Celebrating 100 Years of Landscape at Berkeley

California is home to iconic places and canonical landscapes that draw people to the Golden State in search of the American dream. Some are wild or nearly so, like Yosemite, Death Valley, or stretches of the Pacific coast. Others are interspersed with urban settlement, such as oak woodlands of the Sierra foothills, or southern California’s coastal chaparral. Still others form the fabric of the state’s equally well-recognized cities and suburbs.

California’s designed landscapes are no less iconic. Making a radical break from earlier traditions, California’s early landscape architects powerfully shaped American lifestyle ideals that drew people to the state. Framed by wisteria, shingled bungalows offered the opportunity of home ownership. With their sleek patios and biomorphic swimming pools, mid-century modern houses defined the new indoor-outdoor lifestyle. Corporate campuses graced by serene minimalist landscapes attracted pioneering scientists and engineers. Public gardens and plazas, featuring California native plantings, created generous spaces for social interaction.

Beatrix Farrand sitting in her Reef Point Library
Beatrix Farrand sitting in her Reef Point Library. Throughout her professional career she divided her time between creative design and landscape design history. Enlarge [+]

One of the most influential intellectual hubs for this new landscape architecture was the University of California, Berkeley, which began offering degrees in landscape architecture in 1913. Berkeley’s alumni and faculty were leaders in the 20th century’s modernist landscape architecture movements, realized in projects ranging enormously by type and scale. Several were part of Telesis, the influential group of Bay Area progressive architects, landscape architects and city planners who argued for an integrated approach to environmental design.

Cover of Big Fun
An illustrated history of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Design, written and illustrated by Charles “Chip” Sullivan. Enlarge [+]

In 1959, Berkeley’s landscape architecture faculty joined the new College of Environmental Design. Housed in Wurster Hall with lively and diverse architects and city and regional planners during the social and environmental movements of the 1960s and 70s, the department’s faculty and students highlighted social and cultural factors in landscape architecture, participatory public design and community-based landscape projects, and the nexus between larger-scale landscape design and ecology. The role of landscape architecture as a social design practice, on the one hand, and as a branch of environmental planning, on the other, was increasingly recognized. In 1997, the department officially became Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning, dedicated to training students in the art of design, the science of ecology, and the pragmatics of planning practice.

Thomas Church as a landscape student learning surveying
Thomas Church as a landscape student learning surveying, 1922. Enlarge [+]

2013 marks the department’s centennial anniversary. This is cause for celebration, especially when those 100 years have such a rich record of creative accomplishment, design innovation, and social purpose. It is a history to be shared and rejoiced, as well as (in good academic fashion) interrogated and critiqued. The new book, Landscape at Berkeley: The First 100 Years, offers a retrospective on the remarkable history of the Department of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning, through remembering the pioneering work of its faculty and students.

But a centennial celebration is also an opportunity to take pause, and thoughtfully consider prospects. No academic institution can rest on its laurels. So, what should an academic department, whose historical mission has been to rigorously train landscape architects and environmental planners and to pursue significant research, take as its central orientation for the future?

Robert Royston critiquing a student project
Distinguished alumnus Robert Royston was a lecturer in the department for a time and often participated in design reviews. Here he is critiquing a student project, c. 1964. Enlarge [+]

Berkeley’s department is addressing this question through deliberation, evolution, and radical moves. The faculty spent the 2012–13 year in discussions about strategic directions, while simultaneously building a new research center on resource-efficient communities, and recruiting extraordinary new faculty and students who will help propel the department toward its new goals. Their directions are ambitious, and spring from a recognition that climate change and the imperatives of urban sustainability, adaptation and resilience place their integrated approach to design and ecology at the center of planning for the future of cities and metropolitan regions.

Katelyn Walker presenting Masters Thesis
Katelyn Walker (MLA) presenting her 2013 Masters Thesis — Devil’s Postpile National Monument Campground and Day Use Area Restoration and Redesign Enlarge [+]

In particular, the department seeks to train landscape architects and environmental planners to master the arts, crafts, and sciences of landscape design and ecologically-based design. Students are increasingly expected to integrate their diverse talents to create landscapes that are at once aesthetically compelling and performative. But the department also intends to innovate in six key areas of research, teaching and service:

  • Urban landscape regeneration: The need to retrofit, reuse and restore obsolete or degraded urban landscapes is fundamental to urban sustainability. New methods of project delivery and construction based on new technologies, materials and sensors are critical for understanding the lifecycle, long-term maintenance, external costs, and values/services, of designed landscapes.
  • Landscape infrastructure: Landscape infrastructure, from block to regional scale, is increasingly recognized as a crucial approach to contending with extreme weather events involving flooding and storm surges. Designed estuaries and wetlands, stream embankments, urban infiltration networks and even barrier systems require an ever-stronger integration of ecology and design research.
  • Resource-efficient and healthy urban landscape design: Planning dense, walkable, mixed use urban places that minimize resource use, protect ecosystem services, promote health, and encourage walking and bicycling can reduce the urban ecological footprint. Creating such resource-efficient districts requires thoughtful analysis of density, innovative use of urban forest and green cover resources, strategies to integrate food production, and water/energy efficient street and open space design.
  • Social and environmental justice: Although concerns about justice are deeply embedded in department culture, climate change is apt to exacerbate the vulnerability of disadvantaged populations and increase risks associated with temperature and weather extremes and associated pollution problems. Redesigned urban landscapes as well as environmental hazard planning are important ways to address these heightened risks.
  • Designed landscape performance: The increasing use of landscape strategies to promote urban resilience and resource conservation implies the need to measure how they perform, in both social and ecosystem terms. This will require the development of new models and metrics to sense and track resource utilization, ecosystem service delivery, and social acceptance.
  • Collaborative practice: As urban governments, community organizations, and private firms around the world grapple with the implications of climate change, landscape architecture and environmental planning practitioners will play increasingly central roles — as members of large, multidisciplinary teams that work closely with local stakeholders. Collaborative practice and international collaboration will be central to the success of the field and its practitioners.

