Posts tagged Frederick Law Olmsted

1901 Plan of prospect park

The struggle between landscape architects and the general public’s perception of their profession is global and with plenty of historical precedent. It has long been a question of identity and agency. Therefore, I grab every opportunity possible – whether it be an Uber ride, a casual conversation, or bar talk – to project my understanding of and interest in the field, steering the conversation away from architecture or from gardening and into more amorphous territory. My elevator pitch is as vague and scalable as the field itself. After all, there is not one definition or one interpretation of landscape architecture among practitioners and theorists, even those coming from the same cultural context.

Most of the time the reaction is, “I have never heard someone explain landscape architecture as such”. Truth is, I leave it up to the listener to interpret, question, and formulate their own conclusions and reflections.

I like to think of myself as a generalist. Our field is the only medium in which the science of living systems (botany, horticulture, agriculture, floriculture, ecology, geology, hydrology, and forestry), infrastructure, engineering and construction, art, expression, and experience all overlap with social sciences (social studies, economy, history, culture). Add to that the broader themes of equality, connection, nostalgia, with scales of space and time, perspective open to interpretation and analyzation reduced down to the rhizome level (to show the impact of radishes on soil quality) or up to a city-wide transformational impact of a project like the High Line on the city scale.

The High Line Elevated Park in New York. Photo by StaceyJean

The High Line Elevated Park in New York. Photo by StaceyJean

I like to think of myself as a landscape urbanist, maybe a landscape arch-urbanist. The simple reason behind this is detaching the connotation associated with architecture from landscape, breaking the prejudiced idea of this historically-tense binary relationship. “Urbanist” on the other hand opens up to a spectrum of scales, blurring this tiring perception of landscape as being bound to, or evolving around a piece of architecture. It is true that the profession has learned and borrowed a lot from architecture, especially in the modernist era, forging a new architecture to the landscape. Nevertheless, it is important to note that landscape architecture as a profession traces back to the visionary foresight of Olmsted, who recognized the inevitability of urbanization, and importance of planning resilient grounds for long-term balanced living environments. This agency is crucial, approaching landscape as the ecological framework for the design of the urban, rather than a corrective afterthought.

And so my elevator pitch comes down to: “I design cities to be more resilient”.

Olmsted Historic Map of Boston

What the listener defines as a city – their city – is up for grabs, and always subjective and relevant: a street, a housing compound, a rural site, an oil extraction town, or even a refugee camp. How the listener interprets resilience is also flexible and contextual. In a place like the Middle East, one could think of resilience as political. In Los Angeles resilience can be defined as a fight against drought, while in Mexico City as the risk of land subsidence, or in Shanghai, related to water quality. In any context, a landscape architect is empowered by the tools and means at hand today to understand the complexity of the layers – collecting and connecting, drawing relations, defining problems, then building on the power of science and art to design solutions across timeframes and scales. The eventual result are landscapes with performative systems – socially inclusive, environmentally responsive, cultivated, projected, and capable of being made, and then remade when required.

Shot of Sixth Street Bridge - photo by Heejae Lee

Shot of Sixth Street Bridge – photo by Heejae Lee

Thanks to the announced closure of the 101 freeway this past weekend, many Angelenos encame aware of a Los Angeles historic landmark…and its impending destruction. The Boyle Heights section of the 101 freeway was shut down so crews could demolish the iconic Sixth Street Bridge, concurrently paving the way for the development of its replacement, the Sixth Street Viaduct project.

Leading into its demolition this weekend, local community, professional design fields, government officials, as well as the media all turned their attention to the history and influence of the 6th Street Bridge upon the greater community. A favorite highlight of the bridge in pop culture is the “8 Greatest Appearances in Movies, Music Videos, and Video Games.”

From a personal perspective the bridge defined my daiy commute. Its appearance signaled my arrival into and departure from Downtown, as well as framing the beauty of the skyline through its steel arched frames. As I’d drive across the bridge I’d look to my right, observing the different water levels of the concrete channel that loomed below. I would chuckle to myself at the sign that read, “Please keep your eyes on the road”.

I am sure there are many individuals who felt a similar sense of attachment to this bridge, with many stories related to passing under and over it through the years. In the process of traveling across its span perhaps we all discovered an understanding about how a bridge can become a part of a community’s identity as a whole, proving that such an attachment is an extension of our city’s culture.

KCET Departures has a small collection of photos in remembrance of the historic Sixth Street Viaduct, including this dramatic photo by by Edwin Beckenbach.

KCET Departures has a small collection of photos in remembrance of the historic Sixth Street Bridge, including this dramatic photo by by Edwin Beckenbach.

