Basic, Human, Archetypical

What is design really all about? Design, particularly environmental design, has a profound responsibility. It is, in a sense, the bearer of the cultural value system of a community. For that reason, environmental design goes way beyond the visual; it is much more pervasive. It deals with cultural issues, with context, with lifestyle, with social and economic issues; it has profound ecological ramifications and influences on the future of the planet; it deals with the whole community as well as the individual; it is contributing to a human ecology and, in that sense, it must be multi-sensory and holistic. And, I think, holistic is the operative word.

Perhaps more importantly, landscape design must go much deeper than image-making, which simply trivializes it. It is, after all, not a matter of constantly changing style, as some people think -like the redesign of new fashions each season. It has nothing to do with old-fashioned carpet bedding or modish, intricate gridded patterning on the ground, which is the more recently stylish way of doing things.

Landscape design is about social relevance, it can become poetic and symbolic, but, perhaps most importantly, it can articulate a culture’s most spiritual values.

For its best meaning, it can strive to externalize and make feasible spiritual values-for individuals, for a community, and for the whole planet. The role of the landscape designer can be similar to the role of a Shaman who, in the Dutch teacher Beuy’s words, “can transform base materials into mystical touchstones.” Beautiful term.

ln that way, landscape design is like alchemy. That is what makes it an important art form, and why, in fact, it is worthy for us to pursue this particular profession. Some of the most remarkable transformational environments l have personally experienced exhibit manifestations of spiritual values. They have altered my life.

What they seem to do is release in people something inherent inside them, something that is already there. They evoke some basic need, which lies dormant until it is evoked.

These environments speak to us at a basic, human, archetypical level, revealing to us our latent human and spiritual values.

Lawrence Halprin, Design as a Value System (1989)

Lawrence Halprin, Sea Ranch Sketches and Views (1972)



We are surrounded by image-making architects who design very special places where columns are hollow. Its hardly a good idea to lean against them because you could be sued for denting them. The entire project, actually, has a hollow ring. Everything seems to be designed to evoke a stage-set image these days, having very little to do with the actual activities going on within the building or the landscape.

Everywhere developers are hiring architects and landscape architects to authenticate their deals by making buildings and open spaces which, like advertisements, call attention to the project. It has become a form of corporate pimping, if you will. It leaves the architect to serve out his role as what Philip Johnson calls “a design whore.” The designs are profoundly phony, Disneylandish structures and landscapes without meaning, or prohindity, or sense of value. They are full of sound and fury, but signify nothing socially relevant.

At the other end of the scale, as Randolph Hester points out, are the homeless, the disadvantaged, the socially burdensome; the planet’s ecological balance is threatened. Real-life communities and small-town neighborhoods are disintegrating in the face of shopping centers full of silly shops selling trendy knickknacks and doo-dads and taking over from the authentic downtown of the village or town.

Lawrence Halprin, Design as a Value System (1989)


Joel Meyerowitz, Broadway and West 46th Street (1976)