitude of a flowering plants with rapid seasonal cycles of bloom and decay. The spent flowers
would slowly accumulate into layers of sediment, marking the passage of time. In another proposal, the
twice-daily rhythm of ocean tides would produce a living and visible ecological gradient across a semi-
submerged Western red cedar. Of course, as sea levels rise, so to would this gradient slowly migrate
upwards. Both proposed memorials would ultimately degrade and disintegrate, with the intent being to spark
conversation about future sites of memorialization.
Returning to Vancouver City Hall and challenging the static and long-enduring representation of
George Vancouver, the third act of this project proposed a subtle control joint cut down the center of the
stairs descending form the base of the statue. During times of intense rain, this joint would gather and direct
water (Figure 2). Detritus would also accumulate and provide the foundation for a temporary habitat. This
small incision would mark time by generating a unique non-human micro-environment, constantly changing
with minor fluctuations in hydraulic conditions. Running perpendicular to the stairs, this quickly noticed cut,
would demand attention and refocus a visitor’s gaze away from the statue above and toward the ground
Through designing interventions that would chronicle change, Crawford and Tomkins argued that
connections to place can be made by recognizing and acknowledging one’s position in time. By highlighting
the political dimensions of monuments, this project also sought to address the inherent conflict of forcing a
future public to accept a present set of beliefs. In designing a monument to be temporally bound and
relatively short lived, this work projected a hopeful view of the future, accepting that social developments in
the decades and centuries to come may challenge or negate some of the vocabulary and social norms in
place today. Thus, an important characteristic of the link between past, present, and future is change and
6.2 Truth
Calvin Tan, a third-year landscape architecture student, imagined a massive, broken boulder resting
at the entry to Vancouver City Hall (Figure 3). In so doing, Tan placed the rigidity, clarity, and openness of
the formal design language of City Hallits grand staircase and the statue of George Vancouverinto
conversation with a new vocabulary of enclosure, separation, and void. The fragmented boulder symbolized
the colonial dispossession and forced relocation of Indigenous people from this land, but the critique gained
further sophistication through Tan’s choice of material and his formal design decisions. For example, the
openings surrounding the perimeter of the object were brought close together, at times reaching only 500
mm. The passages then expanded as they extended inward, towards the statue of George Vancouver,
producing asymmetrical conditions for those interacting with the boulder. From the exterior, the boulder
appeared near solid and must be entered individually. The interior spaces, however, were suitable for
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dialogue between small groups. Tan, furthermore, treated the surfaces to extend the juxtaposition between
impenetrable and inviting. The exterior was rough and unfinished, while the passageways were smooth and
Tan’s project was influenced in part by Selena Couture, a local Vancouver scholar who led the class
on a trip that explored the built legacy of colonialism in Vancouver’s Stanley Park. In her book On this patch
of grass: City parks on occupied land, Couture says of parks, and of public space generally, “there is so
much to love about parks, but they need to be understood not as natural or authentic, but as restricted,
Figure 3. Structures of Power: Re-asserting land (2019). Image by Calvin Tan.
ordered spaces that clearly articulate what constitutes correct behaviour and acceptable interactions. And
that exercise is intensely political and biopolitical” (2018, p. 41). Tan engaged this idea in his project by
making legible, through negation, the formal organization and acceptable interactions possible at the steps
of City Hall. In turn, by its very being, this imagined boulder reasserts the primacy of land as a driver of
political discourse and facilitates new modes of interaction with the statue of George Vancouver. Ultimately,
this counter-monument argued that both individual reflection and collective discourse are necessary for a
meaningful reconciliation with the past.
