This week, it is not city observed, but landscape architecture observed, at the A+ D museum, that’s A for architecture and D for design, at 900 East Fourth St., way downtown L.A.
On exhibit there is an appealing overview of the life and work of the pioneering landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, who I consider one of the most influential designers of his time, right up there with Frederick Law Olmsted.
My opinion is of a critic who for a while taught design history at USC and landscape architecture at UCLA, and not because Halprin was born in Brooklyn, as I was, and attended Cornell University, and eventually settled on the West Coast, as I did.
But I must admit to being akin to Halprin –he died in 2009 at the age of 93 –and very much into his humanistic approach to urban design, which he articulated in his book, entitled “Cities,” written a half century ago, and still relevant.
While “we do not have a clear picture of the ideal form of a city,,” he wrote, we do have a clear image of the purpose of an ideal city: “
Simply put, he added, it is to provide a healthy, creative environment for people to live in. And this in turn he explains means respecting its topography, people, and cultural heritage, in sum what he labels the character of a place.
Yes, that hard-to-define “neighborhood character” that many communities are now debating, from Malibu to Manhattan.
The book should be required reading for all those involved in the debate, and also those entrusted with shaping our environment. That includes rank-and-file planners, practicing architects, city managers, to our neophyte politicians, being whispered to by project lobbyists and lawyers.
The exhibit also is recommended, consisting of mostly 56 newly commissioned photographs of a selection of his projects. These include the iconic fountains in Portland, Oregon, the plazas in Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, the open space in Sea Ranch on the California coast, and the F.D.R memorial in Washington, D.C.
In L.A. there is the Maguire Garden, a welcoming landscape marking the western approach to the Central Library, not incidentally covering a parking garage. To the north of the library, connecting 5th and Hope, is a distinctive landscaped stairway, graced with cascading water.While the photos, and other glimpses of Halprin’s life organized by the Cultural Landscape Foundation, are engaging, there is nothing like experiencing some actual projects.
So in conjunction with the exhibit, the Los Angeles Conservancy is offering walking tours of Halprin’s downtown project on upcoming Sundays, November 5, 19th and December 17th. www.laconservacnby.org/upcoming-events. You might want to check it out.