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City Choreographer

Lawrence Halprin in Urban Renewal America

Alison Bick Hirsch

Publication Year: 2014

One of the most prolific and influential landscape architects of the twentieth century, Lawrence Halprin (1916–2009) was best known for the FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C., and Sea Ranch, the iconic planned community in California. These projects, as well as vibrant public spaces throughout the country—from Ghirardelli Square and Market Street in San Francisco to Lovejoy Fountain Park in Portland and Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis—grew out of a participatory design process that was central to Halprin’s work and is proving ever more relevant to urban design today.

In City Choreographer, urban designer and historian Alison Bick Hirsch explains and interprets this creative process, called the RSVP Cycles, referring to the four components: resources, score, valuation, and performance. With access to a vast archive of drawings and documents, Hirsch provides the first close-up look at how Halprin changed our ideas about urban landscapes. As an urban pioneer, he found his frontier in the nation’s densely settled metropolitan areas during the 1960s. Blurring the line between observer and participant, he sought a way to bring openness to the rigidly controlled worlds of architectural modernism and urban renewal. With his wife, Anna, a renowned avant-garde dancer and choreographer, Halprin organized workshops involving artists, dancers, and interested citizens that produced “scores,” which then informed his designs.

City Choreographer situates Halprin within the larger social, artistic, and environmental ferment of the 1960s and 1970s. In doing so, it demonstrates his profound impact on the shape of landscape architecture and his work’s widening reach into urban and regional development and contemporary concerns of sustainability.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-xiv

This project was first inspired by a seminar I took with John Dixon Hunt and Emily Cooperman in the University of Pennsylvania’s Architectural Archives, and I am grateful for this initial exposure to the infinite richness of the Lawrence Halprin Collection. With John Dixon Hunt’s encouragement and rigorous feedback, the seeds of this project grew into a doctoral dissertation at the University of Pennsylvania. John Dixon Hunt is my...

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Introduction: Scoring the Participatory City

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pp. 1-24

Landscape architect Lawrence Halprin’s nearly sixty-five-year career reflects the story of postwar American urban development—from his residential work in the booming Pacific coast suburbs, to his designs for regional shopping malls as substitutes for downtown public life, to his counterattempts to restore the social life of the city after disorienting change, primarily caused by federal policies such as Title I of the...

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1. The Creative Origins of Larry and Anna Halprin

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pp. 25-60

Lawrence Halprin was born July 1, 1916, and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. The social concerns that distinguish his career were founded on family values. His mother, Rose Luria Halprin, worked with the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Hadassah, and served as its president for multiple terms beginning in 1932. Her tireless activism would shape Halprin’s childhood experience and inform his lifelong...

Part I. Built Work

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2. Framing Civic Rituals: Market Street, Nicollet Mall, Heritage Park Plaza

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pp. 63-116

Part I on Lawrence Halprin’s built work focuses less on formal products than on the process that generated them, as well as how those forms invited human interaction and enhanced public life in cities undergoing urban renewal. To stimulate this participatory response, Halprin searched for “archetypal forms” or Resources (R) fundamental to all urban inhabitants—which he discovered in nature and human...

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3. Designing with Nature As “Archetypal Precedent”: Portland Open Space Sequence, Seattle Freeway Park, Manhattan Square Park

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pp. 117-182

Rituals are repeated and collective performance events. Yet Lawrence Halprin’s designs act as the stage (and choreography) for the theater of everyday life, composed of both the consistency of what he calls “living rituals” and the chance occurrences or happenings that are indeterminate but just as significant to full urban experience. By looking to “natural form-making” (particularly erosion) as precedent for...

Part II. Community Workshops

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4. The Take Part Process: Lawrence Halprin & Associates in Participatory Design

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pp. 185-208

While Lawrence Halprin applied the choreographic concept of “open scores” to design public spaces that stimulated movement response and enhanced opportunities for choice, chance, encounter, and exchange, he used the same concept to structure his participatory workshops. His Take Part Process (Figure 4.1) responded to the fierce demands for participation expressed in the mass public mobilizations of the...

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5. Facilitation and/or Manipulation: The Challenges of Taking Part in Fort Worth, Everett, Charlottesville, and Cleveland

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pp. 209-266

The community workshops in Fort Worth, Texas; Everett, Washington; Charlottesville, Virginia; and Cleveland, Ohio, conducted by Lawrence Halprin & Associates represent the most complex application of the participatory process. The workshops in each of these cities presented different challenges and achieved varying levels of success. The firm conducted other Take Part Processes during the early 1970s in Wilmington, Delaware...

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Conclusion: Choreography and the Contemporary City

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pp. 267-272

Though some might claim that Lawrence Halprin’s work is outdated, there is much to be learned from his ability to translate social consciousness into design action, particularly at a time that is again defined by discontinuity, disturbance, and unrest. With today’s renewed global insistence on participatory democracy expressed in events such as the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement, much of which has been catalyzed by the...


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pp. 273-313


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pp. 314-327


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pp. 328-336

About the Author

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pp. 337-337

E-ISBN-13: 9781452940960
E-ISBN-10: 1452940967
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816679799

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 886539898
MUSE Marc Record: Download for City Choreographer

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Halprin, Lawrence -- Philosophy.
  • Architects and community -- United States.
  • Lawrence Halprin & Associates.
  • City planning -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Urban landscape architecture -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
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