Over my 40 years in the field of architecture, I have had the pleasure of working with some fine professional landscape architects. Recently, my favorite has been Tanya Mandel, and we have enjoyed working with her on some of our best places–the new Martha Fay Health Center, the Carver State Bank and Food Lion on MLK, and more recently the East River Street Urban Development. Not long ago Tanya asked me “why do you enjoy landscape architecture so much?”, and I had to think about it.
Gunn Meyerhoff Shay has created some of Savannah’s most memorable urban landscapes, especially while Bob Gunn and Eric Meyerhoff were the principals. River Street, Franklin Square and the City Market streetscapes come to mind, but there were lots of others, so that is certainly part of it. Together, Bob and Eric made some of the landmarks that people can’t forget when they visit our city.
But I remembered something even more influential. When I was a student architect back at U Penn in the 1970’s, one of my favorite professors was a man named Laurie Olin, and another was Carol Franklin, a feisty red head with a keen wit and a sharp tongue. Both were landscape architects, and helped me to learn that architecture, landscape architecture and city planning were all one endeavor. I later told Tanya about having a pin up presentation in studio, and one of the best students showed some really good drawings and made it clear he knew they were. Laurie took him down a notch or two by telling him “I can draw better than you can with a stick in the sand than you can with anything you choose”. We all laughed at the time, but later some of us asked if Professor Olin could show us some of his drawings. Laurie showed us his field sketch book from a recent trip to England, and they took our breath away!
I hadn’t really followed Laurie’s career since then, other than seeing his illustrations for a book that I loved called “Great Streets” which cataloged the best of these in the world. Curious now, I decided to Google him. Yikes! Laurie Olin’s career as a landscape architect is one of the most accomplished in modern American history. His portfolio would make Thomas Jefferson blush. One entry on YouTube even showed him just a couple years ago giving a demonstration of drawing with a stick dipped in black ink. Carol Franklin’s career was also very impressive, and her firm’s work some of the best of our times. By the end of the night I had purchased Laurie’s book “Across the Open Field”, which contained drawings from the sketchbook he showed us 40 years ago, as well as his essays on the English landscape. Thanks to Tanya, I had found my roots.
Since my days as a student in Philadelphia, I have always been fascinated by the idea of “place”. One night I heard a lecture by the Dean at that time, Lou Kahn, who kept talking about the responsibility of architects to make “places of well being”. Places where humans felt better just for being there. This is why people all say that they love Savannah–its central historic district is a place of well being, and a big part of that are our spaces outdoors. Full of shade trees, dappled light, pleasant walks, lacy iron works, colorful flowers and lots of other people strolling, our boulevards and squares amaze folks that live in their cars back home. The traditional architecture and fried chicken get ’em here, but these places make us unforgettable.
So my passion for landscape architecture stems from our desire to make places that make people feel better just for passing through. Getting to work with landscape architects like Tanya is a nice bonus! This blog is dedicated to the fine art of landscape architecture, and deploying things man made and things divine to help us all find a bit of heaven here on earth.
What is your favorite place of well being in Savannah?