Preservationists are accustomed to looking at old buildings. We wander through historic districts, drive down country roads, and exclaim over old barns, ornate townhouses, and charming train depots. Too often, however, we simply pass by designed landscapes without recognizing them as something worthy of contemplation – or preservation. As Guest Editor Charles Birnbaum notes in his opening essay of the Winter 2013 issue of the Forum Journal, this is especially true for modernist landscapes. He points out that even as preservationists struggle to raise awareness of the value of modern architecture, modern landscapes still remain largely invisible.
This issue of Forum Journal will open your eyes—and your mind—to the role that these modern landscapes play in our communities and to the importance of preserving and protecting them.
It is easy to love the pastoral Olmsted parks and neighborhoods that most people are familiar with. But for many people, it is harder to relate to modernist landscapes. Perhaps it is because they expect more green and less concrete, more curves and fewer straight lines, and more colorful flowers and less ground cover.
As a result, many modernist landscapes are threatened—by neglect, general wear and tear, weather, budget constraints, and, most of all, a lack of appreciation and understanding.
Contributors to this journal take an in-depth look at these issues and discuss ways that preservationists can effectively advocate for these landscapes. Watch our online interview “Charles and Charles.” Susan West Montgomery, the National Trust’s director of Information and Training, sits down with Charles Beveridge, senior editor of the Frederick Law Olmsted Papers, and Charles Birnbaum, a landscape architect and founder of The Cultural Landscape Foundation, for a wide-ranging discussion about the challenges facing historic landscapes.
Two detailed case studies give a sense of the threats facing two modernist landscapes—Mellon Square in Pittsburgh and Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis. Susan Rademacher, parks curator for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, follows the up-and-down preservation journey of Mellon Square to its current renovation stage, which promises to return the park to its original design. A slide show depicts this exciting work in progress. The outcome for Peavey Plaza, however, is a little more uncertain. As Charlene Roise, president of Hess Roise Historical Consultants, explains in her essay, Peavey Plaza has been poorly maintained and is slated for a makeover by the City of Minneapolis that will significantly alter its 1970s design. Preservationists received good news earlier this week, however, when Peavey Plaza was officially listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Modernist landscapes are still playing a game of catch up in terms of documentation and research, but that is changing. Gretchen Hilyard, a preservation planner with the City of San Francisco, and Courtney Spearman, project manager for What’s Out There at The Cultural Landscape Foundation, discuss recent trends in survey, registration, and documentation in their essay on establishing a context for modern landscape architecture.
This increasing interest and surge in scholarship and research on modern landscape architecture has greatly helped to increase the understanding of the subject. Nancy Slade, project manager for the Pioneers of American Landscape Design Initiative at The Cultural Landscape Foundation documents the growth in special collections that emphasize landscapes in university and private press publications that are steadily adding to knowledge of modernist landscape architecture.
To really understand modernist landscape architecture, however, you have to experience it. While we can’t transport you to Minneapolis or Pittsburgh or San Francisco, we can, however, in our new digital journal, let you see and hear more about these landscapes. And we hope that by the time you have “experienced” everything that our new digital journal has to offer, modern landscape architecture will no longer be invisible. Instead you will have a clearer understanding and appreciation for these landscapes and become a better advocate for their preservation.
A note on our new format: This first digital issue is a demo and is available for all read. Subsequent issues (and the full PDF of each new issue) are accessible to Forum members only who received an email from us on January 16 explaining how to access the issue. If you download this journal to your Kindle, Nook, Android or Apple device, the enhanced features are best viewed using the Adobe reader app. Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.