Historic Preservation

  • Fort Foote

Cultural Landscapes Inventory for the National Park Service

The Graduate Program in Historic Preservation launched a website, www.cultural-landscapes.org, that presents five years of research conducted for the National Park Service (NPS), in partnership with the Chesapeake Watershed Cooperative Studies Unit, under the leadership of Associate Professor Randall Mason. The research spans Washington’s geography from Fort Foote at the southernmost tip of the capital to Rock Creek Golf Course near the city’s northern boundary, and represents the social, cultural, architectural, and recreational development of the federal city over the past three centuries.

The project dates back to the 2012 - 2013 Parks for the People competition, organized by the Van Alen Institute and the National Park Service, when a PennDesign interdisciplinary studio was named a finalist in that competition. In the years since, a team of faculty, graduates, and students in Historic Preservation documented the history and evolution of over a dozen NPS “cultural landscapes” in the Washington, DC, area—ranging from Civil War-era forts to public golf courses to urban boulevards—enabling the proper stewardship of these sites for centuries to come.

The website catalogues each of the 13 projects that PennDesign researchers completed since 2012. (Additional projects are added to the site as research progresses.) Knitting together historic photographs, maps, and primary sources, researchers compile a thorough physical history for each site, chronicling the development and evolution of the landscape from pre-colonial times to the present. Based on this comprehensive understanding of the landscape’s physical fabric, the researchers then offer an analysis and evaluation of features that have been lost and those that survive from the landscape’s most significant years, including an inventory of any extant buildings and structures, vegetation, small-scale features, circulation, viewsheds, topography, and other facets of the site. The findings offer clear and thorough guidance to NPS officials as they manage, preserve, rehabilitate, and modify each cultural landscape, setting priorities for the most significant surviving features that convey the site’s history. 


Randall F. Mason, Professor, Historic Preservation/ City & Regional Planning