Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Environmentalism and Design

Thanks for your suggestions. I guess I was a little bit vague in my request. Let me try to explain.

For Chapter 1.2* I am looking at landscape architect Lawrence Halprin's relationship to the environmental movement emerging in the 1960s (his work 1960-1976). In doing so I need to define environmentalism from the perspective of environmental design professionals (architects, planners, engineers, etc) and the popular political movement. I am trying to give myself a quick briefing on how the environmental movement is discussed or historicized in both political science/social science circles in order to make the correlation to the design/architecture field and then in particular Halprin's own work.

Since the 19th century urban planners and architects have theorized the importance of preserving the natural environment to ensure the well-being of humans living in the urban environment. One might consider early designers such as Ebeneezer Howard (inventor of the Garden City concept) and Frederick Law Olmsted (designer of Central Park) as early environmentalists. The importance of these earlier concepts of integrating nature into the urban environment was revived in the 1950s as Environmentalism began to gain momentum as a political movement; an example of this can be seen in the 1950s protests to ban A-bomb testing. And I'm sure there are strides being made in environmental science that went along to support these raising concerns in national policy. And while I am more familiar with Environmentalism as an idea as it developed in the design field, I am still wondering about specific discussions/events texts taking place in the scientific community.

Anyhow, I hope this explains my position a little bit. This topic is something that interests me not only for my dissertation, but I am also thinking of designing a class about the history of Environmentalism in architecture or Ecological design..."Green" architecture (still need to think of a sexy title to attract students). And like my dissertation I would like to provide some wider context for the course.

* Chapter One is for the time being Chapter 1.1 and 1.2 it will likely be changed to Chapter 1 and 2 and then the current Chapter 2 will be Chapter 3...etc. Essentially the original Chapter One that was written a year ago is being split up and expand to become the entire dissertation.
Cool huh?


Breena said...

Ok, I'm going to comment again because I think your question is interesting. I agree that early landscape designers/architects had an awareness that people needed parks and open space, but that awareness came out of or was nurtured by the larger social movements of the day. The designers weren't the first to be concerned about the horrible conditions in urban areas, they were responding to concerns in the wider society. The part of the question that confuses me is the assumption that the environmental movement in the 60s-70's grew out of the science of the 50's. I think much of the movement grew out of a reaction to scientific innovations such as the A-bomb and chemical pesticides. I don't think scientists were necessarily leaders in pointing out the dangers of these things. Oppenheimer and some of the other scientists working on the Manhattan project had negative reactions to the power of the A-bomb, but I don't think they were leading the protests.

I don't know that much about Halprin's philosophy although I'm familiar with his work. It will be interesting to see what you find! I could be the first to buy your book. :) I just keep getting stuck as to why you are looking to science for your evidence? Why not look for books on environmental history? Wouldn't more general knowledge about the environmental movement be just as appropriate? Or are you thinking of ecology in particular? I think the science of ecology was gaining prominence during that period, so there might be a relationship there, but I can't think of a book that outlines that. (Sorry this is such a long comment.)

eloise said...


Thanks for you comments! I really appreciate the ideas. I think it is really difficult to say in both instances "who came first" in terms of thinking about open space and the problems of urban living both in the 19th century and in the 1960s in regards to the social environmental movement.
All I meant to say is that landscape architects inherently need to think about integration of "man" and his environment, because its part of the job description.
Historically scientific discoveries have played a role in art practice.
Thinking about environmental design as an art did have some of its origins in the biological sciences. Frederick Law Olmsted, the first "landscape architect," studied horticulture and farming (as did Halprin). It wasn't until people were able to manipulate plant life (in greenhouses for example) or that they were able to simulate environments to import exotic plants and were interested in botanical gardens and things like that that the modern field of landscape architecture emerged.

I'm not so set at writing a complete geneaology of these ideas but rather would like to get a sense of the total picture - for contextual purposes. For my own discussion on Halprin it is really important mostly as the environmental movement relates to the field of architectural (in particular landscape) practice.

And yes, ecology is really important to Halprin. In fact, I am talking about his philosophy as urban ecology. He takes ideas that are brewing in Environmental Science circles - such as theories about environmental systems and organic processes and is applying them to the urban environment.

I don't know if this explicates anything. But it certainly is an interesting conversation. And hopefully will be clear as I work through. I will definitely update the blog with my progress on this chapter.