6.3 Value
Mason Lam, a second-year landscape architecture student was also drawn to the writing of Selena
Couture. When discussing city parks on unceded Indigenous land, Couture states, “the ongoing
disobediences in the park in almost all parks are promising: they gesture towards larger possible refusals
and reorderings in hopeful ways” (2018, p. 38). Lam’s project sought to formalize an act of landscape
disobedience. To achieve this objective, he turned his attention to the community garden that occupies the
lawn at the base of George Vancouver’s statue. Recognizing that fruits, vegetables, and flowers are all
assets that the urban gardener defends and protects, Lam argued that the gridded garden is exclusionary
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and perpetuates colonial actions of claiming and privatizing land. The community garden operates more as
a type of commodified real estate than as a site of social participation and dialogue.
In order to reverse this condition, Lam designed a weed garden. Cultivating dandelion, purslane, or
crabgrass, for example, would allow the gardener to connect with plants in a way that denies easy
privatization and commodification. Unlike a typical urban garden, which assigns a lucky few with individual
raised planters, Lam designed a circular strategy of cultivating weeds between vertical flagstones. The
landscape architect would strategize the initial setup but would quickly turn over design control to the public
(Figure 4). Participants would move stones, fill cracks between them with soil, and tend to the weeds.
Figure 4. Sow Many Weeds: Collective gardening (2019). Image by Mason Lam.
In this imagined space, any city resident could participate in a collective act of gardening, enjoying the health
and social benefits from engaging with nature.
Following Michael Simpson and Jen Bagelman’s description of early European settlers as “unable
to recognize any forms of cultural intervention that did not resemble the particular linear order with which
they were familiar in Europe” (2018, p. 559), Lam’s work prompted a reappraisal of the politics of gardening
by producing a design concept that rejects a rigid and rule based system designed for the exclusive benefit
of a few. The weed, a plant that by definition has no intrinsic use or aesthetic value, was the ideal tool for
driving a wedge between gardening and commodification. This counter-monument operates not to
continuously reinforce widely held values, but instead to challenge our assumptions about value in nature
and to force a recognition of a plurality of value systems.
6.4 Engagement
The final example is the work of Weirong Li, a third-year landscape architecture student. As
mentioned above, readings in this course focused a critical lens on the impact of George Vancouver’s
mapping of the Pacific Northwest, with primary importance placed on the City of Vancouver and
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relationships with Indigenous nations. Li researched the impact of George Vancouver’s travels beyond our
local geography. Notably, although George Vancouver is buried in Petersham, England, his grave continues
to be maintained by the City of Vancouver. This realization opened a line of reasoning that the statue of
George Vancouver should be repatriated and installed at the gravesite where his body lies. While Li did not
declare that the removal of Vancouver’s statue should coincide with a conversation around renaming the
city, her project visualized the site of removal as an unfinished and, therefore, open-ended design project
that was meant to pique curiosity, provoke questions, and incite dialogue and further action. Left to be
colonized with ruderal vegetation, the absent statue and plinth elude to an incomplete act (Figure 5).
Figure 5. Going Home: Sharing the experience of colonialism (2019). Image by Weirong Li.
Li’s proposal also intended for the repatriation of George Vancouver’s statue to engender shared
dialogue across locations and communities. Acknowledging that Vancouver had sailed to ports among many
former colonies, this project proposed that the statue be installed temporarily at the city hall of multiple
destinations. Before reaching its final resting place in Petersham, the statue would visit Oregon,
Washington; Honolulu, Hawaii; Picton, New Zealand; Albany, Australia; and Cape Town, South Africa. At
each destination, the statue’s shipping container would be dis-assembled and reassembled into a public
gathering space. While the temporary installations would prompt each community to discuss its relationship
to George Vancouver, the precise nature of these conversations would differ. Gathering spaces, for
example, might prioritize assembly in one location, conversation in another, or observation and reflection at
yet a third. The repeated removal and relocation of the monument, therefore, seeks to foster critical dialogue
at many moments along a journey. Removal is neither a momentary nor a concluding act but an opening to
engage a larger conversation about the legacy and impact of that which was previously memorialized. In
this case, the opportunity exists to strengthen a conversation around the shared impacts of colonialism and
the varied paths towards decolonization.
