Renowned local landscape architect dies at 93

Lawrence Halprin, a nationally renowned landscape architect who helped design some of The City’s most high-profile open spaces, died Sunday. He was 93.

Although he was born in New York City, Halprin had a profound effect on the public landscape of many West Coast cities, notably San Francisco, where he was instrumental in shaping Ghirardelli Square, Levi Plaza and the United Nations Plaza.

After serving in World War II — where he narrowly survived a kamikaze attack on his battleship during combat — Halprin moved to San Francisco in the spring of 1945, at first working under the tutelage of landscape designer Thomas Church. In 1949, Halprin opened up his own firm in The City, where he stayed until 2006, when he moved his business to Larkspur.

During his 60 years working in landscape design, Halprin helped revolutionize the industry by becoming one of the first architects to involve all potential users — from the public to policymakers — in the creative process, according to Stephen Koch, a landscape architect who is the co-founder of the Halprin Landscape Conservancy.

“He basically had an understanding of everyone’s agenda, so his designs were never exclusionary,” Koch said. “He didn’t put something up just for decoration — he wanted people to actually interact with his designs.”

Along with creating designs that promoted interaction with the public, Halprin was also known by his penchant for introducing scenes from nature into urban spaces, said Nancy Slade of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, who cited the creation of the Letterman Digital Arts Center in the Presidio — with its streams, vegetation and rock formations — as an example of that method.

The digital arts center, completed in 2005, was the last of Halprin’s major projects in The City. Other works include Ghirardelli Square, the U.N. Plaza, Stern Grove and Levi Plaza on The Embarcadero — a creation that was the architect’s most important contribution to San Francisco, according to Koch, who added that Halprin was working up until a month before his death.

Details about Halprin’s death were not immediately available.

Open spaces

Some of Lawrence Halprin’s design work in San Francisco:

  • Levi Plaza
  • Stern Grove
  • Ghirardelli Square
  • United Nations Plaza
  • Letterman Digital Arts Center

    wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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