John Brinckerhoff Jackson, a writer whose cultural
interpretations of the American landscape encompassed
parking lots, trailer camps and highways, died on Thursday
at St. Vincent Hospital in Santa Fe. He was 86 and lived in
La Cienega, N.M.
In the journal Landscape, which he founded and edited for
many years and in works like "American Space," Mr. Jackson
laid the groundwork for a new way of looking at the
American landscape, a sub-specialty sometimes referred to
as cultural geography.
For nearly 50 years he roamed the nation, surveying field
and forest but also registering the change wrought by human
beings, regarding it as a kind of language. For Mr.
Jackson, known as Brinck, front lawns and strip malls cried
out for interpretation, an analysis of the political and
cultural forces that shaped them.
"The older I grow and the longer I look at landscapes," he
once wrote, "the more convinced I am that their beauty is
not simply an aspect but their very essence, and that that
beauty derives from the human presence."
Mr. Jackson was born in France to wealthy parents who
traveled a lot. He grew up in the Maryland suburbs of
Washington and in New York City and attended private
schools in Europe and the United States.
After earning a bachelor's degree in history at Harvard
University in 1932, he briefly studied architecture at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
As an Army combat intelligence officer in Europe in World
War II, he began thinking about landscape as, in part, a
human artifact and developing the idea that landscapes have
styles of their own.
After the war he returned to the United States intending to
run a ranch near Santa Fe that was left to him by an uncle,
but an accident on a horse put him in the hospital for a
In 1951 he founded Landscape and was its editor and
publisher until 1968. It expressed the vision of a
philosopher-tourist and offered an idiosyncratic blend of
history, urban planning, landscape architecture, geography,
anthropology and historic preservation. Although its
circulation never exceeded 3,000, Landscape was influential
in establishing the notion of what Mr. Jackson called the
vernacular landscape, the geography of everyday places and
Although he taught sporadically at the University of
California at Berkeley and Harvard's School of Design, he
was wary of the academy, and the academy of him. Likewise
his appreciation of the human imprint on the landscape and
his dislike of urban planning and what he called the
"boutiquing" of the landscape made him equally suspect to
environmentalists and urbanists. Rather than being appalled
at shopping malls, he regarded them as rich sources of
information about American culture, as expressive and
characteristic of our time as Chartres was of its.
"I want Americans to explore the landscape for its own
sake," he once wrote, "to develop an intelligent affection
for the country as it is and a vision disciplined enough to
distinguish what is wrong and should be changed from what
is valuable and worthy of protection."
In addition to "American Space" (1972), his best-known
work, Mr. Jackson wrote "Landscapes" (1970), "The Necessity
for Ruins" (1980), "Discovering the Vernacular Landscape"
(1984) and "A Sense of Place, a Sense of Time," which won
the 1995 PEN Award in the essay collection category.
After retiring from teaching and lecturing in 1985, he did
laboring jobs at construction sites, gas stations and
Mr. Jackson was the subject of two documentaries, "J. B.
Jackson and the Love of Everyday Places" and "Figure in a
Landscape: A Conversation with J. B. Jackson."
There are no surviving family members.
The New York Times, August 31, 1996, p. 27.,
"Brinck Jackson, 86, Dies; Was Guru of the Landscape",
by William Grimes