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Design Icons: Lawrence Halprin

Lawrence Halprin (1916–2009) was a visionary landscape architect who brought modern layout to the property, revitalized neglected urban areas and developed environmental conservation steps in advance of their own time.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, he spent three teenage years on a kibbutz in what is now Israel, returned to the States and made a B.A. at Cornell University. While making an M.A. at the University of Wisconsin, he also met and married Anna Schuman, an avant-garde dancer and choreographer. Schuman brought him to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin East, which inspired Halprin to pursue a career in style.

Schuman was a frequent collaborator, and her sway also inspired Halprin’s integrating the concept of choreography to his designs and drawing style. He earned Another bachelor’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, in which the college included Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer. After a stint in the Navy, he wound up in San Francisco, where he started his professional career in style working for another iconic contemporary landscape architect, Thomas Church.

Outside West, his best selling projects comprise Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, Sea Ranch in Northern California, the Seattle World’s Fair and a network of public areas in Portland.

While he respected the environment, his designs constantly focused on purpose and improving urban life for those men and women who’d be using them. One of his most recent projects was the FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C.. While the job wasn’t finished until 1997, Halprin completed the initial design in 1974. He had been concerned with the building he helped pick out individual boulders from the quarry.

Ferris Residence, Spokane, Washington, 1955–56

This house’s landscape is an excellent instance of Halprin’s residential job. Fortunately for the Ferris family, Halprin was in their hometown of Spokane working on the landscape of this headquarters for Washingon Water Power (now called Avista). Having commissioned among the first modern houses in town, the forward-thinking couple approached Halprin about designing their yard. He obliged, and the family has worked tirelessly to preserve his vision for 60-plus years.

The user was constantly at the forefront of Halprin’s mind when he made spaces. In this entertaining sketch of this Ferris residence, he pictured how Mr. and Mrs. Ferris would inhabit the landscape.

Sea Ranch, Northern California, 1962–67

Halprin imagined of Sea Ranch, on the Northern California coast, along with like-minded architects Charles W. Moore, Joseph Esherick, William Turnbull, Donlyn Lyndon and Richard Whitaker.

The houses were sited to respect the landscape and stand until the gusty winds. More significant, they were clustered to provide everyone a view and preserve the meadow. The acreage is shared rather than divvied up into individual parcels. Halprin’s years on the kibbutz helped inspire the idea.

These features have been rather well maintained in the southern part of Sea Ranch.

Freeway Park, Seattle, 1970–74

Halprin dealt with the Issue of freeways chopping splitting and up towns by designing Freeway Park in Seattle. The brutalist forms made the playground quite popular, but it fell into disrepair and became dangerous years later. Recently, an attempt to boost lighting, safety patrols and pruning of crops has cut crime significantly.

As cities continue to strategy recoveries from the way highways have severed them the ideals behind Freeway Park continue to inspire. The most well-known instance is Boston’s Big Dig, which went so far as to spoil the street below the city and reconnected town to its harborfront through a set of public spaces.

Lovejoy Park and also an 8-Block Sequence Through Portland, Oregon, 1965–1978

At some time when misguided urban renewal projects were decimating city cloths across the nation, Halprin had a keen comprehension of human designing and scale for healthful urban functioning, constantly keeping the user at the forefront of his mind.

A bewitching sketchbook page lays out a number of Halprin’s plans for Portland. He desinged an eight-block sequence of open spaces that touched upon the residents’ innate love for the surrounding environment (the Columbia River, Cascade mountain range, streams, rivers and mountain meadows) while still admitting the urban character. His overall strategy was reminiscent of Frederick Law Olmsted’s plan for Boston’s emerald necklace: a set of parks and green spaces which connected different areas of the city, designed with the urban dweller in mind.

Halprin dubbed a certain type of his own diagrams “motations.” They were a blend of movement and notations that mimicked graphic notations of dance steps.

Halprin made this plaza as an event space for concerts and palaces shows; he even envisioned dance performances where dancers arrived from above and round the fountain.

In this program for Portland is among the most iconic Halprin layouts, Lovejoy Fountain. “The fountains & plazas have been shaped to join with character not replicate her,” he wrote. He started with sketches of natural characteristics and processes and accommodated and abstracted them to match the city’s requirements.

Although Halprin passed away in 2009, his legacy will live on for many years, as artists and urban planners alike will examine his job for many years to come, and more significant, people will enjoy using the distances he made in the manners he imagined.

For information regarding ways to help protect Lawrence Halprin’s heritage, take a look at the Lawrence Halprin Landscape Conservancy.

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