Lawrence Halprin

Lawrence Halprin (July 1, 1916 – October 25, 2009) was an American landscape architect, designer and teacher.[1]

Lawrence Halprin
Born(1916-07-01)July 1, 1916
DiedOctober 25, 2009(2009-10-25) (aged 93)
Alma mater
Spouse(s)Anna Halprin
PracticeLawrence Halprin & Associates

Beginning his career in the San Francisco Bay Area, California, in 1949, Halprin often collaborated with a local circle of modernist architects on relatively modest projects. These figures included William Wurster, Joseph Esherick, Vernon DeMars, Mario J. Ciampi, and others associated with UC Berkeley. Gradually accumulating a regional reputation in the northwest, Halprin first came to national attention with his work at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, the Ghirardelli Square adaptive-reuse project in San Francisco, and the landmark pedestrian street / transit mall Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis. Halprin's career proved influential to an entire generation in his specific design solutions, his emphasis on user experience to develop those solutions, and his collaborative design process.

Halprin's point of view and practice are summarized in his definition of modernism:

"To be properly understood, Modernism is not just a matter of cubist space but of a whole appreciation of environmental design as a holistic approach to the matter of making spaces for people to live.... Modernism, as I define it and practice it, includes and is based on the vital archetypal needs of human being as individuals as well as social groups."[2]:9

In his best work, he construed landscape architecture as narrative.[3]

Early and personal life

Halprin grew up in Brooklyn, New York; and as a schoolboy, he earned acclaim playing sandlot baseball. He credited his parents with introducing him to art and supporting his artistic inclinations; after her weekly shopping trips to Macy's, she brought him along and they would visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art afterwards.[4]:2 Being Jewish,[5][6] after finishing Poly Prep at 16, he went to Israel on a kibbutz for three years near what is today the Israeli port city of Haifa.[4]:3–5 [7]

He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1939 at Cornell University, studying horticulture with Professor Lee Gand;[4]:5 he continued his studies at the University of Wisconsin, where he earned a Master of Science.[8] While at Wisconsin, his wife Anna convinced Halprin to visit Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio in Wisconsin, which in turn sparked Halprin’s initial interest in architecture;[7] after he left Talesin, he went to the school library, where he found and was inspired by Christopher Tunnard's Gardens in the Modern Landscape. Returning to school the following Monday, he spoke with the department head of horticulture, who directed him to the landscape architecture group upstairs, where he met Professor Franz Aust. After two weeks, Professor Aust recommended he continue his studies at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.[4]:5–6 There he earned a second bachelor's degree (in landscape architecture, awarded 1942), where his professors included architects Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer.[9] Although Tunnard was teaching at Harvard, he never took a course from him. His Harvard classmates included Catherine Bauer, Philip Johnson, I.M. Pei, and William Wurster.[4]:8

In 1944, Halprin was commissioned in the United States Navy as a Lieutenant (junior grade). He was assigned to the destroyer USS Morris in the Pacific which was struck by a kamikaze attack. After surviving the destruction of the Morris, Halprin was sent to San Francisco on leave. It was there he would stay following his discharge.

Halprin and his wife, accomplished avant-garde dancer Anna Halprin (née Schuman), were married in 1940.[8] The couple were long-time collaborators; together, they explored the common areas between choreography and the way users move through a public space.[4]:35 [10] They have two daughters: Daria Halprin, an American psychologist, author, dancer, and actress, and Rana Halprin, a photographer and activist for Romani and human rights.[9]


After his discharge from military service, Halprin joined the firm of San Francisco landscape architect Thomas Dolliver Church.[1] He had become close to the Wursters during their year at Harvard, and Bill Wurster asked him to stop by if he was ever in California. While visiting Wurster's office, he passed by Church's office, which was on the first floor of the same building; Wurster, who was absent at the time, told his associates to hire Halprin if Church would not. When Halprin introduced himself to Church, he was hired immediately and told "I'm going to pay you more than usual, but I don't want you to come back every two seconds and ask for more money."[4]:12 The projects he worked on in this period included the Dewey Donnell Garden (El Novillero) in Sonoma County.

Halprin opened his own office in 1949, becoming one of Church's professional heirs and competitors.[11] His first commission was for Anna's parents, who had recently moved from Chicago; that project was a collaboration with Wurster (Schuman House, Woodside), who was responsible for the house's architecture.[4]:12–13 At its largest, during the BART landscaping project, Lawrence Halprin & Associates employed 80.[4]:16

 I have always felt that design is a total involvement and that it is not purely visual. The process for me has always been inextricably intertwined with the results. [...]
 You can view process as a way to arrive at a solution, in which case it is a means towards an end or you can perceive it as important and valid in itself — full of twisting and turning, unknown explorations, reactive to many different inputs and influences and lacking a clear image of what the end product is or should be. What emerges then is, in fact, part of the process. [...] It is really more like life itself — unforeseen, adventurous, exploratory: with only two fixed points — a beginning and an end but even those linked up with larger changes.
 It is in this way — a holistic way — that I have designed.

  Lawrence Halprin, quoted in Contemporary Architects (1980)[8]

Halprin's work is marked by his attention to human scale, user experience, and the social impact of his designs, in the egalitarian tradition of Frederick Law Olmsted. Halprin was the creative force behind the interactive, 'playable' civic fountains most common in the 1970s, an amenity which continues to greatly contribute to the pedestrian social experience in Portland Oregon, where "Ira's Fountain" is loved and well-used, and the United Nations Plaza in San Francisco. Park Central Square (1974; Springfield, Missouri) was the first of his works to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), in 2010,[12][13] followed by the Heritage Park Plaza in Fort Worth, Texas, designed by Halprin and built in 1980, featured by NRHP as its featured listing of the week, on May 21, 2010.

Halprin's final three projects were all completed in 2005: the Letterman Digital Arts Center (for George Lucas), the approach to Yosemite Falls, and the amphitheatre at Stern Grove.

Several of Halprin's works have been threatened by redevelopment as they have aged.[12] Some, such as the Water Garden in Olympia, Washington, have fallen victim to neglect and deferred maintenance, and are in states of disrepair.[14] Others have attracted undesired users (homeless, drug users, and skateboarders);[12] rather than address the social issues, some spaces, such as Skyline Park in Denver, completed in 1976, were redesigned (2003) to increase public usership.[15] Critics argue his pieces have become dated and no longer reflect the direction their cities want to take.[16] Budgetary constraints and the urge to "revitalize" threaten some of his projects. In response foundations have been set up to improve care for some of the sites and to try to preserve them in their original state. Prior to its destruction, Skyline Park was documented as Colorado's first Historic American Landscapes Survey project.[17][18]

Anna and Lawrence Halprin co-created the "RSVP Cycles", a creative methodology that can be applied broadly across all disciplines.[19]


Halprin's range of projects demonstrates his vision of the garden or open space as a stage.[2]:153 Halprin recognized that "the garden in your own immediate neighborhood, preferably at your own doorstep, is the most significant garden;" and as part of a seamless whole, he valued "wilderness areas where we can be truly alone with ourselves and where nature can be sensed as the primeval source of life."[2]:153–154 The interplay of perspectives informed projects which encompassed urban parks, plazas, commercial and cultural centers and other places of congregation:[2]:154

Selected list of landscape projects by Halprin
TitleImageCityStateYear[lower-alpha 1]Role / Notes
Ferris House SpokaneWA1955 Landscape[20]
Washington Water Power[lower-alpha 2] SpokaneWA1959 Campus
West Coast Memorial to the Missing of World War II San FranciscoCA1960 Landscaping plan, located at the Presidio
1962 Seattle World's Fair SeattleWA1962 Master landscaping plan
Sproul Plaza BerkeleyCA1962 At the University of California, Berkeley[21]
Saint Francis Square San FranciscoCA1964 Cooperative housing project; design based on a pedestrian-oriented site plan, with three-story apartment buildings facing onto three landscaped interior courtyards[22]
Sea Ranch, California Sea RanchCA1964 Master landscape plan; this is a historically significant planned community collaboration with developer Al Boeke and architects Joseph Esherick, Charles Willard Moore and others,[9][23]
Ghirardelli Square San FranciscoCA1965 An early model for adaptive reuse of historic buildings.[24]
Capitol Towers SacramentoCA1965 Privately-sponsored urban redevelopment.[25]
Bay Area Rapid Transit San FranciscoCA1966 Master landscape planning for sections of the system, including station plazas.[26]
Oakbrook Center Oak BrookIL1966 Landscape work
Innerbelt Freeway AkronOH1966 Plan proposed for a park atop the freeway in 1966.[27]
Northwest Plaza St. LouisMO1968 Exterior landscaping and 'horsehead' fountain scheme.
Nicollet Mall MinneapolisMN1968 One of the nation's first transitways
Cascade Plaza AkronOH1969
Park Central Square SpringfieldMO1970
Ira Keller Fountain and Lovejoy Fountain Park PortlandOR1971 Part of a multi-block sequence of public fountains and outdoor rooms in Portland,[24] known as the Halprin Open Space Sequence and listed on the National Register of Historic Places
Transit Mall PortlandOR1971 In Downtown Portland[24]
Water Garden OlympiaWA1972 At the north plaza of the Employment Security Building. Permanently shut down and drained in the late 1980s due to leaks and cracked foundations.[28][29]
Skyline Park DenverCO1974 Inspired by Colorado National Monument; largely destroyed following 2003 redesign.[30]
United Nations Plaza San FranciscoCA1975 Part of the Civic Center complex.
Sculpture Garden at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts RichmondVA1975 Demolished in 2006.[25]
Manhattan Square Park RochesterNY1975 5-acre (20,000 m2) urban park with waterfalls, playground and skating rink
Riverbank Park FlintMI1975
Freeway Park SeattleWA1976 Innovative reclaiming of interstate right-of-way for park space
Plaza 8 Water Feature SheboyganWI1976 Adjacent to the Mead Public Library, 8th Street
Downtown Mall CharlottesvilleVA1976 8-9 block pedestrian only zone along the city's historic main street
Main Street GreenvilleSC1979 Redesigned in 2008.
Heritage Park Plaza Fort WorthTX1980
Levi's Plaza San FranciscoCA1982
Bunker Hill Steps Los AngelesCA1990 [25]
Grand Hope Park Los AngelesCA1994
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Washington, D.C.1997 [24]
Letterman Digital Arts Center San FranciscoCA2005 [9]
Approach to Yosemite Falls Yosemite National ParkCA2005 Loop-trail approach (and associated stonework) to Lower Yosemite Fall, with views of Upper Yosemite Fall[24]
Stern Grove Amphitheater San FranciscoCA2005
  1. Year completed
  2. Now Avista Corporation



  • A Life Spent Changing Places (2011) ISBN 978-0-8122-4263-8
  • The Sea Ranch: Diary of an Idea (2003) ISBN 1-888931-23-X
  • The FDR Memorial: Designed by Lawrence Halprin (1998) ISBN 1-888931-11-6
  • The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (1997) ISBN 0-8118-1706-7
  • "Design as a Value System", Places: Vol. 6: No. 1 (1989)
  • Lawrence Halprin: Changing Places (1986) ISBN 0-918471-06-0
  • Ecology of Form (audio book) (1982) ISBN 1-85035-074-4
  • Sketchbooks of Lawrence Halprin (1981) ISBN 4-89331-701-6
  • Lawrence Halprin (Process Architecture) (1978)
  • Taking Part: A Workshop Approach to Collective Creativity (with Jim Burns) (1974) ISBN 0-262-58028-4
  • Lawrence Halprin: Notebooks 1959–1971 (1972) ISBN 0-262-08051-6
  • The RSVP cycles; creative processes in the human environment. (1970, c1969) ISBN 0-8076-0557-3
  • Freeways (1966)
  • “Motation.” Progressive Architecture Vol. 46 (July 1965): ppg. 126-133
  • Cities (1963)


