Oct. 28th, 2009

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Landscape Architecture has lost one of the few true giants of the profession this week. Lawrence Halprin died at age 94 this past Sunday.

For those of you unfamiliar with him, some of his more notable works include Stern Grove Amphitheater, Ghirardelli Square and Levi Plaza in San Francisco, Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley, the FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C., Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis and the overall plan for the massively influential Sea Ranch development.

Here in Portland Halprin wove Lovejoy Plaza, Ira Keller Fountain and Pettygrove Park through the South Auditorium area. Had the urban renewal scheme surrounding them been anywhere nearly as well planned or designed the developments would have been the jewel of Portland. As it is, the parks still shine even when the adjacent buildings are flat and dull.

He was at the forefront of landscape design even before he opened his own firm, working for Thomas Church on Donnell Garden, the prototypical California landscape (complete with the prototypical kidney-shaped pool). He opened his own firm in 1949 and was active (though less prolific) up to his death. Sixty years, and he was always doing important work.

His wife, Anna Halprin, holds as lofty a place in post-modern dance as Lawrence did in Landscape, and the two fed each other's creative impulses over the course of a 68 year marriage. Just this past May, Anna choreographed a piece dedicated to her husband, "Spirit of Place," performed in Stern Grove by (among others) the amazing Shinichi Iova-Koga.

One half of that partnership is gone, now, as is a man who shaped how many people see and feel the spaces around them. The works, though, those spaces, those are still here. For me, right now, that's enough.

I'll be visiting Ira Keller Fountain soon.

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