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Moment of Silence-Lawrence Halprin, FASLA (1916-2009)

The closing general session of the American Society of Landscape Architects meeting in San Francisco, Oct. 8, 2007, featured Lawrence Halprin, FASLA (left) speaking about his career. Charles Birnbaum, FASLA (right) interviewed Mr. Halprin.

Lawrence Halprin, the San Francisco Bay area landscape architect who put his design stamp on such diverse public spaces as San Francisco's Ghirardelli Square in the 1960s, to transforming the base of Yosemite Falls in 2005, passed away Sunday, Oct. 25, 2009. He was 93.

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His career spanned 60 years. His best-known national work was probably the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C., the result of winning a design competition in 1974. The memorial did not open until 1997.

"He redefined the profession's role in cities," said Charles Birnbaum, president of the Cultural Landscape Foundation. Birnbaum judges him "the single most influential landscape architect of the postwar years."

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C. was one of Lawrence Halprin's favorite projects. It received the Presidential Design Award.

Mr. Halprin's design perspective was to reshape cities. "I rejected any implication that what I do is decoration," Mr. Halprin told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2007.  He added, ''It's partly nature, it's partly culture, it's partly social.''

"He saw there was a need for a new way to express the (urban) landscape at the end of the 20th century," observed Frank Owen Gehry, the eminent Canadian-born architect based in Los Angeles. Gehry is known for such designs as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis and the Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle.

The Journey Began in Brooklyn

Mr. Halprin was born in Brooklyn, July 1, 1916. His mother, Rose, took her son to Haifa, Palestine in 1933, where they spent two years helping establish a kibbutz.

He attended Cornell University and earned a master's in horticulture at the University of Wisconsin. In 1940, while at the University of Wisconsin, he married fellow student Anna Schuman, a dancer. Anna suggested they visit Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright's home estate in Spring Green, Wis. That visit, Halprin told the audience at the 2007 the American Society of Landscape Architects gathering in San Francisco, influenced his career direction.

The young couple moved to Cambridge, Mass., where he earned a landscape architecture degree from Harvard in 1942 and attended Harvard Graduate School of Design. In 1943, he left school to enlist in the U.S. Navy, serving in the Pacific as a Lieutenant Junior on the destroyer the USS Morris. The USS Morris was involved in the invasion of Okinawa, where he experienced a kamikaze pilot hitting the ship.

The Halprins moved to the San Francisco Bay area after the war, where he joined the office of landscape architect Thomas Church, helping develop the California Garden style. In 1949, Halprin began his own firm.

Muriel Emanuel's book Contemporary Architects describes Halprin's range of work: sculptural fountains to urban renewal projects to regional planning, creating free flowing, romantic people spaces that follow the lessons of nature with the needs of modern living; designs for rapid transit systems to university campuses, from new cities to civic redevelopment, from large-scale land developments and inner-city parks to small private gardens. His work on the Sea Ranch housing development along California's Sonoma coast was said to apply townplanning principles to a rural landscapes.

His work in the San Francisco area included:
Marin General Hospital: Novato, 1952
Greenwood Common: Berkeley, 1958
Sproul Plaza: U.C. Berkeley, 1960
Ghirardelli Square: 1968
Embarcadero Center, public areas, 1972
Levi's Plaza: 1982
Stern Grove, redesign, 2005
Letterman Digital Arts Center, the Presidio, 2005

Other notable work was Seattle's Freeway park, turning a freeway into recreational space and the Walter & Elise Haas Promenade in Israel, a 1.5 mile stone walkway overlooking Jerusalem.

In 1976, Halprin began a design partnership with Sue Yung Li Ikeda.

Mr. Halprin served on the National Council on the Arts and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. He received a gold medal in 1978 from the American Society of Landscape Architects. In 2000, a Presidential Design Award went to the FDR Memorial, one of his favorite projects.

In the 1960s, Halprin began a series of "experiments in environment" workshops, influenced by his wife's avant-garde dance work. He wrote nine books, and his documentary on Salvador Dali, "Le Pink Grapefruit," won an award at the 1976 San Francisco Film Festival.

Anna Halprin said her husband's work was ''to do the most magnificent, uplifting thing he could. He strove for the ideal, and nothing less.''

Mr. Halprin is survived by his wife, Anna, his daughters Daria and Rana, and four grandchildren.

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June 18, 2019, 8:37 am PDT

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