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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Canopy Gap

When I was a counselor at a camp in Sugar Grove, Pennsylvania, every summer we would take the campers away from camp for 3 days to live in tents on a property near camp. All the cooking was done on campfires, so we would send the kids to gather firewood in the nearby forest. In this forest, there was one tree that was clearly older than all the others. It was massive - thick, tall, and its branches had a huge circumference. It was interesting to me that nothing grew underneath this tree, as it blocked all the sunlight. Beyond its branches, however, there were many other trees of various size.
One summer, there was a massive thunderstorm, and later when we went to this forest, I saw that half this tree had fallen down. Suddenly, a large amount of sunlight was allowed to come through the tree canopy. The following year, when I visited the site again, I noticed that now there were a lot of small saplings growing, where once the huge tree had blocked out the sunlight.

This concept is known as Canopy Gap. To quote wikipedia,
"Gaps are formed after large trees die and fall which allows the regrowth trees and other plants as the shade is removed."
I mention this because it occurs to me that ruins have the potential to have a similar effect. While a major structure initially garners all the attention and is the focus of activity, when that structure becomes a ruin, it opens the possibility for a whole host of other activities to move in and fill the gap. These activities do not necessarily consume the ruins, but rather can take place both in and around them.

Perhaps this model is one we can utilize in our studies of preservation of ruins. While I still think that it can be acceptable to intervene in ruins, and that this is one potential model for ruin preservation, perhaps we need to expand our focus to include radically different methods, and this idea of Canopy Gaps can provide one such model.

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