Bay Area Halprin Gardens Rediscovered

Lawrence Halprin & Associates (LHA) rose to national prominence during the 1960s when it began taking on large-scale public projects that exhibited provocative design within the urban landscape. Examples include the adaptive re-use of former industrial complex Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco (two years before the passing of the National Historic Preservation Act), and Freeway Park in Seattle, Washington, the first public park built over a freeway. It was during this decade that LHA gained notoriety as a landscape architecture firm. Yet Lawrence Halprin started the practice in 1949. And during its early years, most of LHA’s commissions were from well-to-do, but small-scale property owners. Halprin’s office designed hundreds of residential gardens throughout the Bay Area during the 1950s.

The Cultural Landscape Foundation  (TCLF) has been researching and documenting LHA-designed landscapes that span his career. The legacy of Lawrence Halprin and his colleagues is most visible in cities, from Jerusalem to Los Angeles. And yet, in looking at work dating to Halprin’s developmental years, one can see the values and aesthetics for which Halprin is known begin to take form. Several of these early gardens will be featured in TCLF’s upcoming photographic exhibition on Lawrence Halprin. They are currently being photographed by professional landscape and architectural photographers, and the exhibition will debut at the National Building Museum in November 2016, before traveling across the country. The survey and documentation of these early gardens is key to understanding Halprin’s long career as a landscape architect.


GouldGarden_feature_Courtesy of Diana Bonyhadi_ca1960

The Gould Garden, Berkeley, California:

In 1955, LHA was commissioned to design a garden in the Berkeley Hills for Gordon and Nancy Gould. The main house is located just off a curving road, and the rear yard slopes down to the south. A concrete terrace featuring a cabana, an L-shaped pool with fountain, and a sculptural retaining wall is located at the rear of the parcel. The original house was destroyed by fire in 1991, but the hardscape associated with the garden and cabana survived.

The topography of the site provides for expansive views of the San Francisco Bay. Perhaps taking a cue from lessons learned at the Donnell Garden in Sonoma County during Halprin’s tenure with Thomas D. Church & Associates, LHA designed the Gould Garden to capture views from the residence and the garden. Modernist influences are evident in the clean lines of the cabana and other site furnishings. But it is the fountain and the sculpture wall details where Halprin’s influence is most evident. Halprin intended for the oblong concrete fountain to provide a point of contrast to the soft vegetation and views that defined the site. The sculpture wall is an element Halprin repeated during later commissions, including Capitol Towers in Sacramento and Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The wall is composed of cast concrete panels and features an abstract bas-relief. It was likely designed in collaboration with contemporary sculptor Jacques Overhoff.

LymanPlanpreliminary_feature_1956_courtesyEmma Chapman

The Lyman Garden, San Francisco, California:

In 1956, LHA was commissioned by Mr. and Mrs. Oliver Lyman to design a garden in San Francisco’s Marina neighborhood. The property is fronted by a one-story façade featuring a garage door. Yet, in moving beyond the primary façade, one enters a fully integrated home and garden. The site slopes down to the north, providing views of the Golden Gate from both the house and garden.

Halprin and his colleagues designed two partially enclosed patios within the garden. The patios feature brick pavers in a basket-weave pattern and built-in wood furniture, plant beds, and decking. The vegetation includes Japanese maples, magnolias, camellias, and azaleas. Brick or tile paths connect the patios and eventually lead towards a low bank of ground vegetation at the rear of the property. Halprin’s influence is clear in the interconnectedness of the site, illustrated by the use of outdoor “rooms” and paths to create a meandering garden within a relatively small urban lot, a technique he later expanded on at the Open Space Sequence in Portland, Oregon, and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C.


Source: The Cultural Landscape Foundation;