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Lawrence Halprin (1916–2009)

December 11, 2010 | Garden and Landscape Studies Colloquium

Garden and Landscape Studies and Landscape Journal collaborated on a colloquium on the life and work of Lawrence Halprin, which took place at Dumbarton Oaks on December 11, 2010 and culminated in a journal publication in 2012. (Volume 31, Number 1-2, 2012)


In the early 1960s, Lawrence Halprin jumped the garden wall and found nature and the city. From this time until the closure of his office and his death in 2009, Halprin reinvented landscape architecture. He redefined the role of the landscape architect and landscape architecture in modern society. His legacy lies not only in his office’s durable built works and his own writings, but also in the processes by which landscape architecture is practiced and taught. The colloquium and resulting publication focused on this complex legacy through writings about his office practices in significant projects, his thinking, his (and his wife Anna’s) processes of participation, and the people and places shaped by this work.

Halprin first became known for his postwar California residential gardens, including work for Thomas Church on the iconic Donnell Garden pool and his own McIntyre Garden. In 1962 with architects Charles Moore and William Turnbull, he began the Sea Ranch project, a coastal community in northern California. In 1965, he was commissioned with architect William Wurster to repurpose the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory complex in San Francisco. In 1966 he was commissioned to design the Embarcadero Plaza, the first of his urban water plazas. The 1968 commissions for the Ira Keller Auditorium Forecourt and Lovejoy Plaza formed the basis for the new open space system in the city of Portland. Halprin’s expertise in urban projects brought a string of new projects into the office during the late 1960s and 1970s. Transformative urban pedestrian streets included Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis (1968), Skyline Park, Denver (1973), and the Charlottesville Mall (1976). In 1975 Halprin and Angela Danadjieva designed Freeway Park, Seattle, the first major urban landbridge.

Halprin also made significant contributions to landscape architectural theory through his writings. His notebooks 1959-1971 chronicle some of the experiences that shaped his design thinking. He hiked in the Sierra Nevada with his wife, Anna, his daughters, Daria and Rana, and his sketchbook. At the same time, he and his wife, Anna, a dancer, began a series of collaborations on movement notations and the creative process. Halprin developed this notation system for ‘scoring’ movement (motation), which was used to map users’ movements through designed spaces. Further development of the motation system led to creative and participatory 'procedures' he captured in The RSVP Cycles (1969) and, in practice, in the Take Part Workshops.

In 1974 Halprin won the competition for the design of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (1997.) His submission was a memorable film simulating movement through the space using a model scope attached to a camera and a realistic model.

He was awarded the American Institute of Architects Medal for Allied Professions (1964), American Society of Landscape Architects Gold Medal (1978), the University of Virginia Thomas Jefferson Medal in Architecture (1979), the National Medal of the Arts (2002), and the ASLA Design Medal (2003).

Colloquium Speakers

  • Marc Treib (University of California at Berkeley), “From the Garden: Lawrence Halprin and the Modern Landscape”
  • Kate John-Alder (Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey), “Sea Ranch: A Wonderful Experiment in Ecological Planning”
  • Charles Birnbaum (The Cultural Landscape Foundation), “Personal Reflections on Larry's Legacy and its Stewardship”
  • Randy Hester (University of California at Berkeley), “Interview with Halprin, ‘Places Magazine’”
  • Alison Bick Hirsch (University of Pennsylvania), “Lawrence and (Anna) Halprin's Invitation to Take Part—(RSVP Required)”
  • Judith Wasserman (University of Georgia), “Larry and Anna Halprin: Creative Synergy in a Transformative Age”
  • Kenneth Helphand (University of Oregon), “Halprin in Israel”
  • Steven Koch (Koch Landscape Architecture), “Working in the Office of Lawrence Halprin: A Personal Perspective”
  • Ann Komara (University of Colorado at Denver), “Water Events—Flow and Focal Point in Skyline Park”
  • Elizabeth Meyer (University of Virginia), “Collective Creativity: The Planning and Design of the Charlottesville Downtown Mall”
  • Laurie Olin (The Olin Studio/University of Pennsylvania), “The Wheelchair Controversy at the FDR Memorial

The Publication

Despite Halprin’s pivotal importance as a modern landscape architect, most publications have stepped away from assessment of the larger impacts of his work, both built and written. The special issue of Landscape Journal that resulted from the colloquium contextualizes his work in terms of the critical practice and theoretical concerns of landscape architecture. Including essays by thirteen authors, the publication brings together three principal groups of commentators: contemporaries or near-contemporaries of Halprin’s, many of whom worked with him; senior historians, who take the long view on Halprin’s work; and emerging scholars who interrogate Halprin’s work and methods from a critical distance.  The focus is on the urban and large-scale work that became a signature of the firm, but the issue also addresses the mid-century context of Bay Area landscape architectural practice; participatory processes, specifically scoring, that characterized the firm’s work across scales and project types; Halprin’s work in Israel; design and construction challenges (with a special focus on the FDR Memorial); and issues in the conservation of Halprin’s urban projects.



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