Roughly halfway through a new exhibition on the work of Lawrence Halprin at the National Building Museum, an annotated watercolor by the late landscape architect offers a glimpse into his design process. Over a painted sketch of a river, Halprin scribbled on the water's flow with verbs: "leap," "glide," "surge," "eddy," "bubble," and "bounce." This study of liquid movement is a sketch from the development of the design for the Portland Open Space Sequence, one of 30 projects presented in this retrospective, which opened on Saturday in Washington, D.C.
The exhibition, which is a the third in a series of collaborations between the museum and The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), presents Halprin's career in five segments: Early Residential Gardens, A Transition to the Public Realm, Modernist Era, Postmodernist Era, and Capstone Projects. Beginning with small-scale projects such as the Lehman House garden in Kentfield, Calif. (a collaboration with architect Joseph Esherick), the scope of the projects shown in the exhibition grows with works such as Ghirardelli Square, United Nations Plaza, and Levi's Plaza in San Francisco; Freeway Park in Seattle ("the first freeway to have been 'capped' with a park," according to the exhibition text); and the Los Angeles Open Space Network.
A new series of photographs was commissioned to showcase these spaces as they exist today, and are paired with materials from the Lawrence Halprin Collection at the Architectural Archives of the University of Pennsylvania and the Edward Cella Art + Architecture gallery in Los Angeles. (Only the photographs will travel beyond the National Building Museum, which is the first of several stops for the show.) Several shadowbox models created from cut-outs of Halprin's paintings mounted on foam core—of projects such as the Ira Keller Forecourt Fountain in Portland and the approach to Yosemite Falls in California—are not just clever museum pieces. These models were created during the development of the landscapes. "This was part of that process—it was a way for him to see it in another dimension," says Charles Birnbaum, the president and CEO of TCLF, who describes Halprin as a "very dear friend." Birnbaum co-curated the exhibition with the foundation's director of communications Nord Wennerstrom and project manager Eleanor Cox, as well as the museum's senior curator, Martin Moeller, Assoc. AIA, who was the exhibition's coordinating curator.
Coinciding with the exhibition, the foundation has launched a website detailing the featured projects, which includes ratings of each project's current condition and visibility, as well as its designation, or lack thereof, on the National Register of Historic Places. This last part indicates a driving force behind the foundation as well as a purpose of this exhibition. According to the foundation's website, "TCLF educates and engages the public to make our shared landscape heritage more visible, identify its value, and empower its stewards."
This exhibition at the National Building Museum runs through April 16, 2017. After that, the photographic exhibition will travel to San Francisco and Los Angeles.