The United States of America of the 19th century was a civilization in rapid flux, subject to spiraling economic and demographic growth coupled with staggering socioeconomic inequality that manifested in deleterious urban poverty. Big Plans: Picturing Social Reform, on display at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston through September 15, 2019, effectively encapsulates the bold visions of the era's patrician reformers with the living conditions of the urban poor that influenced their sweeping plans. The exhibition is curated by Charles Waldheim, the Harvard Graduate School of Design's John E. Irving Professor of Landscape Architecture, Director of the Office for Urbanization, and the Ruettgers Curator of Landscape, and is largely made up of highly-detailed topographical and landscape maps, historical photographs, and personal mementos. According to Waldheim, "the show started with a very simple idea; could we take large urban plan drawings from the 19th century and treat them like works of art?" For Big Plans, Waldheim hones in on four protagonists; Frederick Law Olmsted, the historic doyen of landscape architecture; Isabella Stewart Gardiner, the museum's namesake and prominent member of the Boston Brahmins; Charles Eliot, Olmsted's apprentice and prominent city planner in his own right; and Lewis Wickes Hine, the sociologist and prodigious photographer of the American urban condition. Although contemporary controversies surrounding park construction largely center on budgetary or zoning constraints, the execution of such projects during the 19th century was remarkably radical in ideology and scope. Big Plans highlights the revolutionary nature of public landscape design with an initial focus on Olmsted & Vaux's design for Central Park in New York, juxtaposed with an original hand-colored map by William Bridges for New York's 1811 Commissioners' plan that would place the gridiron street layout of Manhattan. In comparing these two disparate visions of Gotham at the onset of the exhibition, the curatorial direction quickly lays out the reformers' visions of reshaping the rigid rationality of the industrial city into one that cultivated both economic and social progress. The theme of correcting the societal ills of the industrial metropolis is continued in the second room of the exhibition with five-by-seven-inch silver gelatin prints produced by street photographer and sociologist Lewis Hines. Similar to contemporaneous New York-based social reformer Jacob Riis, Hines advocated for photography as an effective tool to prod for social reform. The images are not beautiful; as is the case with much early photography, many are overexposed and out of focus. However, aesthetics were not their purpose. The photos are a searing indictment of child labor, depicting young men and women toiling in industrial mills and sifting through fetid landfills in search of scrap materials. The remainder of the exhibition is largely a collection of drawings that plot out the expansion of the public realm and park space in Boston and Chicago, ranging from the Back Bay Fens to Jackson Park. Absent from the curatorial direction of Big Plans is a perspective from the urban working class and impoverished for whom the grandiose schemes were tentatively laid out for. This top-down perspective was a conscious decision by Waldheim to highlight the uneasy paternalism, or noblesse oblige, of the era's social reformers. While not explicit, the exhibition begs the question of whether this condescension laid the groundwork for similarly grandiose urban renewal plans during the mid-20th century. Big Plans: Picturing Social Reform Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum 25 Evans Way Boston Through September 15, 2019
Posts tagged with "Frederick Law Olmsted":
The Library of Congress announced last week that it has digitized its massive collection of personal papers and correspondence detailing the life and work of famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. ARCHITECT reported that the resource comes online ahead of the bicentennial of Olmsted’s birth, which will be celebrated in 2022. Olmsted is best known for designing both Central Park and Prospect Parks in New York, as well as the U.S. Capitol grounds in Washington, D.C., and the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. Many of his long-loved landscapes across the United States and Canada, including his designs for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and Montreal’s Mont Royal Park, are still vibrantly maintained and visited today. His vision for these sites and more can now be studied via the Olmstead Papers on the Library’s website. The collection includes about 24,000 items—that’s 47,300 images—dating from 1777 to 1952. The bulk of the papers, including family letters, journals, drafts of his articles and books, as well as correspondence with his clients and colleagues, spans from 1838 to 1903. The collection is organized online in eight sections and additionally unveils Olmsted’s project proposals, reports, drawings, speeches, lectures, and his legal and financial records. The papers were acquired by the Library as a gift from Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and other family members from 1947-1948 and 1968-1969. Laura Wood Roper, one of Olmsted’s first biographers, gave the Library nearly 3,000 items in 1975. Two additional items purchased six years later were transferred from the Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection to the Olmsted Papers in 1996. According to the Library, the Olmsted Associates Records collection, which documents the work of the architect’s sons and their associates, will also be digitized ahead of the bicentennial celebration.
Obama Presidential Center breezes through planning and zoning hurdles, but continues to kindle community concern
The Obama Presidential Center (OPC) passed two substantial hurdles this month as the Chicago Planning Commission and Zoning Committees both voted in overwhelming support of the development. Amidst a seven-hour hearing of public comment coming from a variety of Chicago voices, broad strokes of the plan were given a “yay” vote from 15 of the 22 planning commission members on May 17. The Chicago City Council signed off on the $500 million project on May 22, passing various zoning approvals. The stage is now set for the construction of a 235-foot-tall building with cultural exhibit and office space, two additional cultural buildings, and an athletic and community center. The Planning Commission vote also includes a 450-car underground parking garage and clears the way for the Obama Foundation (OF) to close public right-of-ways. While these votes were expected to breeze through both the Planning Commission and Zoning Committees, departments within the City of Chicago had already created conditions that allow obstacles to be easily bypassed, from the rerouting and closing of streets to downplaying the effects the OPC will have on historical aspects of Jackson Park. While the agenda divided the vote into multiple components, all of the items were treated as one. Public comment during the May 17th Planning Commission meeting included statements from the Chicago History Museum, Preservation Chicago, Jackson Park Watch, The Woodlawn Organization, Chicago aldermen and tenured Chicago activists. The commission did not address the federal lawsuit filed on May 14 by Protect our Parks, Inc. that accused the Obama Foundation of an “institutional bait and switch,” claiming that the original purpose of the transfer of public park land to the OF, a non-government entity, was to house the official Obama Federal Library, to be administered by the U.S. National Records and Archives Administration. As the OPF will not house Barack Obama’s official documents, the suit claims, transfer of park land to a private entity violates the park district code. The Planning Commission also failed to address a community benefits agreement proposed by the Obama Library South Side Community Benefits Agreement Coalition (CBA), a group of organizations that includes the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Black Youth Project 100, and Friends of the Parks. Under the ordinance proposed by the CBA, the OPC, the University of Chicago, and the city would make targeted investments within a five-mile radius, including economic development, education, employment, housing, sustainability and transportation. At a community meeting held at McCormick Place last February, Barack Obama coolly responded to the call for a CBA: "The concern I have with community benefits agreements, in this situation, is it's not inclusive enough," Obama remarked. "I would then be siding with who? What particular organizations would end up speaking for everybody in that community?” Also present at the Planning Commission meeting were OPC architects Todd Williams and Billie Tsien, who are in the process of selecting materials for each of the structures that complement neighboring buildings like the Museum of Science and Industry and the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, a building of their own design on the campus of the University of Chicago. While neither Tsien nor Williams spoke during the hearing, Williams implied during a public meeting in February that the integrity of Jackson Park has already been compromised over time. Designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, Jackson Park was the site of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and is one of Chicago’s most valuable and significant pieces of public land. An archaeological evaluation performed as a part of the project’s federal compliance uncovered artifacts and ephemera from the World’s Columbian Exposition, as well as architectural materials relating to the fair’s buildings, many of which set the course for how Chicago would look going into the 20th century. Despite the importance of these findings for Chicago, both the Illinois State Archaeological Survey and the chief archaeologist for the Illinois Department of Transportation have determined the presence of these artifacts to be insignificant. It is expected that a federal review of above-ground resources will reach a similar conclusion-that the OPC project will not have an adverse effect on the historic landscape of Jackson Park or the surrounding historic districts and buildings. At the center of the opposition is a $175 million-dollar plan to overhaul and close multiple roads within and around Jackson Park, a critical component to the Tiger Woods-designed PGA golf course slated to open in 2020, a year behind the OPC. The golf course would combine the existing Jackson Park and South Shore courses and fragment the South Shore Nature Sanctuary in favor of unobstructed views of the Chicago skyline for golfers. While the OF has not stated they are in support of the golf course proposal, many board members of the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, an organization in support of the plan, have ties with the Obama Foundation or Barack Obama himself.
Archeologists involved with the federal review of the proposed Obama Presidential Center have unearthed artifacts from the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. The proposed presidential library is located atop the former fair grounds in Chicago's Jackson Park. The Chicago Tribune reports that the artifacts range from pieces of fair buildings such as Louis Sullivan’s Transportation Building (pictured above), to waste associated with services from the fair, including animal bones. Prestigious firms D. H. Burnham & Company and Olmsted, Vaux & Co led the design of the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition. Designed and built according to City Beautiful principles, much of the 1893 campus was comprised of temporary structures built of form worked plaster painted white to resemble limestone. While the discovery of archeological artifacts can impact the timetable of a development, especially one of this scope, the Chicago Tribune notes that officials from the Illinois Department of Transportation who oversaw the archeological dig do not believe that the cluster of artifacts are significant enough to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The archeological findings will be presented March 29 during a public hearing at the University of Chicago, which will also discuss neighboring historic properties that the Obama Presidential Library will impact. Unless state preservation officials disagree with the Illinois DOT’s findings, the Obama Foundation intends to gain planning approval in May and open the facility to the public in 2021.
Atlanta's premier park is slated for a major upgrade. Late last month, Mayor Kasim Reed announced that the city will kick in $20 million to expand Piedmont Park and the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, which sit just east of the city's Ansely Park neighborhood. The new entrance, envisioned by HGOR, will replace now privately-owned parcels at the park's northern tip near Piedmont Drive NE and Monroe Drive NE. Preliminary renderings and concept sketches depict new outbuildings surrounded by rolling green hills and broad, winding paths, a homage to the park's original Olmsted design. The Atlanta Botanical Gardens and the Piedmont Park Conservancy, a nonprofit that stewards the park, commissioned the Atlanta-based landscape architecture and urban design firm to do the initial renderings. HGOR works for public and private clients, mostly in the South. The expansion will include connections to the Atlanta BeltLine, the city's massive pedestrian and bike path project, plus additional access points to Piedmont Park. Building on the city's $20 million commitment, which includes a $2 million donation from an anonymous donor, Atlanta Committee for Progress board member and Home Depot CFO Carol Tomé is spearheading a funding effort to raise $80 million from private donors to acquire property and pay for the project's design and construction. Despite Atlanta's notorious car-centricity, the city maintains that 64 percent of residents live within a half-mile walk of a park, and the new entrance should up that number even further. To start the process, the City of Atlanta signed Letters of Intent on December 29, 2017 with two property owners at the chosen site, and the city will be conducting community engagement around the design. A city spokesperson said officials are waiting to close the real estate transaction, then fundraise and plan for the expansion. No date for the groundbreaking has been set. Piedmont Park was established in 1834, and primarily served as fairgrounds until the next century. The city commissioned Olmsted Brothers, the firm that John Charles and Frederick Law Jr. inherited from their father, to redesign the park in 1909, and most designs since then, including the 1995 master plan, have honored the Olmsted Brothers' original design intent. For the Bicentennial, Isamu Noguchi designed Playscape, a delightful one-acre spread of swings, slides, and climbing blocks, the same year the city leased land for the Atlanta Botanical Gardens.