As dean of the College of Environmental Design, I am proud of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning’s first 100 years of achievements, inspired by its ambitious goals, and confident that we will witness even greater achievements in the century to come.

Students demonstrating
Students holding a demonstration against the Vietnam War in the courtyard of Wurster Hall, 1968 Enlarge [+]

Photos courtesy of the Environmental Design Archives, University of California, Berkeley.

The Legacy of Berkeley Parks: A Century of Planning and Making

To mark the 100th anniversary of Berkeley’s first public park, an exhibit and public lecture opened at the Berkeley Arts Center in November 2007 presenting the history of Berkeley’s park system and visions for the next century. The exhibit was prepared in collaboration with Sarah Graham Mitchell and Reuter Design, engaged a number of CED graduate classes, and was supported by the Beatrix Jones Farrand Fund. It was subsequently displayed in the Civic Arts Commission’s Addison Street Gallery, and the Berkeley Public Library.

Louise Mozingo and Marcia McNally
Werner Hegemann’s plan for Berkeley 1915 including the “Midway Plaisance” (College of Environmental Design Library) Enlarge [+]

Like most American cities, Berkeley formed parks as a public good, with the conviction that they played an important role in citizenship, health, equity, and stable property values. But accumulating parks was never a foregone conclusion–the process was sporadic and hard won. The exhibit boards examine Berkeley’s eras of park planning and production and highlight the advocacy of citizens, many of whom have been members of the CED community.

Louise Mozingo and Marcia McNally
Victory celebration, Civic Center Park, Memorial Day 1942 (Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association) Enlarge [+]

The result is an impressive park system that ranges from the ordinary to the cutting edge, but is shaped by certain underlying characteristics:

  • Berkeley’s hills with rock outcrops, sloping alluvial fan, flatlands, and Bayside, fingered together by creeks, create a “geographic genetics” that give the park system a bio-locality.
  • The parks lend local traction to national trends about how cities function and whom they serve.
  • Exuberant participation exposes competing claims on Berkeley’s public landscape that also evince a love of the community–self interest rightly understood.
  • The essence of Berkeley parks is plain and simple. Their open format can read as boring but is experienced as democratic.
  • Visions matter. They have provided Berkeley with compelling back-pocket ideas for when events, people, government, and institutions galvanize around civic notions.

Today the park system, plus the regional and state parks edging the hills and the shore, is arguably an approximation of the “Midway Plaisance,” planner Werner Hegemann’s 1915 vision for Berkeley. The question is, “What should the next 100 years yield?” On May 3, 2008 we assembled 21 speakers representing four decades of Berkeley park activism to put forward their vision. What resulted was a heartening intersection of resonating ideas for future consideration.

  • 1. Berkeley needs a vision drawing for Berkeley’s parks that engages the physical structure of the city in a specific way. Since Berkeley began general planning in 1955, the distinct intentions of park planning have been co-opted. It is time to correct this and make Berkeley’s bio-local genetics once again integral and visible.
  • 2. Berkeley can be transformed from a city with many parks into a city within a park. This should occur at various connected scales, starting with all Berkeley neighborhoods having a green center.
  • 3. Every infrastructure improvement should include strategic thinking about parks. Making the city’s infrastructure add up to a multi-functional green should be the goal. There are opportunities to add strategic parcels to the park system, to exhume and display the city’s creeks, and to create hybrid public space.
  • 4. Streets are the greatest opportunity to build a layered and linked open space circuit. They are where most of the water flows and where the City already controls generous existing rights-of-way. Berkeley’s streets should treat runoff, move people on foot or bike, instead of automobile, and cool the landscape.
  • 5. The city will grow denser but “ecodensity” can be balanced by generous collective public space. Parks are destinations in the everyday life of the city where citizens meet, greet, and latch on to each other. One proposal is to re-design the Derby-Addison corridor as a 21st century plaisance where a wide green circuit would connect key parts of the city landscape.
  • 6. Berkeley needs money for parks. The legacy of Berkeley’s parks is a periodic, flexible commitment to park planning that readied the City for when acquisition and capital improvement opportunities arose. The time is right for another big push in park funding.
  • 7. Berkeley historically uses parks as a showcase for innovative thinking and a stepping stone for long term civic engagement. Change in Berkeley has happened best when working to achieve something positive and progressive, such as building the Adventure Playground or opening Strawberry Creek. A vision for a reunited park and playfield system where Berkeley’s ever more diverse residents go to be active and healthy should be a catalyst for community action.
Louise Mozingo and Marcia McNally
Above, top to bottom: Codornices Park playground today (Marcia McNally); Shorebird Park picnickers (Marcia McNally); Strollers, Aquatic Park (Marcia McNally); Right: Glendale-LaLoma Park, 1969 (Royston, Hanamoto, Alley & Abey) Enlarge [+]

The future of Berkeley’s public park system lies in nurturing what it has but also capitalizing on moments in time when various agendas and needs can be stitched together to create something bigger than the sum of its parts. We need to utilize the cachet of the 100-year anniversary before it faces and the acknowledged confluence of ideas that came out of this process dissipate. We encourage the CED community to participate, to seize the moment.

Louise Mozingo and Marcia McNally
Live Oak Park playground 1940s (Berkeley Historical Society) Enlarge [+]
Louise Mozingo and Marcia McNally
Proposal for the Santa Fe Right-of-Way (Andreas Stavropoulos) Enlarge [+]