John Brinckerhoff Jackson, a writer whose cultural interpretations of the American landscape encompassed parking lots, trailer camps and highways, died on Thursday at St. Vincent Hospital in Santa Fe. He was 86 and lived in La Cienega, N.M.

In the journal Landscape, which he founded and edited for many years and in works like "American Space," Mr. Jackson laid the groundwork for a new way of looking at the American landscape, a sub-specialty sometimes referred to as cultural geography.

For nearly 50 years he roamed the nation, surveying field and forest but also registering the change wrought by human beings, regarding it as a kind of language. For Mr. Jackson, known as Brinck, front lawns and strip malls cried out for interpretation, an analysis of the political and cultural forces that shaped them.

"The older I grow and the longer I look at landscapes," he once wrote, "the more convinced I am that their beauty is not simply an aspect but their very essence, and that that beauty derives from the human presence."

Mr. Jackson was born in France to wealthy parents who traveled a lot. He grew up in the Maryland suburbs of Washington and in New York City and attended private schools in Europe and the United States.

After earning a bachelor's degree in history at Harvard University in 1932, he briefly studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

As an Army combat intelligence officer in Europe in World War II, he began thinking about landscape as, in part, a human artifact and developing the idea that landscapes have styles of their own.

After the war he returned to the United States intending to run a ranch near Santa Fe that was left to him by an uncle, but an accident on a horse put him in the hospital for a year.

In 1951 he founded Landscape and was its editor and publisher until 1968. It expressed the vision of a philosopher-tourist and offered an idiosyncratic blend of history, urban planning, landscape architecture, geography, anthropology and historic preservation. Although its circulation never exceeded 3,000, Landscape was influential in establishing the notion of what Mr. Jackson called the vernacular landscape, the geography of everyday places and plain-folks architecture.

Although he taught sporadically at the University of California at Berkeley and Harvard's School of Design, he was wary of the academy, and the academy of him. Likewise his appreciation of the human imprint on the landscape and his dislike of urban planning and what he called the "boutiquing" of the landscape made him equally suspect to environmentalists and urbanists. Rather than being appalled at shopping malls, he regarded them as rich sources of information about American culture, as expressive and characteristic of our time as Chartres was of its.

"I want Americans to explore the landscape for its own sake," he once wrote, "to develop an intelligent affection for the country as it is and a vision disciplined enough to distinguish what is wrong and should be changed from what is valuable and worthy of protection."

In addition to "American Space" (1972), his best-known work, Mr. Jackson wrote "Landscapes" (1970), "The Necessity for Ruins" (1980), "Discovering the Vernacular Landscape" (1984) and "A Sense of Place, a Sense of Time," which won the 1995 PEN Award in the essay collection category.

After retiring from teaching and lecturing in 1985, he did laboring jobs at construction sites, gas stations and gardens.

Mr. Jackson was the subject of two documentaries, "J. B. Jackson and the Love of Everyday Places" and "Figure in a Landscape: A Conversation with J. B. Jackson."

There are no surviving family members.

The New York Times, August 31, 1996, p. 27., "Brinck Jackson, 86, Dies; Was Guru of the Landscape", by William Grimes