This is a feature article from Issue 8 of The Architect's Newspaper. If you’ve seen the movie Columbus, you’ll remember, among all the nerdy dialogue about modernist bank branches and James Polshek’s buildings, that scene where the two protagonists passionately discuss the Dan Kiley landscape outside the Eero Saarinen–designed Miller House. No? That’s because landscape architecture, though intrinsic to the experience of some of the best modern buildings, rarely gets the conversation it deserves. Despite being featured in all the film’s promo shots, the landscape by one of the last century’s best landscape architects got zero shout-outs. This snub, brought to light by the Cultural Landscape Foundation Executive Director Charles Birnbaum in a Huffington Post op-ed, reflects larger attitudes toward landscape architecture in the United States. It’s a long-held and frequently heard complaint inside the discipline that even successful landscapes by the very best designers are treated like scenery for architecture. While New Yorkers love Central Park, concrete plazas between modernist skyscrapers—even though they are essential to the experience of the buildings themselves—don’t elicit the same joy. Modern and late-modern landscapes in American cities are the least appreciated and least understood outdoor spaces, though they shape day-to-day experience in the contemporary American city more than leafy 19th-century destination parks. These modern spaces contrasted with—and challenged—the platonic ideal of the American urban park, established by Frederick Law Olmsted and largely unchanged since the 1860s. Urban renewal gave designers the opportunity to think up supersize projects (New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Boston’s Government Center, Pittsburgh’s Gateway Center, Philadelphia’s Penn Center) that afforded new ways of experiencing space and the city. Instead of offering the faux-countryside, 20th-century designers summoned concrete and right angles to create dynamic public spaces rooted in modernist functionalism. In the postwar years, as industry abandoned cities en masse and corporations moved white-collar workers to lush suburban campuses, cities and captains of industry commissioned the best landscape architects in practice to activate declining downtowns with plazas and parklets. In smaller urban projects like Heritage Park Plaza in Fort Worth, Texas, Fountain Place in Dallas, and Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis, designers like Lawrence Halprin, Kiley, and M. Paul Friedberg offered contemporary city experiences that both responded to and represented these profound changes in the American urban form. This not only applies to plazas from the boomer or Gen X era, but to Millennial landscapes, too. Just as chokers and platform sandals are cool again, designers are expressing renewed interest in successful 1990s postmodern landscapes, like Wagner Park or Pershing Square. Despite their significance, these parks are now threatened by thoughtless development. Unlike their forbearers—most of which were baked into city plans or carved from large swaths of open space—modernist landscapes like Freeway Park in Seattle shaped vestigial areas, harnessed from leftover space (like vest-pocket Paley Park in Manhattan), or repurposed former industrial land (Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco). In their comparatively tiny areas, designers deployed textural materials like concrete, gridded trees into mini urban forests, and masked obtrusive city sounds with water features. Despite their historic significance, these sites are constantly imperiled by bad maintenance, and the public antipathy that follows—“What’s with all that concrete, and where are all the flowers?” While it can take decades for an artist’s work to be appreciated, as Halprin noted, landscapes and the land on which they sit are often at the mercy of changing real estate interests and don’t have time to mature in the public perception. Though some, maybe most famously Boston’s Government Center, are wildly unsuccessful and are being (sensitively) adapted right now, many upgradeable landscapes whose potential could be teased out with thoughtful changes are instead being plowed over with heavy-handed schemes that dishonor the original design intent. Maybe because they are underappreciated, many postwar urban parks and plazas are threatened by market forces and dumb human decisions: out-of-place nearby development, revamps that turn parks into front lawns for speculative real estate, rising downtown land values, and, paradoxically, resilience measures that anticipate future coastal flooding. Compared to buildings, landscapes have fewer protections afforded to them. Since June, there’s one less: The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the demolition of a Sasaki fountain and plaza that anchored the base of Citicorp Center, a suave Hugh Stubbins–designed 1970s angle-topped tower on Lexington Avenue at 53rd Street. The architect would faint if he were around to see the flowerbeds proposed for the base of his building. Though developments like these can be jarring, the cities around these landscapes have changed substantially, too. After fleeing in the mid-20th century, people and prosperity have returned to cities. Though regional development is always uneven, there’s a persistent and widespread demand for walk-to-work neighborhoods with a healthy mix of day-into-night life. Downtown is hot. And tastes have changed, too. As megaprojects like Hudson Yards and smaller regional ones like SWA’s San Jacinto Plaza in El Paso, Texas, demonstrate, there’s