Foray in a Modern Reserve: An Impounding Portrait of Land Use

  • Robin Wilson Barlett School of Architecture


During research for the Arts Council funded project East Sussex Modern (2016), Photolanguage (Nigel Green & Robin Wilson), visited sites relating to the legacy of the modernist Borough and Water Engineer Sidney Little (1885-1961) in the county of East Sussex, U.K.. These included the impounding reservoirs of Powdermill (1932) and Darwell (1949). The landscapes surrounding the reservoirs have evolved into mature woodland nature reserves and represent complex terrains of land-use and property ownership. ‘Foray in a Modern Reserve’ (Part I), an image and text ‘portrait’ and re-imagining of these terrains, is a composite text, an assemblage of diverse texts of occupiers and users of these terrains over time, from Photolanguage’s own observations made on site visits, to the archival records of Sidney Little’s description of the reservoir infrastructure, to the accounts of UCL archaeologists, Angling and Ramblers clubs and local landowners. It is a vehicle through which to explore an experimental method of spatial writing at the intersection of archival research, visual and textual documentary practice, and visual and textual fiction-practice. Imagery interplays with the text’s narrative structure to generate its own narrative and descriptive trajectories. Through the combination of different modes of the landscape’s description, through its successive spatialization across different agendas of movement and occupation, ‘Foray in a Modern Reserve’ constructs a utopic portrait of the modern reservoir reserve. As a composite text, it traces the intersection and dispersal of desire and agency across the terrain as an ‘inspection’ that must discover and construct its own object, and propose its own figural ‘solution’ to the landscape’s latent equations. 


References Main Text:

D.M. Brancher, ‘Critique of K.D. Fines, Landscape Evaluation: A Research Project in East Sussex’, Regional Studies, vol. 3 (1969), 91-92

M. Fernand Danger, Cours de Législation et Économie Rurales, Livre II – Compléments de Droit, Droit Civil, Droit Administratif, Droit Rurale (Paris: École Spéciale des Travaux Publics, 1939)

K.D. Fines, ‘Landscape Evaluation: A Research Project in East Sussex’, Regional Studies, vol. 2 (1968), 41-55

Anthony Vidler, Claude-Nicholas Ledoux: Architecture and Social Reform at the End of the Ancien Régime (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990)

H.G. Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896)

Manuel Pratique du Locataire et du Fermier, Brochure de Vulgarisation Juridique, editée par la Caisse d’Entr’aide des Techniciens et Employés du Cadastre (Paris, 1958)

References Reading:

Toon Tellegen, Maybe They Were Nowhere (Misschien waren zij nergens) (Amsterdam: Querido, 1991).

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Roadside Picnic (New York: MacMillan Publishing, 1977), original in Russian (1972).

Jeff Vandermeer, Annihilation (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014).

Willem Frederik Hermans, Beyond Sleep (Nooit meer slapen) (Amsterdam: de Bezige Bij, 1966). Recently transcribed into a movie,

Reif Larsen, The Selected Works of
TS Spivet (London/New York: Penguin Press, 2009).

Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost (London/New York: Penguin Putnam Inc, 2005).

Author Biography

Robin Wilson, Barlett School of Architecture

Robin Wilson is a lecturer in history and theory at the Bartlett School of Architecture teaching across post graduate and PhD programmes. He is author of Image, Text, Architecture: The Utopics of the Architectural Media (Routledge, 2015). His work on architectural representation and the utopian impulse has also appeared as chapters in books such as Critical Architecture (2007), The Political Unconscious of Architecture (2011), Camera Constructs (2012) and in the journals Architectural Theory Review and The Journal of Architecture. He is also co-founder of the collaborative art practice Photolanguage (Nigel Green & Robin Wilson) which revisits and re-imagines the legacy of modernism through arts-based methods. Photolanguage has exhibited in venues such as the Museum of Fine Art, Calais, The Royal Botanical Gardens, Copenhagen, The Museum of Garden History, London, the Institut Français, London and the Hub Space, Barbican Centre, London, and produced the Brutalist Map of Paris (Blue Crow Media, 2017).

How to Cite
WILSON, Robin. Foray in a Modern Reserve. Writingplace, [S.l.], n. 3, p. 10-31, jan. 2020. ISSN 2589-7691. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 26 sep. 2020. doi: