Article : In His Own Words — Profile: Lawrence Halprin, FASLA, 1916 to 2009

In His Own Words
Profile: Lawrence Halprin, FASLA, 1916 to 2009

Edited by Leslie McGuire, managing editor

Lawrence Halprin, FASLA, 1916 to 2009

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Lawrence Halprin, one of the truly great landscape architects of this century, died in October 25, 2009 at the age of 93. We will all miss his brilliant analytical mind, but as is often the case, he will never stop speaking to us. His legacy will live on, as will his voice through his art, his designs, his books, his iconic body of work and, last but not least, his courage as a creative force. The courage of our artists gives us the right to remain timid, the moral ability to be spectators rather than doers, and the comfort of our caution.

Following are excerpts, quotes, sketches, project shots and visualizations from Halprin’s “Notebooks 1959 to 1971” that delineate his thoughts and impressions in his own words.


“The most important thing about designing is to generate creativity in others, and to be inclusive – to include the needs and experiences of people interacting with the environment, and to let them be part of its creation.”

“And we finally get to a consensus, where you get a sense of what really ought to be done, and then they give it to me and then I draw it. I mean draw it in the philosophical sense.”

“Then I sit down, work at it, because now I have a convincing feeling about what that place wants to be, you see? And it’s not just me. Me and my talent comes in taking that consensus and then making something wonderful out of it - a work of art.”


“We have emerged from nature and we are her children…thus we maintain a kind of typical Love-Hate relationship with her—like a teen-age child we need the security of her warmth, the stability of her as a source and at another moment we want to be free and on our own and left loose of her disciplines. At times we have courted her, at times defied her—mostly taken her for granted as the stable source which would forever nurture us and keep us going. That seems finally not to be inevitable…we have begun (I hope deeply enough) to finally realize that this root source is in fact in jeopardy and that by our actions we are permanently destroying her.” (p. 322)
From “Notebooks 1959 to 1971,” Lawrence Halprin
Sketches courtesy of Lawrence Halprin, The Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania



“I also hoped—and this was very true in the beginning - that this would also be a place that people would be able to walk in to the fountain and use it in a nice way, of reading and examining the quotations on the blocks. The whole memorial is for different senses... seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling. I probably would have come up with something different if I had not lived through it.” (FDR Memorial, Washington, D.C.)



“I wanted FDR Memorial to be an experiential history lesson that people could grasp as their own as they walked through it. The FDR Memorial is the apotheosis of all that I have done.”



“This isn’t a memorial to him as a person. It’s a memorial to what he achieved as our leader. It’s a way of communicating to this country what he stood for.” (FDR Memorial, Washington, D.C.)



“In the plaza there should be events…sculpture shows – concerts – dance events with dancers all over and arriving to center space from above down stairs around fountain…” (Lovejoy Fountain)
From “Notebooks –1959 to 1971”

“It’s the core of my life, making things, making these places. What else would I rather do? ... It excites the hell out of me.” (Lovejoy Fountain, Portland, Oregon)



“They will feel about you that you’re going to make something wonderful for them. And they help you by expressing themselves. Not telling you how to do it, but encouraging you and accepting your vision and working with you on that kind of a level.” (Lovejoy Fountain, Portland, Oregon)

“‘Memorable’ and ‘intense’ and ‘passionate’ are words that I prefer to ‘pretty’ when I’m making places for people.” (Lovejoy Fountain, Portland, Oregon, in the snow)



“Of all the Jedis I saw in the film, Yoda is the only one I like.” (Letterman Digital Arts Center, San Francisco)

“There’s a difference between architects and landscape architects. They make objects. We don’t. We make experiences. . . We’re not trying to find a form. The land is the form.” (Sea Ranch)


“The quality of living with nature and allowing it to manifest itself is different than the quality of living in a city, especially a dense city.” (Sea Ranch Water Motion Study)
From “Notebooks 1959 to 1971”

“I always say to young people when they ask me how I work, I always say to them, the only time you’re ever going to do something good is if you have a good client. And by good I mean all kinds of things.” (Justin Herman Plaza, San Francisco)

“The trick is to perceive the old freeway as a part of the cityscape and tame it, rather than complain about it.” (Freeway Park, Seattle)

“Freeway Park. In the gorge at the freeway park is ‘like’ being below the waterfall at Yosemite.”
From “Design as a Value System. Places, 6(1). Retrieved from

“The great challenge for the garden designer is not to make the garden look natural, but to make the garden so that the people in it will feel natural.” (Freeway Park, Seattle)

Sketch for Keller Fountain, auditorium forecourt opening day. (From “Notebooks 1959 to 1971,” Lawrence Halprin)

“I wouldn’t be in this work if I didn’t think it would—well, I don’t know how much it transforms people—but it can go a long way toward making their lives more meaningful and enhancing their lives. And if it’s done right, it can promote healing. A lot of healing can be done in a wonderful environment.” (Keller Fountain, Portland)

“I never use water as a barrier. I use water in cities as a living force, on some level like plants. It moves, it sparkles, it sounds good, you can touch it, you can play in it.” (Keller Fountain, Portland)


Quotes from “Notebooks 1959 to 1971.

Copyright © 1972 Lawrence Halprin, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachussetts, and London, England.

“The essential purpose of design is to create possibilities for events to happen. The limited quality of perfection in design is that it is then fixed. No more can happen. It is ended. Anything added or subtracted from a perfect design demeans it or lessens it’s impact. On the other hand, an imperfect design accepts change and is enhanced by it. By imperfect, I mean ‘incompleted’. Incompletion allows for additions and subtractions which enables a person to feel a part of it.” (p. 81) (Sea Ranch)

“The Sea Ranch has become a symbol for conservationists everywhere of the potential of living with the land rather than against it, When I say everywhere, I mean just that. I am not sure you realize how widely the Ranch is known, particularly in professional circles, throughout the world for what it has come to stand for.” (p. 194)

“What is new in our communities is ‘Spread’ and number. Before this, we have had nodules, concentrated groups with a kind of gem-like quality—hard and tight and facetted. Now we spread in landscapes.” (p. 33)

“Movement and choreography have always been a consistent influence on me and my work…natural movements characterized by water and natural forces and the evidence of natural change over time have led me to my endless fascination with natural processes.” (p. 10)

Sierra – August 28 – ‘68. Possible wall for Portland Fountain: “A city is like a biological community—an ecosystem—based on natural foundations: Soils, climate, food place—a series of interactions in which a long period of initial jockeying goes on—young, adolescent, maturity—derived from processes.” (P. 105)

“The Portland Fountains are ‘natural’ not because they imitate nature but because the processes by which natural effects of this kind operate have been understood and recycled into an art form: i.e. form followed process, thus an interface between man and nature arose in which we as designers ‘Scored’ the process from which the result emerged.” (P. 312)

“The essence of what we do is to evolve form from process. For that reason we lean heavily on the cyclical and constantly interacting process of creativity involving change towards objectives. The resulting forces evolve from multiple input—they are not goal oriented but process oriented. We do not search for form - or decisions – or conclusions. We let them emerge naturally from how we work. For that reason much of our work is experimental and takes the form of workshops.” (p. 357) Sea Ranch: Experiments in Environment, Workshop problem with Chuck Moore at Driftwood Beach.

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June 27, 2016, 6:03 pm EST

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