The Rich Legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.

Laurie Olin, FASLA, founder of OLIN Studio and recent recipient of the National Medal of Arts, gave the keynote speech at the symposium, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.: Inspirations for the 21st Century, held at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. Presented by the National Association for Olmsted Parks (NAOP) and its partners, including the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the symposium was the first of two parts that, together, will be the most comprehensive presentation to date of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.’s amazing legacy.

Olin’s point of view is a “practitioner’s” but also “someone trying to teach people to become landscape architects,” referring to his work as practice professor of landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and former chair of the department of landscape architecture at Harvard University. In his talk, Olin didn’t take the bird’s-eye view of the younger Olmsted’s legacy, but provided a more detailed narrative about his formative years and the interests and forces that gathered in his work and thought.

The overview began with the father, Frederick Law Olmsted Sr., who was “justly credited” with “initiating the field of landscape architecture.” The son, Olmsted Jr., “continued this activity” as it was “conceived and formed by his father” through the work of the family firm that he inherited with his older half brother, John Charles Olmsted.

Omsted Jr. was “in large part truly responsible for the “development and recognition of landscape architecture as a profession” and was a “progressive reformer” at heart. He also was responsible for the “rapid evolution” of the study of landscape architecture and was a “central figure in the initiation and development” of the field of urban planning, the National Park Service, and ASLA.

Olin discussed current jousting in academia around landscape urbanism, concluding that the breadth of Olmsted’s vision remains both pertinent and much in play in the field today. Landscape architects must contend with the “transformation and rescue of declining areas” and “restructuring hastily-constructed sections of cities.”

Hurricane Sandy’s effect on coastal cities is also a “clear landscape design problem, exactly the sort of work Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. would be doing today.”

Ultimately, according to Olin, “we’re all forging ahead, trying to improve both practice and academia.”

Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.: A Vision for the American West, will take place March 27-28, 2014 at Stanford University. This second event will expand the D.C. discussion to incorporate issues specific to the American West, including land and water conservation, state and regional parks systems, and protecting the region’s unique environmental resources.

This guest post is by Karen Grajales, ASLA Public Relations Manager.

Image credit: Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. / National Association for Olmsted Parks

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