restricted access Expanding the Field: Modern Landscape Architecture and Historic Preservation
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Expanding the Field:
Modern Landscape Architecture and Historic Preservation

Twenty years ago I last had the good fortune to serve as a guest editor for what was then called Historic Preservation Forum. That May/June 1993 issue was the Forum's first thematic volume solely dedicated to the emerging field of landscape preservation. As noted in my preface, the goal was to "present recent advancements in the development of this specific discipline and to highlight the landscape preservation process."1 At the conclusion of my opening essay, "Landscape Preservation Today," I issued the following call to action: "Given the current knowledge and evolution of the field, new project work should be measured against new standards."2

Continuing the spirit of "presenting recent advancements," this Forum issue focuses on the critical task of preserving Modern landscape architecture, and follows up on the Forum Journal's Fall 2000 edition in which broader issues of post-war heritage were addressed. Then Trust president Richard Moe noted in his introductory essay, "When Sprawl Becomes Historic": "The 1960s and 1970s don't seem that long ago to some of us."3 In the same issue I wrote of the Modernist preservation dilemma: "When we think about the preservation and management of historic designed landscapes in the West, specifically California, images of Golden Gate Park, Yosemite, Filoli, or even the Huntington Botanical Gardens come to mind."4 However, while practitioners such as Thomas Church (1902-1978) or Garrett Eckbo (1910-2000) "merit our interest... it is doubtful... that we would automatically think about preserving their legacy."

Increased Visibility for Modern Landscape Architecture

Much has changed in the past dozen years. To begin with, the profession of landscape architecture has witnessed the most significant changing of the guard since the end of the Olmsted era. Many [End Page 3] of the influential professionals that were active during the post-war years have died or retired. This leadership change has offered new opportunities to examine the value we assign our shared legacy of post-war landscape architecture.

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Skyline Park in Denver, designed by Lawrence Halprin between 1972 and 1975, was the first Modernist landscape documented to Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) standards. The park was largely demolished in 2003.

The new millennium was marked by significant changes in the visibility of Modern landscape architecture: first, the National Historic Landmark (NHL) program completed the first thematic study to recognize the contributions of a living landscape architect—Dan Kiley. In March 2000, the iconic Miller Garden in Columbus, Ind., was designated an NHL as part of the thematic study, "Modernism in Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Design and Art in Bartholomew County, Indiana, 1942-1999." That same month, Thomas Church was recognized in the National Register of Historic Places designation of the General Motors Technical Center campus in Warren, Mich., as a historic district.

Later that year the critical first steps were taken toward the founding of the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS), joining the more established HABS and HAER documentation programs. [End Page 4] HALS became an important new documentation tool, particularly for Modernist landscape architecture. In 2003 Lawrence Halprin's Skyline Park in Denver, Colo., became the nation's first Modernist landscape and first Colorado landscape documented to HALS standards, and then, sadly, it was largely demolished.

Since then, other significant, and in some cases threatened, Modernist landscapes have been documented for HALS including M. Paul Friedberg's Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis, Minn., in 2006 and in 2005, the Kaiser Roof Garden in Oakland, Calif., by Theodore Osmundson, David Arbegast, and John Staley, while others were lost or radically altered. Along with Halprin's Skyline Park, the following Modern works of landscape architecture met the wrecking ball: New York's Lincoln Center by Dan Kiley (2005); the sculpture garden at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts by Lawrence Halprin (2006); the Chambers Waterfront Park in Beaufort, S.C., by Robert Marvin (2005); and the Reese Hospital Complex in Chicago by Walter Gropius and landscape architects Hideo Sasaki and Lester Collins (2009).

Fortunately during this time, Modernist works began attracting the design and...