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This studio was not interested in problem solving. Instead, the design work was meant to be
instructive, teaching all involved to better understand our contemporary situation and ask yet more
questions. If it has been successful, this work will necessitate a far longer engagement with the subject
matter. This is recognized as a serious obligation for those who wish to practice landscape architecture in
the city of Vancouver or in other similar environments. Recognizing the didactic nature of this project, we
can also understand that the buildability of the proposals is secondary to the design’s ability to generate
discussion and modify thought. Hence, the design work did not need to point to a forthcoming built project,
rather, the design work itself was the project. This is part of the reason that this studio placed significant
emphasis on reading, sketching, modeling, and discussion. As James E. Young argues in The Stages of
Memory, it is the debate generated by the process of memorial design, which is most important, not the
object of the finished memorial, stating, “in this view, memory as represented in the monument might also
be regarded as a never-to-be-completed process, animated (not disabled) by the forces of history bringing
it into being” (2016, p. 16). Acknowledging history as an incomplete project, open to influence from
contemporary design, this studio proposed that the design process itself can act as an opportunity to
decolonize thought by exploring and critiquing our personal and shared attitudes towards the land. The
counter-monuments proposed by the class span themes of time, truth, value, and engagement, and each
deploy landscape design to critically engage with the static monument of George Vancouver. Answering the
two studio questions, these project examples assert that formal design can shape collective memory, and
furthermore, that time based, temporary monuments which emphasize dialogue and active participation are
valuable strategies to drive positive social change in a multicultural society with competing accounts of
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Clayton, D. (2000). On the colonial genealogy of George Vancouver's chart of the north-west coast of
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Connerton, P. (2009). How Modernity Forgets. New York: Cambridge University Press.
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Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Couture, D., Couture, S., Couture, S., Hern, M. (2018). On this patch of grass: City parks on occupied
land. Nova Scotia: Fernwood Publishing Company.
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Simpson, M., Bagelman, J. (2018). Decolonizing urban political ecologies: The production of nature in
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Stevens, Q., Franck, K. A., Fazakerley, R. (2012). Counter-monuments: The anti-monumental and the
dialogic. The Journal of Architecture, 17(6), 951-972.
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Full-text available
In recent decades, counter-monuments have emerged as a new, critical mode of commemorative practice. Even as such practice defines itself by its opposition to traditional monumentality, it has helped to reinvigorate public and professional interest in commemorative activities and landscapes and has developed its own, new conventions. Terminology and analysis in scholarship on counter-monuments have remained relatively imprecise with writers in English and German employing the term ‘counter-monument’ or Gegendenkmal in different and sometimes confusing ways. In this paper we draw together literature published in English and German to clarify and to map various conceptions and categorisations. To do so we distinguish between two kinds of projects that have been called countermonuments: those that adopt anti-monumental strategies, counter to traditional monument principles, and those that are designed to counter a specific existing monument and the values it represents.
This article contributes to the decolonization of urban political ecology (UPE) by centering the ongoing processes of colonization and its resistances that produce urban natures in settler colonial cities. Placing the UPE literature in conversation with scholarship on settler colonialism and Indigenous resurgence, we demonstrate how the ecology of the settler colonial city is marked by the imposition of a colonial socionatural order on existing Indigenous socionatural systems. Examining the case of Lekwungen territory, commonly known as Victoria, British Columbia, we consider how parks, property lines, and settler agriculture are inscribed on a dynamic food system maintained by the Lekwungen over millennia. The erasure of the Lekwungen socioecological system, however, has never been complete. Efforts of the Lekwungen and their allies to continue managing these lands as part of an Indigenous food system have resulted in conflict with volunteer conservationists and parks officials who assert their own jurisdictional authority over the space. Drawing on interviews and participant observation research, we argue that the seemingly quotidian and everyday acts of tending to urban greenspace by these groups are actually of central importance to struggles over the reproduction of UPEs in the settler colonial city.
