Landscape Architect Biographies?

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    Anyone know of any well-written, honest landscape architect (auto)biographies, preferably written in fairly recent years?


    I have found some from the architecture community and just finished a few month back ‘Everything by Design’ by Alan Lapidus. I enjoyed the book and his honest recollection of the ups and downs of his career and family life since childhood. I would think a good bio on well-regarded (or even lesser known) LA’s would be a besteller right now with unemployed, bored, and confused masses of LA’s right now.

    Rico Flor

    Hi Nick.

    Not an honest-to-goodness biography but do check out “The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson, on FLO’s participation in the Chicago World’s Fair planning/design. I myself am surprised at how he became more human to me, toothache, depression, senility and all. But it was worth the read and education. Mystery thriller aside.

    A plus is getting to know Daniel Burnham’s thought in planning…he happened to have planned the Philippine cities of Manila and Baguio. There’s even a Burnham Park in the latter city.



    This book about Olmsted is supposed to be good. I’ve heard recommendations from at least two people who read it, though I have yet to read it myself. I read his The Most Beautiful House in the World and found him to have a very comfortable, lucid writing style. He really gets to know his subjects.



    I actually own Devil in the White City, but havent gotten around to actually reading it. It sounds interesting and has always come highly recommended from everyone I’ve talked to about it, but I was hoping to find something about a more contemporary LA/Designer.

    I’m sort of surprised MVVA, Walker, Schwartz, Halprin, Haag, Eckbo, etc, etc havent written about their lives/accomplishments to any great extent. I would love to read about Van Valkenburgh’s or Eckbo’s life (up to this point). It seems like architects are more inclined to write about themselves, figures..ha.

    I have read/heard somewhere that Eckbo started hos career as a landscape/garden designer working for a local nursery in souther california long before he founded EDAW.

    Man, where are these books?

    Tanya Olson

    I don’t think they’re really autobiographies, but you could check out ‘Gardens are for People’ by Tom Church and ‘Gardens Make Me Laugh’ by James Rose.
    More contemporary are the Ten Landscapes series published by Rockport (I think some of them are out of print, but you can find them used)- there are a number of them including Mario Schjetnan, Topher Delaney, and a bunch of others. Lots of pics and biographical stories – not exactly autobiographies, though.
    Gardening with Nature by James Van Sweden.
    I have Lawrence Halprin’s Sea Ranch book around here somewhere, but I can’t find it right now – lots and lots of great sketches, but I don’t think much biographical stuff – can’t remember for sure.
    There’s got to be something on Garrett Eckbo!!?? You’d think EDAW would publish something….


    The thing I liked about the Lapidus book was the honesty and candidness. He went beyond his work and wrote about his childhood, upbringing, clients, projects, and personal life. For me, it was so interesting because I could draw parallels between my experiences and his. I could see how a suceessful architect made his way through life, through many ups and downs.

    I’m kind of tired of reading about an individuals work. I’d like to learn more about their life and career.

    Trace One

    great idea, Nick – do a biography on someone living, so you can get some first-hand stuff..I agree completely about the bored and confused masses…Agatha Christie has a murder story that revolves around a Lanscape Arch (forget what exactly he is called..) and his garden masterpiece in a quarry he is working on his whole life..

    who would be good for biograhizing? (made up word..)…

    McHarg has some sort of bio done on him – of coiurse there is Robert Moses, Jane Jacobs, Thom Jefferson who was somewhat of an LA, even Teddy Roosevelt..

    Interesting to think who might have an interesting life worth writing about…McHarg certainly did..


    I’d still be interested in Eckbo…coming up as a designer in the mid-century hipster age, founding the largest la firm in the world.

    Of course, Lapidus was well-known in the arch community for his hotel design, but not necessarily for his ‘rock star’ designer status or cutting edge work- but he had an interesting life filled with interesting experiences. His book is fairly thick and touches on many experiences and milestones in his life and career. I’m sure there are many lesser- known LA’s with great stories to share. I’m just really surprised they’re not out there.

    We’re talking about people who shape our world-I would hope they had interesting personal lives, after all where does all that inspiration and energy come from?

    Tanya Olson

    the James Van Sweden is sort of a combination of both childhood and built works….

    Tanya Olson

    I agree! It would be very interesting to read about formative influences and life experiences. Get started, Nick! Find an interesting landscape architect and “biographize” them as Trace said!

    Bradley Cantrell

    Dorothee Imbert wrote one about Garrett Eckbo while he was still alive, excellent book that looks into his influences, education, and practice.

    Jason T. Radice

    Interesting concept. I don’t think that LAs generally have the egos to do stuff like this. But that explains why there are so many architects who do write their own books (or hire people to do it)

    Check out this:

    The author is Witold Rybczynski from UPENN, and the book is about the FLO you though you knew. Although I have abunch of this guy’s books, I have not read this one, yet, but Rybczynski is my favorite author. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him twice as well. His writing is intelligent and honest, and very relaxed.The books are fairly short as well (a cross country flight will polish one off).


    Can I start with you Tanya?

    Ha, I didnt mean to say I was interested in writing about one myself, just interested in reading and surprised I couldnt find much..


    I think I own this one or have at least read some of it.

    I think this is more about the work than the man if this is the same book I’m thinking of. That’s great, but reading about someones work gets kind of old after a while. I can only read so much about individual projects or styles, or theories..I was hoping to find more about the man, though I know there is some anecdotal writing in there about his life.

    Tanya Olson

    ha!~ I’ll let you know when something interesting happens to me!

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