I worked with Larry Halprin on and off for 10 of the past 19 years. I began working for him in the fall of 1990 as a Design Assistant right out of college. We had some conversations where I may not have chosen my words carefully or I had casually represented an idea to him. His reproach in such instances could be blistering. He would be emphatic in pressing me to be more thoughtful in my approach and descriptions. His need to see and distill the essence of an idea and a thought in the most unambiguous manner sticks with me to this day.
I returned to work with Larry after graduate school and became a designer and project manager for him. I had the opportunity to work with him on the Lower Yosemite Falls Project as a designer/project manager. This was my introduction as a professional to the collision of the sacred and secular aspects of a place, as planning issues threatened basic design concepts that were important to the overall plan. Larry introduced me to the very notion of a “sacred” versus a “secular” space at the Falls and that concept was a clear guide for everyone throughout the process. The project had to balance the need for large numbers of people to have access to the Falls, while preserving it as an experience for future generations. Larry led the design and construction team to create a frame through which this experience of the Falls could be shared and he made sure that the hand of the designer should not intrude on this experience, only enable it. On our frequent site visits during construction, I remember the care he gave to the placement of each new element. I recall seeing his joy every time he saw a stunning view of the Falls, a gnarled old black oak or a young family taking a break on the boulders recently placed. Larry did not differentiate between these “joys” because he deeply believed that we humans are a part of nature. I hope that others can learn from this joy and carry on his belief that we can be an agent in preserving our sacred natural environment by actively participating in it and enabling others to do so through the creative design of our outdoor environments.
Photo: Halprin and Roth on a site visit to Yosemite Falls (Photo courtesy Gary Roth)