Traveling Fellowship for Architecture, Design, and Urban Design
The Terroir and the Cultivar
Will Zajac traveled to France, Italy, Serbia, and Slovenia.
Will Zajac traveled to France, Italy, Serbia, and Slovenia.
Craig Hartman (Chair)
Certain areas grow things very well. Understanding this potential is significant to the discipline of architecture. As architects, it is our responsibility to not only build but also offer strategies for a reconnection to existing morphologies and typologies: the cultivation of place. The architectonic augmentation of our surrounding requires thoughtful action(s) and stewardship. Preservation is not adequate; rather, we must speculate on design as an open-ended system rather than linear referents.
As such, a considerable portion of my design situates itself in the process of making and remaking in order to refine and cultivate an idea. For me, process is fundamental.
A primary component of this process is to investigate the role that cultivation plays in sustainability. Typically, we equate “used” things as having lost value. My proposal challenges this convention by studying specific regions in the world that have managed to “add value” to their surroundings and economy through cultivation and stewardship.
The topic of my research, “The Terroir and the Cultivar,” responds to the connection between place(s) and things. 
Terroir is used to denote the special characteristics that geography bestows upon places and things. It can be loosely translated as “a sense of place,” which is embodied in the inherent qualities and the sum of the effects that the local environment have had on the manufacture of its cultural artifacts; construed as products (i.e., an example of terroir is found in the realm of wine making. Viticulturists study how certain soil types, climate, and topography combine to produce a particular type of grape, which cannot be produced anywhere else; it is distinct and unique to its terroir).
Cultivar is a specific variety that has been created intentionally and maintained through cultivation. It has been selected and given a unique name because it has desirable characteristics that distinguish it from similar species. Thus, the cultivar is a unique variety within a general group. For instance, there are multiple cultivars in the world of cranberry farming. The bell cranberry is a unique variety that is distinguished by its shape, color, and taste. Its uniqueness derived from a hybrid moment of vine grafting between two or more stocks.
If we apply these terms within the realm of architecture/landscape design, perhaps we can begin a process of transposing methods, strategies, and lessons into our thinking. What are these territories? What constitutes their proper management? What contributes to their continual success?
Therefore, I propose a set of phenomenologically derived categories that will help determine the architectonic potential of a terroir and respective cultivar. The categories are:
If it is possible to understand the specificity of a place through these lenses (categories), then it is possible to explore conditions existing between regional terroirs and to construct methodologies for approaching their development.
Terroir and cultivar are the epitome of sustainable stewardship. It is the manifestation of a site’s key qualities into a manageable system that is sustainable, appropriate for the environment, its inhabitants, and the economy. The more we understand the inherent potential of our surroundings the better we can reconnect with our built environment.
 Thing: That which has separate or individual existence; commonly, an item of property and possession. It can exist as implements of equipment for an event, a thought, an idea, or a notion. It has attributes and qualities of an actual entity; however, it is often used as a vague word for an object, which is difficult to denominate.
Study drawing for a lavoir. © Will Zajac.
The public presentation of my work occurred in two locations: Venice, Italy, and Caylus, France. In Venice, I presented early phases of my work to students at the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica. The group was a mix of international students trained in printmaking, painting, writing, and graphic arts. The discussion was interesting because I presented ideas of mapping every campo in Venice and then showed them a set of process drawings that I was working on. The students gave me some good technical advice regarding printmaking and also some ideas regarding how to display and best communicate the work. But most importantly, I was able to tap into their own experiences and knowledge of Venice. They offered insight into their favorite campi and why, architecturally, they favor one over another. For instance, some students explained how they have a set of campi that they like to visit at certain times of the day depending on weather conditions. Therefore, I was able to construct new spatial sequences between campi based on the people who live and work year-round in the city.
The final and most extensive presentation of my work occurred in Caylus, France. This presentation was an overview of all my travel research with a special emphasis on southern France. The presentation was divided into three stages. First, I delivered a PowerPoint presentation explaining my thoughts on terroirs and cultivars; second, an open studio for everyone to examine my experimental drawings/prints; and third, a question and answer session. Numerous professionals attended the presentation (i.e., the deputy mayor, local artisans, botanists, the maison du patromoine, artists/architects, etc.). The presentation focused on southern France’s terroir: Tarn et Garonne; with a set of drawings and discussion centering on unique cultivars of the region, like pigeonniers, halles, esplanades, lavoirs, clochers, insulae, granges, and terraces. It was a useful experience, because it challenged me to communicate ideas beyond the discipline of architecture and reach out to other interests/groups; and therefore, it opened the discussion to ideas ranging from agriculture, botany, history, and of course architecture. Moreover, it sparked the debate between preservation versus intervention (cultivation).
The final and most extensive presentation of work occurred in Caylus, France. This presentation was an overview of all my travel research with a special emphasis on southern France. The presentation was divided into three stages. First, I delivered a powerpoint presentation explaining my thoughts on Terroirs and Cultivars; second, an open studio for everyone to examine my experimental drawings/prints; and third, a question and answer session. Numerous professionals attended the presentation (i.e. deputy mayor, local artisans, botanist, the maison du patromonie, artists/architects, etc). The presentation focused on southern France's terroir: Tarn et Garonne; with a set of drawings and discussion centering on unique cultivars of the region, like pigeonniers, halles, esplanades, lavoirs, clochers, insulae, granges, and terraces. It was a useful experience, because it challenged me to communicate ideas beyond the discipline of architecture and reach out to other interests/groups; and therefore, it opened the discussion to ideas ranging from agriculture, botany, history, and of course architecture. Moreover, it sparked the debate between preservation versus intervention (cultivation).
University of Florida
was born and raised in Maine. His upbringing included a healthy dose of traditional craftsmanship and regional attitudes toward land cultivation and placemaking. This background has helped frame his interest in how others shape their environments and imparted a sense of wonder for tools, materials, and the ritual(s) of making. Much of Zajac’s research explores the role of the hand/body in transforming and defining cultural geographies and built environments. In conjunction with this, he has maintained a deep commitment to design pedagogy—immersing himself in all levels of instruction, from introductory summer design camps for high school students to undergraduate design studios where intense making meets critical thinking, reflection, and design speculation.