He loved people. He was fascinated by cities.
IInfluenced by the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and New Deal-era programs that provided social relief, Halprin (1916-2009) believed he could and should contribute to the greater good. Inspired by Works Progress Administration projects that created innovative parks and parkways, Halprin wanted to improve the lives of urban dwellers during a period when many people were fleeing cities and new highways were destroying older neighborhoods.
Halprin gave people reasons to come back to cities, to stay in cities, and to be part of cities. He empowered these people by making them part of the design process through workshops and bottom-up processes that allowed them to influence the shape of their own neighborhoods.
Expanding upon the lofty ambitions pioneered by Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. (a Halprin hero) in park making and city shaping, Halprin propelled these ideas forward in an age of Modernism – both in his built works and his influential treatises Cities (1963) and Freeways (1966). He invented new types of landscapes that were dynamic: environmentally-sensitive communities, capped freeways, commemorative parks, and grand open space networks that were carved into declining infrastructure. Halprin’s landscapes can feel intimate or heroic – and at the Portland Open Space Sequence, those experiences are separated by a couple of blocks. Halprin, like Olmsted, took us on scenographic journeys – and yes, they were both about movement – but unlike Olmsted, Halprin’s landscapes were inspired by, but not imitative of, nature; and his distinct design language was rich in meaning and symbolism.
Halprin was more than a landscape architect. As his friend and colleague Richard Haag wrote: “In our staid profession he became a cult figure.”
This website complements the traveling photographic exhibition The Landscape Architecture of Lawrence Halprin, which was presented in collaboration with the National Building Museum and documents Halprin’s work through newly commissioned photographs by leading artists across the country. It coincides with the 100th anniversary of Halprin’s birth.
The exhibition, gallery and website guide are meant to be an introduction to Halprin’s work, not an exhaustive account of his professional activities. In fact, there are numerous books about his work (by Halprin and others) that richly articulate his designs, influences, and working methods, which are noted in the resources section.
In addition, TCLF produced a video oral history with Halprin, shot at his office, his homes in Marin County and The Sea Ranch, and on-site at locations in and around San Francisco. Over the course of 27 one-to-seven minute video clips, Halprin discusses his biography, design theory, and built projects. There are also eighteen written recollections from friends, clients, and colleagues that were gathered following Halprin’s death in October 2009.
Finally, The Landscape Architecture of Lawrence Halprin exhibition is presented within the context of TCLF’s Landslide program, which brings attention to nationally significant works of landscape architecture and landscape features that are threatened and at-risk. Several significant projects, including the sculpture garden at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art in Richmond, have been lost, while others, such as Skyline Park, have been substantially altered or, like Capitol Towers, are threatened with demolition. A primary goal of the exhibition, gallery guide and this website is to make Halprin’s legacy visible and valued, and to promote a dialogue that will lead to informed stewardship.
This exhibition was organized and curated by Charles A. Birnbaum, TCLF’s President & CEO, Nord Wennerstrom, Director of Communications, and Eleanor Cox, Project Manager, in collaboration with G. Martin Moeller, Jr., Senior Curator at the National Building Museum. The exhibition was presented with support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Hubbard Educational Foundation.