The Bartlett School of Architecture


Aisling O'Carroll

Archival photographs of La Vedette: photographs by Jean-Eugène Durand. ©Ministère de la Culture


Reconstructing Reconstructions: A Stratigraphic Practice of Landscape and Historiography

First and second supervisors 


This research draws on diverse practices of reconstruction in fields from architecture and landscape to geology and archaeology, in order to explore the politics, truth, and affective nature of reconstruction and representation in framing knowledge and ideas of landscape. Oscillating between the past and present, original and referent, reconstructions are historiographic representations, yet inevitably also something new. Here, the propositional practice of constructing (and reconstructing) history is intimately linked to how we address challenges of the present (Moore, 2015). As such, this work offers an alternative approach to the current environmental crisis through the reconstruction of past and present ideas of landscape.

As a primary case study, the research examines nineteenth-century French architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc’s radical reconstruction of Mont Blanc. Employing historical research and speculative design studies, the investigation of Viollet-le-Duc’s practice is developed and tested through a series of new reconstructions of his (partially lost) Mont Blanc study. Viollet-le-Duc’s representations of both observed and synthetically assembled Alpine landscapes serve as ‘meaning-machines’ (Haraway, 1984) that preserve and convey the complex constructions underpinning the architect’s reading of the topography. The reconstruction of such representations helps to reveal the inherited, epistemic, and historical origins of our perception of the landscape and its limitations. Furthermore, with this design work I develop of my own methodology of reconstruction through (re)representation. 

Proceeding from Viollet-le-Duc, this work proposes a contemporary practice of reconstruction addressing the Alps and their glaciers today. Through a reading of the topography’s layered histories – including the geological, glacial, and cultural – the research aims to decipher the construction of these ‘time slices’ (Haraway, 1984) in relation to contemporary environmental concerns. This stratigraphic practice offers a critical investigation of how past relations continue to shape our present perception and engagement with landscape, and in doing so, it expands the consideration of our possible futures.


Aisling O'Carroll is a registered landscape architect, trained in both architecture and landscape architecture. Her work addresses the relationship between history, narrative, and representation in architecture, landscape, geology, and hybrids of the three—examining, in particular, critical approaches to reconstruction in design. She received her Architectural Studies BA from the University of Waterloo and her Landscape Architecture MA from Harvard University. 

Aisling is currently completing her PhD in Architectural Design at The Bartlett School of Architecture, funded by the UCL Graduate Research Scholarship and Overseas Research Scholarship. She has previously taught design studios at Harvard Graduate School of Design and The Bartlett School of Architecture and has practiced internationally in architecture and landscape architecture. Her work has been funded by Harvard University, the Landscape Research Group, Canada Council for the Arts, the Danish Arts Foundation, and UCL, among others. She is co-founder and co-editor in chief of The Site Magazine.

Image: Reconstructing the Grande Salle of La Vedette. Archival photographs of La Vedette: photographs by Jean-Eugène Durand. © Ministère de la Culture (France), Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine, diffusion RMN-GP.