The naming of places is one of the primary ways in which the spatial imaginaries of colonialism have been entrenched within the spaces of everyday life in settler-colonial societies. Consequently, the reclaiming of Indigenous toponymies has become a key strategy for decolonizing space and place in the neocolonial present, thereby revalorizing place-based Indigenous ontologies and challenging the neocolonial state's assertions of authority over geographical naming practices. This article examines the efforts of Indigenous peoples in WSÁNEĆ and Lekwungen Territories to reclaim their "storyscapes" through the renaming of PKOLS, a mountain known by the settler society as Mount Douglas in Saanich, British Columbia. In doing so, this study highlights how the reassertion of Indigenous ontologies of place challenges the white supremacist logic embedded in the commemorative landscapes of settler colonialism as part of the broader struggle for Indigenous self-determination. The article also draws attention to how institutions of higher education are themselves implicated in the legitimation of settler-colonial spatial imaginaries and calls upon scholars and activists to move beyond a politics of recognition, which reinforces the authority of the settlercolonial state, by decentering the heroics of settler political agency in the struggle for decolonization both on and off university campuses.
Why are we sometimes unable to remember events, places and objects? This concise overview explores the concept of ‘forgetting’, and how modern society affects our ability to remember things. It takes ideas from Francis Yates classic work, The Art of Memory, which viewed memory as being dependent on stability, and argues that today’s world is full of change, making ‘forgetting’ characteristic of contemporary society. We live our lives at great speed; cities have become so enormous that they are unmemorable, consumerism has become disconnected from the labour process; urban architecture has a short life-span; and social relationships are less clearly defined - all of which has eroded the foundations on which we build and share our memories. Providing a profound insight into the effects of modern society, this book is a must-read for anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists and philosophers, as well as anyone interested in social theory and the contemporary western world.
Over the past forty years, recognition has become the dominant mode of negotiation and decolonization between the nation-state and Indigenous nations in North America. The term “recognition” shapes debates over Indigenous cultural distinctiveness, Indigenous rights to land and self-government, and Indigenous peoples’ right to benefit from the development of their lands and resources. In a work of critically engaged political theory, Glen Sean Coulthard challenges recognition as a method of organizing difference and identity in liberal politics, questioning the assumption that contemporary difference and past histories of destructive colonialism between the state and Indigenous peoples can be reconciled through a process of acknowledgment. Beyond this, Coulthard examines an alternative politics—one that seeks to revalue, reconstruct, and redeploy Indigenous cultural practices based on self-recognition rather than on seeking appreciation from the very agents of colonialism. Coulthard demonstrates how a “place-based” modification of Karl Marx’s theory of “primitive accumulation” throws light on Indigenous–state relations in settler-colonial contexts and how Frantz Fanon’s critique of colonial recognition shows that this relationship reproduces itself over time. This framework strengthens his exploration of the ways that the politics of recognition has come to serve the interests of settler-colonial power. In addressing the core tenets of Indigenous resistance movements, like Red Power and Idle No More, Coulthard offers fresh insights into the politics of active decolonization. © 2014 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.
This paper contributes to the burgeoning critical literature on the history of cartography by tracking the links between maps, knowledge and power that stemmed from George Vancouver’s survey of the north-west coast of North America. Dispatched to the region by the British in 1791, Vancouver conducted an exhaustive cartographic survey and has been represented as the ‘true discoverer’ of the coast. It is argued here that he created a cartographic space (rather than simply discovered a pre-existing geography), and that his reconnaissance induced and supported a range of imperial and colonial practices. Vancouver’s work played a central role in the creation of a system of imperial inscription that primed the coast for colonial intervention. Attention is paid to the ways in which Vancouver’s project became (and remains) authoritative and influential in imperial and colonial terms: how it turned the coast into an arena of British imperial interest by occluding prior and alternative inscriptions on the land; how a variety of colonial images, projects and associations were derived from his work; and how we might now see his work in relation to the present.