Unlike San Francisco, with its iconic Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge, our city of Los Angeles isn’t traditionally associated with the bridges connecting its neighborhoods. Yet historically speaking, LA’s bridges have always played a vital role in connecting both communities and resources, as well as contributing to the beautification of the city. Within the 1900s flourished a philosophy known as the “City Beautiful Movement”, an ideology preaching progressive reform in urban city development, a direct response to the diminishing quality of life in overpopulated cities. The movement professed an improvement in urban planning and development wasn’t just desired, but necessary for the health of any modern city. An example was Frederick Law Olmsted’s vision of a greater Los Angeles connected by a network of greenways and park systems, all focused upon creating a more beautiful and livable city.

Frederick Law Olmstead, alongside Harland Bartholemew and Charles Henry Cheney drew up this "Major Traffic Street Plan” map in hopes of infusing an aesthetic component to the functional necessity of traffic infrastructure.

Frederick Law Olmstead, alongside Harland Bartholemew and Charles Henry Cheney drew up this “Major Traffic Street Plan” map in hopes of infusing an aesthetic component to the functional necessity of traffic infrastructure.

Photos of the Sixth Street Viaduct a few years after opening in 1932 (left) and the Fourth Street Bridge (right). Photos: USC Libraries Special Collections and Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Special Collections, Young Research Library, UCLA.

Photos of the Sixth Street Viaduct a few years after opening in 1932 (left) and the Fourth Street Bridge (right). Photos: USC Libraries Special Collections and Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Special Collections, Young Research Library, UCLA.

Amongst these beautification projects, around the beginning of 1923, the city of Los Angeles approved a series of bonds that allowed for the construction of ten bridges (you can find a map of these historical bridges collected into a single Google Map). One of these bridges eventually became the Sixth Street Bridge, designed not only to span across the Los Angeles River, but also to add an element of iconic beauty to symbolize and celebrate the city of Los Angeles.  Designed with Art Deco detailing and industrial steel arches, the Sixth Street Bridge quickly took hold within the popular culture of Los Angeles, becoming a recognizable element of the city in relation to its largest waterway, the Los Angeles River and appearing as the backdrop in countless movies, television shows, and magazines photos.

Photo: Heejae Lee

Photo: Heejae Lee

So why are we saying goodbye to the Sixth Street Bridge as we’ve known and loved it for decades? The structural stress of time has affected the concrete bones of the bridge, requiring a new reinforced bridge design be erected, hopefully embodying the rich history of its previous iteration. This new Sixth Street Viaduct project is projected to be completed somewhere in late 2019. I look forward to seeing it during my commute with the idea it may again become a new symbol and iconic memory of Los Angeles for another generation.

Creative Commons photo by Takeaway

Creative Commons photo by Takeaway

John Singer Sargent, Frederick Law Olmsted, 1895

John Singer Sargent, Frederick Law Olmsted, 1895

A couple weeks ago, my coworker and coffee connoisseur Heejae and I discussed the process and craft that goes into making a good cup of coffee. As new coffee shops and coffee roasters pop up across the city, we wondered exactly what it is that sets each apart? We talked about where different beans are grown, various varieties of the coffee beans themselves, styles of roasts, and even the signature style of individual baristas preparing each cup. Of course, this discussion about craft eventually segued into parallels with our profession as landscape architects “crafting” landscapes through the process of design.

A misty morning in Frederick Law Olmsted’s Prospect Park in Brooklyn is evidence of crafting an experience for visitors with carefully placed elements, trees, boulders, benches, that meticulously frame a space. As silhouettes appear and elements disappear, Olmsted’s intentional and deep understanding of space directs the viewer to how he envisioned the landscape. Whether a pastoral or an urban project, landscape architects are perpetually crafting experiences this way.

Creative Commons photo of Igualada Cemetery by Mcginnly

Creative Commons photo of Igualada Cemetery by Mcginnly

Enrique Miralles is another amazing talent gifted in crafting the landscape experience. His drawings of Igualada Cemetery illustrate both the complexity and simplicity of the interconnected space, where cast concrete tombs and paving patterns work in intricate collaboration. Miralles utilized excavation and concrete work to provide a unique and enclosed experience of a landscape dedicated to the buried and their visitors.

Roberto BurleMarx - Safra Bank Headquarters, Sao Paulo

Roberto Burle Marx – Safra Bank Headquarters, Sao Paulo

Le Corbusier's The poem of the Right Angle plates 6, 1955, via Moderna Museet

Le Corbusier’s The poem of the Right Angle plates 6, 1955, via Moderna Museet

Roberto Burle Marx and Le Corbusier both incorporated painting in their exploration of space and form. Whether an intentional plan or a painting, Burle Marx’s craft and style is incorporated into his landscape with bright colors partnered with amazing forms. His craft extended into the palette of plants – uniquely so – utilizing flora to create a distinct flavor. Similarly, Le Corbusier also used paintings to explore ideas of scale, color, form and theory, in the process putting forward his visions of design still appreciated and studied today.

Taking this idea of craft – whether in preparation of a cup of coffee or while designing a landscape – its practitioners strive to take the technical understanding of their work, perfect their style, and produce something memorable and amazing.

SaveSave