Wednesday, October 28

A piece of Lawrence Halprin's legacy

The landscape architect Lawrence Halprin died on Sunday, leaving behind some of the best-loved public places in America. This news has prompted me to think about the Charlottesville Downtown Mall, a public space that Halprin designed in 1976.

I feel like I live in a luxurious house, because the downtown mall is my living room. The fact that I share the room with thousands of other people only makes it a better place to live. This picture was taken this morning on my walk to work, when the place is relatively quiet. A few patrons sit outside with cups of coffee to read the morning news before work, and a homeless man finds a seat under the trees. Some people seem to just be out on morning walks. Then the mall becomes an entirely different place in the evening, when the hundreds of cafe seats are filled with friends having a drink or a meal. It's the high school hang out and a place for their grandparents to walk around and take in all of the excitement at the same time, not any easy thing to accomplish.

It would be wrong to say that the mall was simply the creation of a master designer. It had to be grown and nurtured by a community, city planners, businesses and developers. It has taken steady reinvestment and the perseverance through a period of stagnation, when it could have been just another failed experiment in urban design. Instead, the design has grown into itself just as the trees have grown and reached out over the buildings. Yet nothing gets started without a vision, and Lawrence Halprin laid the groundwork for a truly remarkable place.


Jarrett at said...

I'm always struck at how often people doing general town planning turn out to have been trained as landscape designers. It probably reflects an undersupply of landscape design jobs, but it may also be that landscapers are good at visualising how something will feel at various times in the future -- at least if things grow on predictable vectors.

John said...

Those are some beautiful trees. Very hard to grow them like that without careful planning.

pylondude said...

Thanks for the comments on Lawrence Halprin. I live in San Francisco and have interacted in Halprin's spaces many times from a plaza near The Embarcadero to his recent bus shelter in Yosemite.

Once when visiting Portland OR, I specifically sought out a small park that Halprin designed because I knew he designed it. Like a lot of his spaces it included water, something (I heard him say in an interview) that attracts people and brings them into the space.

He'll be missed.

Daniel Nairn said...

"Like a lot of his spaces it included water"

It's neat that you mention this, because the Cville Mall also has a few fountains at key spots. After a renovation last year, the water had not been restored and the fountains were emptied over the summer. Just in the last few weeks, they've been running again and the Mall is fully back.

Steve Davis said...

Good post Daniel. Glad to see him getting some recognition on his passing, and not just for designing a national monument here in DC. Though the FDR memorial might be my favorite memorial to repeatedly visit. It's amazing how it follows good principles of urbanism — create outdoor rooms, narrative spaces, etc. He understood that the commons and the public spaces functioned best when they were created for and loved by people.