The Urban Land Institute announced its 2012 J.C. Nichols Prize for “Visionaries in Urban Development” goes to Peter Walker, FASLA of PWP Landscape Architecture in Berkeley, Calif. Walker will receive the honor during ULI’s annual fall meeting in Denver Oct. 16-19.
The $100,000 prize is named after Jesse Clyde Nichols (1880-1950), a prominent commercial and residential real estate developer in Kansas City, Missouri. Nichols is credited with the initiating “percentage leases” for commercial rents, i.e., rates based on tenants' gross receipts. This is now a standard practice. Naming an award after J.C. Nichols, however, is controversial.*
Peter Walker is among the most honored landscape architects. Just this year the ASLA awarded him the Design Medal in recognition of exceptional design work over a sustained period, and named his firm the recipient of the Landscape Architecture Firm Award.
Walker co-founded the firm Sasaki, Walker and Associates in 1956 and opened its West Coast office, which became the SWA Group in 1976. In 1983, he formed Peter Walker and Partners in Berkeley, Calif., now known as PWP Landscape Architecture. The firm, which has seven partners and 35 employees, has received more than 90 regional, national, and international design awards. Walker was one of the chief designers of "Reflecting Absence," the National 9/11 Memorial in New York City. Other notable firm projects include the Tanner Fountain at Harvard University, Toyota Municipal Museum at Aichi Prefecture, Japan, the Nasher Foundation Sculpture Garden in Dallas, Millennium Park in Sydney, the Constitution Gardens on the National Mall and Jamison Square Park in Portland.
The scope of Walker’s work ranges from the design of small gardens to the planning of cities around the globe, with a particular emphasis on corporate headquarters, plazas, cultural gardens, academic campuses and urban regeneration projects.
"You have to make people aware of the space so that it sticks in their memory, and it is important to the community. It's not enough to just have open space. It has to have character and uniqueness," says Walker.
He also believes a public space should be flexible enough to be used in multiple ways.
His career includes service as the chairman of the Landscape Architecture Department and the acting director of the Urban Design Program at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design. He was also head of the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of California at Berkeley.
*From 1908 through the 1940s, the J.C. Nichols Co. built dozens of subdivisions in the Kansas City area that prohibited housing sales to blacks and other “undesirables” through “restrictive covenants.” Many of the covenants were never removed, even after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the courts could not enforce racial covenants on real estate (Shelly v. Kraemer,1948), and after the practice was banned by the Fair Housing Act of 1968. (See A City Divided: The Racial Landscape of Kansas City, 1900-1960 by Sherry Lamb Schirmer, associate professor of history, Avila University, Kansas City).