a desire for more programmed space, with Ping-Pong tables and colorful, interactive public art. These landscapes reflect a turn from urban production to urban consumption; though the social life of these public spaces still includes people-watching and book-reading (or phone-staring), spaces are increasingly programmed around shopping, tourism, and scenery that’s good content for Instagram. Planners today promote infill housing and mixed-use everything, so visitors to these downtown parks are, increasingly, residents too. Outside of a few true classics that have never lost their luster, how do modernist landscapes fare against their newer predecessors? For this feature, we chose some of the notable urban landscapes of that era currently under redevelopment to assess where they are now, and how they’re being adapted—or not—for the future. Their designers never intended for their landscapes to be built and forgotten. There’s little to love in badly patched concrete, treeless planters, or dry fountains. We’re looking anew at famous landscapes by the best of the best and at those that are less familiar. Some honor the landscape architect’s original design intent, while others…don’t. Preservation isn’t about ossifying landscapes in some vintage ideal, but framing updates around the original design intent. Across the country, designers are looking at landscapes with consideration of their significance while adapting them for contemporary knowledge of ecology, accessibility, and programming. In a May 2017 talk at the National Capital Planning Commission in Washington, D.C., Elizabeth Meyer, professor of landscape architecture at the University of Virginia, explained why landscapes of the 1950s through the 1980s are significant today: They are a record of postwar modernization and urbanization, and they should be reimagined—not cast in amber—for the 21st century. “Adapting modernist landscapes does not require demolition and redesign,” Meyer said. Just like the designers who revamped the 19th-century city park in the 1970s, these projects will need careful updates for today’s users, made with intelligent materials, to facilitate life in the present while looking back to history, not to pickle the past but to energize urban life.
One of the highlights of this author's recent exhibition, Never Built Los Angeles, was a comprehensive, and interconnected, parks plan for Los Angeles assembled by the landscape firm Olmsted and Bartholomew in 1930. That old plan is seeing some new life in the Los Angeles community. If the proposed Emerald Necklace Expanded Vision Plan is realized, that idea would come to life almost a century after it was proposed. The plan (PDF), led by the Amigos de los Rios, a nonprofit working to create and preserve open spaces in poorer areas of Southern California, and The Conservation Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving open space nationwide, is intended to connect the city with a new network of parks and open spaces connected by trails, greenways, and bike paths. The idea started in 2005, when the Amigos de Los Rios laid out a 17-mile loop of parks and greenways (often underutilized spaces owned by public agencies) along the Río Hondo and San Gabriel Rivers on the east side of Los Angeles. With a grant from the California Strategic Growth Council they then partnered with the Conservation Fund to expand the scope. "They had focused on landscape architecture scale but didn’t have the experience looking at the bigger picture," explained Will Allen, Director of Strategic Conservation Planning for The Conservation Fund. The plan has grown to encompass the entire LA Basin, from the San Gabriel Forest to the Pacific. New green infrastructure would be proposed throughout the area through land acquisition, but would center along public sites like existing parks, rivers, creeks, under utility lines, near freeways, and along public transit lines. Besides the obvious recreational and public health benefits, the plan could provide relief to the area's beleaguered water supply, provide much-needed shade with new tree canopies, and revitalize struggling communities. Fundraising has already begun. Allen said the plan, whose cost could range from $200 million to over $1 billion, may take 20 to 30 years and involve coordination and funding from the region's 88 cities, private foundations, public bond issues, and public agencies like Caltrans, the US Army Corps of Engineers, Southern California Edison, and the LA Department of Water and Power. "There’s a full awareness that this would be a slog to get a lot of this done," Allen noted. "There's a lot of money out there. A lot is convincing people to invest in things that are multiple benefit." The scheme couldn't come too soon. Right now, according to The Conservation Fund, only 36 percent of children in Los Angeles live within one-quarter mile of a park, compared to 91 percent in New York and 85 percent in San Francisco. Meanwhile 85 percent of Americans live in cities now, so plans like these are only becoming more important. Allen calls the addition of parks in the area a civil rights issue. "We are in the middle of a quiet crisis," said Claire Robinson, president of the Amigos de los Rios. "We're not addressing public health, quality of life, and our relationship to nature." Olmsted and Bartholomew's 178-page plan, which would have created almost 200,000 acres of small and large parks connected by almost 100 park-lined roadways, was derailed by LA's Chamber of Commerce, the same body that commissioned them in the first place. Hopefully this plan will have greater staying power.
