Is Landscape Architecture No Longer "The Good Wife"?

Good news for landscape architects: Your work is appreciated more than ever -- think of the High Line. Bad news, you don't always get the credit -- think of the High Line.
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Good news for landscape architects: Your employment prospects are better than those of building architects and your work is appreciated more than ever -- think of the High Line.

Bad news, you don't always get the credit -- think of the High Line.

Pop quiz: Who designed the High Line?

If you've seen some of the avalanche of High Line press that incorporate the likes of these two recent quotes: "Arguably New York's hottest architects at the moment, [Diller, Scofidio + Renfro] were catapulted into the city's consciousness with their successful design for the High Line," and "The High Line, [Diller, Scofidio + Renfro's] greatest hit in New York" you would probably say Diller, Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R).

And, you'd get an "Incomplete" on your quiz.

The project lead, as clearly stated on the High Line's Web site, is James Corner Field Operations. Field Operations collaborated with DS+R and Piet Oudolf, the brilliant horticulturalist who has been repeatedly and shamefully neglected in the much of the High Line's global coverage.

High Line Phase 1, New York City, N.Y. Photograph courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

Landscape architects have long been overshadowed, particularly by architects. Tom Campanella, author of a forthcoming book on the landscape architecture team Clarke & Rapuano (designers of the Brooklyn Promenade and other important works), said Robert Moses, New York's mid-20th century über urban planner, often took credit for their projects: "It used to drive Clarke crazy." Laurie Olin, namesake of OLIN landscape architects and a practitioner of estimable talent who brilliantly reawakened Bryant Park, was similarly slighted.

Bryant Park, New York City. Photograph courtesy OLIN by Peter Mauss/Esto, The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

Bryant Park, New York City. Photograph courtesy OLIN by Peter Mauss/Esto, The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

During the 1991 reopening of the park he and William H. "Holly" Whyte, Jr. (of whom Olin in 1997 wrote "provided the key sociological study of behavior in the park... bold and effective programmatic and management strategies... [and an inspiring] clear moral vision"), were not invited to sit on the podium with the rest of the dignitaries. More recently, Olin characterized the status of the profession in those days as being equivalent to "the good wife" -- supportive and working quietly/diligently behind the scenes. Olin does say things are changing.

But are they?

An article in the February 2012 Vanity Fair (with Daniel Craig, George Clooney and Matt Damon on the cover) about a Herzog & de Meuron-designed parking garage in Miami features six Todd Eberle photographs of the project beginning with a lush and dramatic double-page spread featuring the "sloped garden and south façade of the house at the top of the parking garage." The article concludes with a quote from the building's developer Robert Wennett: "[Herzog & de Meuron] designed everything -- every hinge, every door, every vent. We even have Herzog & de Meuron toilet-paper holders. Probably the only ones in the world."

Pop quiz: Who designed the landscape of this Miami project (you know where this is headed)?

The correct answer is Raymond Jungles, who also created the dazzling street level landscape that abuts the garage on Miami's Lincoln Road. Amanda Jungles, Raymond's daughter and the firm's marketing director, sent Vanity Fair writer Matt Tyrnauer a crisply worded letter noting at one point, "The images taken by Mr. Eberle clearly capture [Jungles'] intellectual property" without crediting it and concluded by asking how the magazine would address this. She also enclosed a copy of a letter from Herzog senior partner Christine Binswanger, which details Jungle's involvement and notes: "Raymond Jungles' design was integral to the overall success of the project." Jungles is now credited in one caption on the magazine's website, but as of the April 2012 issue (Julia Roberts on the cover) no correction in the print edition... and, no one from Vanity Fair ever responded to her letter.

Why should we care? There are multiple reasons ranging from intellectual property to intellectual honesty, but I submit if we are to participate in the decision-making about the future of our neighborhoods and cities, either directly or through proxies such as politicians, other governmental officials, critics, etc., we all need to be well and accurately informed.

A recent Architect's Newspaper/AIANY/Oculus sponsored panel discussion about architecture criticism offers some hope the situation is improving at the public and critical levels. One participant, Architectural Record editor in chief Cathleen McGuigan, who has a refreshingly ecumenical approach to examining the built environment, cites a greater (post 9/11) level of public interest and participation, and says "people are a little more sophisticated about the public realm than we given them credit for." Another participant and broad thinker, New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger, says architecture criticism has got to be more than just "comparing shapes."

Q&A's following the panel discussion were largely (and surprisingly) about the role of landscape architecture. Specifically addressing the issue of proper credit elicited responses, however, hinting at where some pitfalls might still lie. McGuigan said: "The client, the firm usually provides us with the list of credits." Goldberger observed that the High Line "has been too often attributed just to Diller and Scofidio. I think perhaps as a result of their general celebrity... perhaps as a result of a bias towards architects and against landscape architects, I don't know."

Participant James Russell, U.S. architecture critic from Bloomberg News, had a different take and said, "The design firms have to actually sort out how credit is given." Russell recalled that following a High Line article he'd written, James Corner called to say he was the design lead and that Diller was a partner. Russell told the audience, "no one had told me" and recounted when he went to his editor saying Corner wanted a correction "She hit the ceiling and said 'What's their problem?'... and it really is their problem." James Russell, for whom I have great respect, is both right and wrong. The firms do have to sort this out, and landscape architects need to be more assertive/protective, but there are shades of "blaming the victim" here. The problem is Corner didn't get credited as the lead for one of the most celebrated, high profile and influential urban design projects of this century. A correct credit is elemental.

Solutions? Well, OLIN is in the process of creating a memorandum of understanding specifically addressing credit/attribution to be signed by OLIN and the building architects. It clearly identifies the roles and responsibilities of each party as they relate to a project's marketing and public relations efforts, and how the project team should be credited in marketing materials and in communication with the press. They are also looking into incorporating language into their contracts.

However, as I've written before, architecture criticism needs to evolve more if it is to continue dominating analysis and opinion about the built environment. It still remains largely building centric - treating "structures as if they were gowns on the red carpet" as the New York Times' Bill Keller recently wrote -- in the face of our integrated, system-based environment. And, it is our responsibility as readers of the critics' works to make sure we hold them accountable.

Everyone has a role to play, so let's get to work.

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