Photo by Kristin Gladney

Photo by Kristin Gladney

A Celebration of Diana Balmori's Life

January 30, 2017
The Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Avenue at East 36th St
New York, NY 10016



Diana Balmori, an influential landscape and urban designer who transformed urban centers by "putting the twenty-first century city in nature rather than putting nature in the city," died on November 14th in New York City. She was eighty-four years old.

An early advocate for green industrial rooftops and ecological approaches to landscape, Balmori published the seminal book Redesigning the American Lawn: A Search for Environmental Harmony in 1993 (Yale Press Second Edition, 2001), hailed by scientist Edward O. Wilson as a "manual for improving a large part of the American environment." Balmori applied her rigorous intellect and creativity to the reinvention of landscape design throughout the world, inspiring a generation of young designers through her teaching, lectures, and writings.

Her extensive work includes the transformation of Bilbao's old port into the city's greenest neighborhood with Plaza Euskadi and Campa de los Ingleses Park; the Winter Garden at the World Financial Center with its grove of palm trees in New York City; Beale Street Landing Park which engages the Mississippi River with the home of the blues in Memphis, as well as the master plan for the 9-mile-long Farmington Canal Linear Park that cuts through the Yale campus in New Haven Connecticut. In 2005 she realized Robert Smithson's Floating Island to Travel Around Manhattan Island on the Hudson River. In 2006 she won the competition to design the master plan for Sejong, the new national-government city outside Seoul, South Korea, which proposes a new approach to city-making, one that starts with landscape architecture. A continuous 2.5-mile-long-linear park, called “Sky Park” by Sejong inhabitants, connects the tops of all the ministries.

In 2006, she created BAL/LABs within Balmori Associates to further experiment in erasing boundaries of architecture, art and engineering through the creation of green roofs and temporary landscapes. Among her BAL/LAB projects was an ecological floating island on the Gowanus Canal, the most polluted waterway in the USA, and A Garden That Climbs the Stairs in Bilbao, Spain.

In 2009, Utne Reader named her among the fifty "Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World" as the range of Balmori's work and imagination seemed limitless – last year in collaboration with the Drawing Center she created a one-day pop-up meditation room out of a continuous constructed wall of paper in Roosevelt Park on the Lower East Side of New York City.

Born in 1932, in Gijón, Spain, Balmori's childhood was spent among artists and musicians. Her mother, the educator and musicologist Dorothy Ling, was the first woman to receive a degree in music from Cambridge University. Her father, Clemente Hernando, was a linguist at the Instituto de Estudios Históricos in Madrid and later taught his daughter Greek and Latin. Fleeing fascist Spain in 1936, the family eventually settled in Tucuman, Argentina, where Hernando held a professorship at the University and Ling created an Institute of Art and then implemented a network of primary and secondary schools based on teaching through play and folk music. Balmori's boundless intellectual curiosity and spirit of adventure were forged during summers spent with her parents traveling throughout Argentina, recording indigenous languages and native folk songs.

At sixteen she attended the architecture program at the National University of Tucuman before emigrating with her husband, the architect Cesar Pelli, to the United States. Settling in Los Angeles, she earned a PhD from UCLA in Urban History, with highest honors, and then moved to SUNY Oswego to become a History Professor, focusing on urban history. Her book on the gardens and campuses of the landscape architect Beatrix Farrand re-introduced Farrand to a modern audience, and led to Balmori's decision to leave SUNY to become partner in charge of Landscape Architecture and Urban Design at Cesar Pelli Associates. In 1991, she opened her own landscape design office, Balmori Associates, initially in New Haven and later in New York City.

She served on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts and the National Rails-to-Trails Committee, among other civic honors; and was a Senior Fellow in Garden and Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks. She also taught, holding a joint appointment at the Yale School of Architecture and the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Balmori's numerous books include Drawing and Reinventing Landscape (2014), Diana Balmori's Notebooks (2011), a collection of drawings, and A Landscape Manifesto (2010).  Landscape Manifesto point 3 says “All things in nature are constantly changing.  Landscape artists need to design to allow for change … .” She was a Fellow at the American Society of Landscape Architects.

"The main tenet of our work is to set up a different type of relationship between ourselves and each of the elements of nature: soil, water, air, plants and animals,” she said. “We want to change our ways of dealing with them, treat them as parts of ourselves."

Diana Balmori will be remembered by her family, her colleagues, her students and her many, many friends across the globe for her passion for music, art, dance, and conversation. She was a wonderfully inspiring, generous, and gracious trailblazer and independent spirit. She is survived by her husband, Cesar Pelli, sons, Rafael Pelli and Denis Pelli, and granddaughters, Delia and Iris.