A PERSPECTIVE ON “CONTEXT”
This is an updater reprint of the author’s 1966 Masters Thesis as presented to the Princeton University School of Architecture. It describes the planning and design of the North Carolina Outward Bound School near Table Rock Mountain in the Southern Appalachians.
A Perspective on “Context”
In its original form as instituted in England in the early days of World War II, Outward Bound was a program aimed at “toughening up” youthful seamen to survive the rigors of duty during the Battle for the Atlantic. As imported to America in the early 1960s, it was intended as a “character building” experience for young people through exposure to adversity and success meeting its challenges.
The first U.S. school was set up in the Colorado Rockies, where the author was a mountaineering instructor. It soon became clear that conducting the program in a pristine wilderness setting produced the added benefits of instilling awareness of and respect for Nature in students from typically urban or suburban backgrounds. Other schools were soon located in similarly wild circumstances elsewhere in the country and in 1966 one was proposed for the Linville Gorge Wilderness in western North Carolina. The author’s thesis design was chosen by the School for its base camp beneath the impressive monolith there called Table Rock. It was never built.
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What are we? Where are we? Why are we here? Civilizations, societies and, indeed, individuals may be distinguished by their answers to such questions. The problem is first discovering ourselves, then relating ourselves to the Context in which we live. This is an age of preoccupation with the controllable, computable and quantifiable, of Context diminished to the narrow limits within which we feel comfortable and secure. This misconception has led us to outright arrogance in our regard for Nature, as if it were no more than the “environment” around the main event: us. Even now, as the Earth becomes less and less the planet our world was designed for, we see reconciling the two as an engineering problem, rather than a message from the stars that we have strayed too far. Only by expanding our perspective on Context will we get that message. In confronting ourselves through physical and moral challenge and the Universe by doing so in the midst of wild Nature, can and must we expand our perspective. This is the essence of the Outward Bound idea.