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Keynote: Laurie Olin - Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. and the Profession of Landscape Architecture

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Laurie D. Olin, FASLA, Landscape Architect

Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. is credited with initiating the field of landscape architecture in America. Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. continued this activity. He was largely responsible for the development of landscape architecture as a profession, for its rapid evolution as a university course of study, and for the development of city planning as a profession and academic degree program. He worked tirelessly in creating the national park system, and served the public interest at a metropolitan, state and national level on numerous commissions and boards. We are the inheritors today of a legacy of physical projects, government policy, academic fields, and professional methods Olmsted created and nurtured. A survey of his work in the early 20th century reads like a blueprint for the field and a summary of the activity and ambitions in academic departments and professional offices today. Like his father, Olmsted believed that a fundamental justification for landscape architecture lay in public health and the need for human contact with natural elements within cities, and that in addition to being spiritually invigorating, landscapes must be functional to justify the financial instruments and political will required to secure their construction and maintenance. Virtually the same arguments of Olmsted Senior, Junior, and Charles Eliot were promulgated by Ian McHarg in what proved to be a second coming of their sweeping vision. Recently the field has been much in the news as landscape architects once more are working at all scales on urban infrastructure, resource management, and the design of environments for a plurality of purposes. The talk discusses examples of current practice and the curricula and political jousting in academia around the topic of landscape urbanism, concluding that the breadth of Olmsted's vision remains both pertinent and much in play in the field today.


This project has been funded in part by the National Trust for Historic Preservation through the Henry A. Jordan, M.D. Preservation Fund and Dorothea DeSchweinitz Fund for the District of Columbia.

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