Larry Halperin, an Icon among Landscape Architects, Lost in Mid-career at 93

October 28, 2009
Lawrence Halprin, Landscape Architect, Dies at 93

Lawrence Halprin, the tribal elder of American landscape architecture, who used the word choreography to describe his melding of modernism, nature and movement in hundreds of projects, including the memorial to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Washington, died on Sunday at his home in Kentfield, Calif. He was 93.

The cause was complications from a fall, his wife, Anna Halprin said.

. . . Places he shaped include Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco; Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis; a sequence of urban spaces with dazzling fountains in Portland, Ore.; a park atop a freeway in Seattle; and large plazas in Los Angeles.

“He almost single-handedly reclaimed the city as the purview of the landscape architect,” said Charles Birnbaum, founder and president of the Cultural Landscape Foundation.

. . . Ada Louise Huxtable, the architecture critic, wrote in The New York Times in 1970 that a plaza he designed in Portland was “one of the most important urban spaces since the Renaissance.”

. . . “All of Halprin’s designs reflect this passion to give people as many options as possible to go this way or that, to reverse directions, to pause, to start over, to be alone, to meet others, and to experience as many different sights, smells and sounds as the site permits,” Mr. Forgey wrote in The Smithsonian in 1988.

–read entire article–


Larry Halprin was shot out of the saddle in mid-gallop to yet another amazing project, at age 93. Not retired and looking back on the accolades of an amazing career, but active and vibrant, connected and probably dead with a slightly surprised look.

Who but Halprin could have conceived, let along completed, a peaceful and intriguing public park from the snarl of a ‘spaghetti-bowl’ of intersecting freeways in Seattle? Probably not another man of his time.

Yet there it stands, a third of a century after its creation, still a private-scale magnet in a public space disaster.

Larry apprenticed himself to Tommy Church and that was probably a lucky break for them both. Tommy was primarily a residential designer and Larry more attracted to public space, but the seed (to use too easy a metaphor) never falls far from the tree. Larry Halprin grew to be an oak among those twigs, like myself, who reached for and never attained his mastery.

But then, what are iconic figures good for if not to make us strive, to change the public conversation about the tools and uses of their trade?

Because it is a trade. Profession is too austere a term for the landscape architects like Olmstead, Church and Halprin, who gave us a whole new vocabulary concerning the choices by which we live.

Too few of us know his work. If you can spare a moment to follow the “read entire article” link and want to acquaint yourself with an artist, I encourage you to take the time. Just the photo of him, at age 89, is worth the effort, not to mention a lovely shot of the FDR Memorial in Washington.

I never met him, but he made me reach throughout my career.

What can possibly be better than that?

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