A few weeks ago; leaving Colchester, by train. As we accelerated out of the station we passed a little grey church sitting in the middle of an industrial estate, a dove nesting in a litter of polystyrene. It made me think of how swans choke to death on discarded lead fishing weights, or strangle themselves in old plastic bags.
Heidegger talked about how buildings change landscapes, dragging them by force into denaturing, alienated narratives; but buildings can become victims of that process too, whole antique ideologies broken by modern bric-a-brac culture. ‘A tawdry cheapness shall outlast our days’, infecting and corroding the quality of more aesthetically committed ages. There’s a hierarchy of value in buildings, too; it’s not just man vs nature.
What’s important is the contrast between different orders of presence in the landscape – the narrative that that contrast creates. A swan in a free-flowing river is beauty; a swan in a polluted canal is tragedy. It’s the nature of the contrast that creates the narrative, indexing for us the quality of our engagement with the world.