Camping is perhaps the quintessential American activity. In one sense, we camp to escape, to retreat, to "find" ourselves. The camp is then a home-away-from-home where we might rethink a deliberate life. We also camp to find a new collective space where family and society converge. Many of us have been to day camp or grew up attending summer camps, and the legacies of these childhood havens run deep within the American conscience. In Campsite, Charlie Hailey provides a highly original and artfully composed interpretation of the cultural significance and inherently paradoxical nature of camps and camping in contemporary American society. Offering a new understanding of the complex relationship between place, time, and architecture in our increasingly mobile culture, Hailey explores campsites as places that necessitate a unique combination of contrasting qualities, such as locality and foreignness, mobility and fixity, temporality and permanence, and public domesticity.
Camping methods have their origins in the rigid flexibility of the process. We leave home, we arrive at a site, we clear an area, we make and then finally break camp before departing. The phases of this sequence are at once rigorous and indistinct. To understand this paradox, Hailey emphasizes the role of process throughout the text. He constructs a philosophical framework that elucidates the "placefulness"—or sense of place—of such temporary constructions, and provides alternative understandings of how one thinks of the home, as well as public versus private dwelling spaces.
Historically, camps have been used as places for scouting out future towns, for clearing provisional spaces that have multiple functions, and for making semipermanent homes-away-from-home. To understand how "cultures of camping" develop and accommodate this dynamic mix of permanence and flexibility, Hailey looks at three basic qualities of the camp: as a site for place-making, as a populist precursor for modern built environments, and as a "method." Hailey's creative and philosophical approach to camps and camping allows him to construct links between such diverse projects as the "philosophers' camps" of the mid-nineteenth century, the idiosyncratic camping clubs which arose with the automobile culture in the early 1920s, and more recent uses of campsites as temporary housing for those displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
As Hailey explains, camping practices remind us that our places, our built environments, our homes are constantly being made, constructed, and always becoming. With Campsite, Hailey makes a singular and significant contribution to current studies of place, American studies, and vernacular architecture while also reinventing methods of research in cultural studies, architecture theory, and geography.
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