The Detroit Free-Press is reporting Belle Isle could become a state park. A public hearing is expected Thursday, and city council could vote on the plan as soon as January 29. Belle Isle is a 985-acre island in the middle of the Detroit River originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. While details are still being negotiated, it appears the plan could save the City of Detroit $8 million per year in operating costs. Though Detroit would still own the land, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources would operate the island as a state park, charging motorists an $11 entry fee. Bicyclists and pedestrians would still get free access. The potential deal comes on the heels of some good news for Motor City urbanists. In addition to filling out the gaps in the city’s riverwalk, Detroit is moving forward with its M-1 Rail plan, as well as an ongoing $300 million renovation of its Cobo convention center.
Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of Central Park, spent nine formative years on a 130-acre farm on the southern shore of Staten Island. Olmsted's involvement in agricultural experimentation and nature conversation allowed him to develop his own thoughts about open space and urban settings. At 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, September 19th join Alan G. Brake, executive editor of The Architect's Newspaper, at the Museum of the City of New York as he moderates a discussion exploring how Olmsted's time on Staten Island influenced the field of American landscape architecture and the timeless parks he designed for the city. Included on the panel will be Ryan J. Carey, co-curator of From Farm to City; Tatiana Choulika, Associate Partner at James Corner Field Operations; and Gus Jones, Snug Harbor Heritage Farm Manager. The panel is also in conjunction with the museum's exhibition From Farm to City: Staten Island, 1661-2012.
Mark Hough put it bluntly in his latest article from Landscape Architecture magazine reposted on the American Society of Landscape Architects' blog, "Our preoccupation with Olmsted stems from a chronic, debilitating inferiority complex that plagues our profession. We lament that laypeople confuse us with landscape designers and horticulturists, and we envy the greater visibility that architects enjoy. All of this contributes to a feeling of inadequacy...The fear seems to be that if people stop talking about him, they stop talking about landscape architecture. I hate to say it, but there is some truth in that paranoia." Read the rest of the article at the ASLA Dirt.
Earlier this year AN looked at Midway Crossings, designed by James Carpenter with lighting designers Schuler Shook and landscape architects BauerLatoza Studio, a project that uses light and urban design to create a visual connection across Frederick Law Olmsted's Midway Plaisance. The project, formerly known as the Light Bridges, is now nearing completion, and the result seems to accomplish the goal of better joining the main campus of the University of Chicago with its expanding facilities across the park. Tall light poles and wider sidewalks with planted, raised easements create an inviting place for pedestrians, and the University hopes the two crossings, at 59th and 60th Streets, will create focused centers of foot traffic, improving safety. Purists may feel that the University has co-opted public park space, but the design team's use of light as the main element shows a light hand in the landscape.
Chicago has been getting a lot of screentime over the last few years, standing in for Gothman in Batman Begins and enduring the wrath of the Transformers. A blockbuster of a slightly more highbrow sort is in the works, with an adaptation of Erik Larson's bestseller The Devil in the White City. The Sun-Times and others reported this week that Leonardo DiCaprio will portray the serial killer H.H. Holmes. The story is set amid the preparations for 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition, and the story of construction of the fair grounds, one of the major developments in the City Beautiful movement, as well as the growth of Chicago as a whole, forms a parallel narrative. Daniel Burnham and Frederick Law Olmsted play major parts in the story. Their roles have yet to be cast. Whoever lands the roles had better start growing their facial hair now. Burnham sported an impressive, bushy mustache. Architecture fan and patron Brad Pitt has been growing some questionable whiskers over the last year, but maybe those hooded eyes are more Clooney-esque? Burnham had nothing on the older Olmsted though. Check out that beard! Who has the chops for that? Jeff Bridges, anyone?