by Elizabeth Boults, ASLA
The Northern California Chapter extends from the Oregon border to the Central Coast. Within that stretch of coast and valley, the San Francisco Bay Area and its environs has historically drawn some of the most renown landscape architects to the area. It remains a hub of innovation and creativity, bearing the imprint of early founders of the professional organization as well as contemporary trend setters.
From Beatrix Farrand to Thomas Church, Lawrence Halprin to Peter Walker, Asa Hanamoto to Cheryl Barton, our landscape expresses the influence of many illustrious individuals. Several nationally and internationally known firms — EDAW, SWA, PWP, RHAA — can trace their roots here and bear the initials of their original partners.
Landmark works abound in our region, from public spaces to private dwellings. San Francisco is home to Ghirardelli Square and Levi Strauss Plaza, both born from the desk of Halprin and his associates.
Land, art, and ecology come together to inspire visitors at Candlestick Park and Crissy Field in San Francisco, as well as at Byxbee Park in Palo Alto, thanks to the genius of Hargreaves Jones and their team. Of course, the iconic forms created by Thomas Church at the Donnell Garden in Sonoma are recognized worldwide as is Halprin’s diagram of the Sea Ranch “eco-village” community on the Sonoma coast.
Northern Cal is also known for being at the forefront of prioritizing social factors in environmental design. The groundbreaking work of landscape architects and scholars Clare Cooper Marcus, Hon. ASLA, and Randolph Hester, FASLA, who championed participatory design and community engagement techniques, is being continued by Patricia Algara, ASLA, and the work of her firm BASE landscape architects and is an integral component of all design practices today.
Service to the public and service to the profession go hand in hand for the ASLA Northern California Chapter. The chapter was honored to be the host chapter for the Conference on Landscape Architecture in 2007 and most recently in 2022.
Prior to its current model, National ASLA Annual Meetings were held in San Francisco in 1957 and 1986, in San Jose in 2002, and at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park in 1966. Now that’s a venue!
Not only does hosting national events elevate the profile of landscape architects in the public imagination, exhibitions of professional work also bring our message to a wider audience. The San Francisco Museum of Art (now SF MOMA) focused on exhibitions of landscape architecture projects in 1956 and 1957. Their “Revelatory Landscapes” show held in 2001 featured installations by Bay Area firms, including CMG Landscape Architecture, Hargreaves Jones, Hood Design Studio, and Tom Leader Studio.
Northern California landscape architects are fortunate to be able to trace a legacy from Beaux-Arts traditionalists to modernist renegades, from postmodern pattern makers to eco-futurists. As ever, we’re sure to wear the flowers in our hair.
Elizabeth Boults, ASLA, is Continuing Lecturer in human ecology in the department of landscape architecture + environmental design at University of California, Davis and co-author of Wisdom of Place: Recovering the Sacred Origins of Landscapes.