Lawrence Halprin Opines Redesign of His Charlottesville Mall

<p>Many of famed landscape architect Lawrence Halprin's optimistic 1970s public spaces are being updated and reconsidered. Historic preservationists fight back, but supporters say, "It's a living, breathing space, not a museum."</p>
June 6, 2008, 5am PDT | Tim Halbur
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"While discussing the proposed $7.5 million renovation of the Downtown Mall, city planners and the MMM Design Group, the Norfolk-based design firm contracted to do the work, have repeatedly vowed to remain faithful to the original Lawrence Halprin design. Interestingly, no one bothered to consult Halprin himself.

Reached at the California studio where he's busy working on his memoirs, the 92-year-old landscape architect says he was unaware of the current plan to update his 1976 Charlottesville Mall design. Still, it wasn't unfamiliar news. Quite a few of his landscapes have been renovated and altered over the years-- and in 2003, the same year he received the National Medal of Arts from President Bush, the nation's highest honor for artistic excellence, his Skyline Park in Denver was demolished.

"My immediate reaction is anger," Halprin told the New York Times after that demo. "Then it's 'gee whiz.' We were like scouts in war, working on point to induce people to move back to the city."

Halprin, perhaps now best known for his sprawling memorial to FDR in Washington, says he has "fond memories" of his Charlottesville project, and he recalls the success of workshops among city planners and citizens.

"I've always been proud of my design for the Downtown Mall," says Halprin. "It remains close to my heart.""

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Published on Thursday, June 5, 2008 in The Hook (Charlottesville, VA)
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