Books

We are part of the natural world, our bodies, minds, and habitats shaped by the physical, chemical, and biological processes that sustain the Earth and the universe. All my work follows from that core belief.

My goal is to change the way human settlements are designed and built. That is why I write books. I want to tell an engaging story, to inspire readers to share my passion, hopes and fears, to create places that are functional, sustainable, memorable, and just.

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The Granite Garden: Urban Nature and Human Design (1984)

1984 President's Award of Excellence, American Society of Landscape Architects

“If you care about cities, as they are or as they might be, don’t miss The Granite Garden. I am filled with admiration for this book—for its truly remarkable practicality, its uncommon precision, its unique scope and sweep.” Jane Jacobs, author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities

The Granite Garden “touched off the ecological urbanism movement,” according to the American Planning Association, which lists it as one of the most important books of the past century. The Granite Garden is a book about nature in cities and what the city could be like if designed in concert with natural processes, rather than in ignorance or opposition. It presents, synthesizes and applies knowledge from many disciplines to show how cities are part of the natural world and to demonstrate how they can be planned and designed in accord with natural processes rather than in conflict.

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The Language of Landscape (1998)


“Anne Whiston Spirn brings to her reading of landscapes the eye of an artist, the mind of a scholar, and the pen of a gifted writer. What she has produced is nothing less than a field guide for all those who share her belief that the language of landscape is among the richest and most meaningful that any of us can hope to understand. The result is a triumph. There are few books that have the power to change the way one sees the world. This is one of them.” William Cronon, author of Nature’s Metropolis

The Language of Landscape argues that landscape is a form of language with its own grammar and metaphors and that, in shaping landscape, people express purpose, values, and ideas. The meanings landscapes hold are not just metaphorical and metaphysical, but real, their messages practical; understanding may spell survival or extinction. The book calls for change in the way we shape our environment. Its goal is to help people read landscapes as products of both nature and culture and to inspire them to envision new landscapes that restore nature and honor culture.

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The Buried River: Restoring Nature, Rebuilding Community (book-in-progress)


“Anne Whiston Spirn is a visionary of the first order whose innovative work on the ground has transformed and enhanced the quality of life in low-income urban neighborhoods in deep and lasting ways.” Charlotte Kahn, The Boston Foundation

The Buried River aims to change the terms of the debates on environmental sustainability, educational reform, urban design, community development, and social justice. The book demonstrates ways in which the objectives of these movements are complementary, how their advocates can be brought into dialogue and combine forces and resources. My conviction comes from three decades’ work in low-income communities on projects that address issues of poverty, race, troubled schools, deteriorated neighborhoods, and polluted water. The book draws lessons from a successful campaign to combine these concerns and puts that effort into historical and theoretical context. The Buried River makes the case for radical and synergistic changes in education, and in urban and environmental policy, planning, and practice.

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Daring to Look: Dorothea Lange’s Photographs and Reports from the Field (2008)


John Brinckerhoff Jackson Book Prize
Great Place Book Award
PROSE Book Award Honorable Mention, Art and Art History Category (American Association of Publishers)
Art Book Award Finalist (Association of Art Historians)
“This is a very important book deserving wide readership because it provides a wonderful combination of the socially-conscious work of two gifted artists and writers.” Dolores Hayden, author of Power of Place

Daring to Look presents never-before-published texts and photographs by the great American photographer, Dorothea Lange. Her images and words of 1939 are a mirror that reflects who we were, how we came to be, and what we were in the process of becoming. In them, one can perceive practices and policies of the past is the roots of today’s environmental challenges. “No country has ever closely scrutinized itself visually,” Lange said at the end of her life, “I know what we could make of it if people only thought we could dare look at ourselves.” Lange did dare to look, and she raised questions that demand answering, still.

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The Eye Is a Door (2014)


“The Eye Is a Door begins a new conversation in a time of artistic volatility when media are being invented, redefined, and combined. Anne Whiston Spirn speaks to us in a unique and magical convergence of images and words seen from an entirely new perspective, and invites us to join the conversation. I promise you, it is not one to miss.” Will Steacy, photographer

The Eye Is a Door invites the reader to see more acutely and to explore the practice of photography as a tool of discovery. Why a door and not a window? The window is something to look through, but a doorway is to pass through; crossing a threshold, one enters a new place. To see, to really see, is to open a door. To pass through that door is to arrive at a new understanding.

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Anne Whiston Spirn: Ten Projects (2018)


This book was created on the occasion of the National Design Award for Design Mind, “given in recognition of a visionary who has had a profound impact on design theory, practice, or public awareness.” The book presents ten seminal projects, from books and essays to action research projects, multimedia videos, and web design, from The Granite Garden in 1984) to Marnas: A Journey Through Space, Time, and Ideas in 2017.

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C. Th. Sørensen: Landscape Modernist (2001)


By Sven-Ingvar Andersson and Steen Høyer
Introduction and Translation from the Danish by Anne Whiston Spirn


Carl Theodor Sørensen is one of the great landscape architects of the twentieth century. His body of work encompasses a remarkable range from small gardens to large institutions and new residential developments. Among these are monuments of landscape architecture and modern design. Sørensen’s work still seems fresh. It anticipated current explorations and investigated ideas and forms not yet fully explored. And it addressed issues of great concern today. The same man who defined his work as art was also the inventor of the adventure playground; Sørensen’s ability to fuse art, function, and tradition belie the polarizations that often plague the design professions. Therein lies his greatness and significance. All of his built work is in Denmark. This book presents the life and work of C. Th. Sørensen to an international audience for the first time.