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Reviewed by:
  • Lawrence Halprin by Kenneth I. Helphand
  • Ann E. Komara (bio)
Kenneth I. Helphand. 2017. University of Georgia Press & Library of American Landscape History (LALH).
Athens, Georgia. 256 pages. Softcover ISBN: 978-0-8203-5207-7.

Landscape architecture owes much to earlier generations of practitioners whose work and thinking set the stage for contemporary approaches and tactics, who championed innovation and new project typologies and expanded the reach of design, and who forged a purposeful ethos for shaping our cities and steward-ship of our natural environment. Lawrence Halprin (1916–2009) was one of the most eminent practitioners of the 20th century and holds a prominent position as an influential design leader whose work engaged in the passions and issues of his time: social activism, environmentalism, and the arts. Author and scholar Kenneth Helphand, University of Oregon Professor Emeritus of Landscape Architecture, draws connections to these thematic bases as he introduces readers to Halprin’s professional legacy via some of his most influential and enduring projects.

In the book’s preface, LALH founder and Executive Director Robin Karson aligns Halprin with the influential “founder of American landscape architecture” Frederick Law Olmsted, noting a shared “. . . importance of promoting a reform agenda and championing nature as an uplifting moral force through the artistry of landscape design” (p. 5). While this homage rings true, it takes Helphand’s book, with its learned overview and descriptions of selected projects, to introduce readers to Halprin’s influential career and demonstrate the range and scope that established Halprin’s deep impact on contemporary practice.

Helphand examines and succinctly summarizes 15 specific Halprin projects. These projects, each given a discrete chapter, collectively showcase Halprin’s career. The works, presented in roughly chronological sequence, range in scope and type to include private gardens, public urban spaces, campus and park designs, a national memorial, and regional master plans.

This volume is one of four in an evolving series focused on Masters of Modern Landscape Design featuring important mid-20th century landscape architects published by LALH. As stated on their website, LALH “. . . is the leading publisher of books that advance the study and practice of American landscape architecture—from gardens and parks to city plans. LALH books educate the public, motivating stewardship of significant places and the environment, and they inspire new designs that connect people with nature.” Readers would do well to explore these and other volumes about our past century, realizing that of the set, Halprin’s legacy is the deepest and thus the least comprehensively covered, although Helphand’s text is masterful.

Helphand’s clear prose and thoughtful explanations frame the designer’s approach and projects. Helphand contextualizes the selected Halprin projects and provides some biographical background on the designer in the book’s introduction. The entire text reveals the author’s intellectual depth and engagement in landscape architecture and landscape history over a career in academia. His learned insights are built on personal visits to all of the extant case study sites discussed. Plans, views, details, and sketches culled from research, including materials from the Lawrence Halprin Collection at the Architectural Archives of the University of Pennsylvania, contribute to this illustrated (149 b&w and color) volume. This eminently approachable book is informative and well-studied [End Page 77] but not exhaustive and offers readers touches of gentle humor and insights as they learn about the work and agenda of a design luminary.

Through the text, Halprin gains substance as a potent landscape architect, planner, and activist. Helphand lucidly builds on scholarship from the Dumbarton Oaks symposium about Lawrence Halprin held on December 11, 2010, that resulted in a 2012 special issue of Landscape Journal (31:1–2). As a symposium participant and contributor, Helphand was among a group of 11 scholars inaugurating a critical assessment of Halprin’s work and impact. Several of the projects included in this book were featured in these earlier venues, and as such began to establish the Halprin canon. It is certainly possible to delve into Halprin’s oeuvre via the projects presented in the various chapters. Many are well-known projects, though Helphand includes others that are less...


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pp. 77-79
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