  1. King, John (October 26, 2009). "Lawrence Halprin – landscape architect – dies". San Francisco Chronicle.
  2. Walker, Peter; Simo, Melanie (1994). Invisible Gardens: the Search for Modernism in the American Landscape. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-73116-9. Retrieved 17 July 2019.
  3. Rainey, Reuben M. (2001). "The Garden as Narrative: Lawrence Halprin's Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial". In Wolschke-Bulmahn, Joachim (ed.). Places of Commemoration: Search for Identity and Landscape Design. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. pp. 377–413. ISBN 0-88402-260-9. Retrieved 17 July 2019.
  4. Lawrence Halprin (March 2003). "Oral History Interview Transcript" (PDF) (Interview). Interviewed by Charles A. Birnbaum and Tom Fox. The Cultural Landscape Foundation. Retrieved 18 July 2019.
  5. Benjamin Ivry. "An American Landscape Architect and His Sabra Designs". The Forward Association, Inc. Retrieved July 20, 2016.
  6. Jeff Gonot (11 June 2012). "Book Review: A Life Spent Changing Places". Archived from the original on 2012-06-19. Retrieved July 20, 2016.
  7. Sullivan, Patricia (October 28, 2009). "Lawrence Halprin, 93; Urban projects won wide acclaim for American landscape architect". The Washington Post.
  8. Osbaldeston, Roger (1980). "Halprin, Lawrence". In Emanuel, Muriel (ed.). Contemporary Architects. London and Basingstoke: The Macmillan Press Ltd. pp. 335–337. doi:10.1007/978-1-349-04184-8. ISBN 978-1-349-04184-8. Retrieved 18 July 2019.
  9. Martin, Douglas (October 28, 2009). "Lawrence Halprin, Landscape Architect, Dies at 93". The New York Times.
  10. "Bio". Anna Halprin. Archived from the original on April 5, 2008.
  11. Wallace, p. 116.
  12. O'Connor, Colleen (October 3, 2012). "Skyline Park in Denver focus of debate over art, history and function". The Denver Post. Retrieved 18 July 2019.
  13. Johnson, Wes (September 17, 2016). "Halprin's celebrated design will be focus of Park Central Square tour". Springfield News-Leader. Retrieved 18 July 2019.
  14. Birnbaum, Charles (Summer 2004). "Reclaiming a lost legacy: The Challenge of Preserving the Postwar Era's Invisible Gardens" (PDF). Common Ground. Retrieved 18 July 2019.
  15. Green, Jared (November 8, 2012). "Lawrence Halprin's Skyline Park Is Now History". The Dirt [blog]. American Society of Landscape Architects. Retrieved 18 July 2019.
  16. King, John (March 13, 2007). "A landscape giant looks back at his roots. They go deep". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 4 October 2018. Some intrusions haven't aged well, such as the mannered dramas of his plazas along Market Street.
  17. "Skyline Park Documentation". Colorado Preservation, Inc. Retrieved 18 July 2019.
  18. Komara, Ann (Summer 2006). "Recording a Mid-century Modern Landscape in Denver, Colorado". CRM: The Journal of Heritage Stewardship. 3 (3). Retrieved 18 July 2019.
  19. Worth, Libby; Poynor, Helen (2004). Anna Halprin. London: Routledge. p. 68. ISBN 0-415-27329-3. Retrieved 17 July 2019.
  20. "Joel E. Ferris, II House". Mid-Century Spokane. Retrieved 16 July 2019.
  21. Carol Ness, "Landscape designer who built Sproul Plaza leaves a national legacy: Lawrence Halprin, 93, helped shape the modern Berkeley campus," UC Berkeley News, 30 October 2009.
  22. "St Francis Square". Ashoka International. Archived from the original on October 21, 2009.
  23. Woo, Elaine (2011-11-20). "Al Boeke dies at 88; 'father' of Northern California's Sea Ranch". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-12-03.
  24. Muldoon, Katy (October 26, 2009). "Landscape Legend Lawrence Halprin dies at 93". The Oregonian.
  25. Birnbaum, Charles A. (10 November 2016). "Lawrence Halprin: Designer of "one of the most important urban spaces since the Renaissance"". Huffpost. Retrieved 17 July 2019.
  26. Halprin, Lawrence; Carter, Donald Ray; Rockrise, George T. (1962). "The Look of Market Street". What to Do About Market Street: A prospectus for a development program prepared for the Market Street Development Project, an associate of SPUR: The San Francisco Planning and Urban Renewal Association (Report). Livingston and Blayney, City and Regional Planners. pp. 23–34. Retrieved 15 October 2018.
  27. Kendrick, Frank J. (1977). "Effects of Transportation Planning on Urban Areas" (PDF). The Ohio Journal of Science. 77 (6): 273. Retrieved 17 July 2019.
  28. "Water Garden". Washington State Department of Enterprise Services. Retrieved 17 July 2019.
  29. Alexander, Kristin (January 23, 2005). "The Fate of a Fountain" (PDF). The Olympian.
  30. Komara, Ann (2012). Lawrence Halprin's Skyline Park. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-1616890919. Retrieved 17 July 2019.


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