The Failures and Feats of a Leading Landscape Architect

Recent recipient of the ASLA's Gold Medal, landscape architect Laurie Olin shares some interesting opinions on his distinguished career, landscape urbanism, and the state of public space.

Read Time: 2 minutes

June 21, 2012, 7:00 AM PDT

By Jonathan Nettler @nettsj


In a conversation with AN West Coast editor Sam Lubell, Olin shares his insights on the changing role of landscape architects in the creation of urban environments:

"In the last decade or so, many architects have become deeply engaged in ecology and energy and systems-the way landscape architects have always been, which is good and healthy and proper. And so we now realize cities aren't just architecture. For a long time people tried to solve something called urban design. Some people tried to make urban design a discipline. We in landscape architecture would argue that urban design isn't a discipline, it's an activity that lots of disciplines do together. It's ensemble work. None of us can control it and none of us can do it all."

On the importance of cities and streets:

"...learning how to make cities rich and fecund and great places to be so we're comfortable and healthy and happy is the biggest problem we face. The only way we'll not go crazy is to build beautiful, rich, life-enhancing cities....The majority of open spaces in cities are streets. That means the street system is too important to leave to transportation engineers. They're way too important to leave to just moving traffic. So I'm interested in cities because they are the design problem for a habitable planet."

On the failure of Pershing Square in Los Angeles:

"When Ricardo Legorretta and I did Pershing Square, which everybody hates now, we gambled on the fact that Anglos would come down from the towers and Hispanics would come over, and of course they haven't. The citizens group that was the client collapsed and went away. One of the biggest disappointments of my life was our thinking that we knew what we were doing in that situation and we didn't."

Friday, June 15, 2012 in The Architect's Newspaper

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