Hankyoreh 21: How to put the city into nature.

Translated from Korean with Google Translate. View article in Korean.

[Obituary] Landscape designer Diana Balmori who broke the dichotomy of nature vs. urban and merged architecture and landscape.

"It is not a matter of putting nature into the city. The city itself has to work like nature. "

If you say 'Landscape', it recalls in many cases planting trees or shrubs to decorate or beautify around the buildings. It is not a necessity, but a secondary means of environmental beautification. Half a century ago, this perception was common in the building industry.

Diana Balmori is one of the world-renowned landscape designer who changed this idea; landscape should not be separated from architecture, but should be dealt with as an integrated process. Through this idea, it changes the relationship between architecture and landscape, and furthermore city and nature. It was at the core of the landscape design and urban planning that she pursued.

Design of Bilbao Masterplan in Spain and Public Administration Town in Sejong, Korea.

Diana Balmori, who widely applied ecological urban design theory in landscape architecture, passed away from lung cancer in New York on November 14th. She was 84.

She founded a design company, Balmori Associates in 1990, in New York City and practiced her theory of landscape with large projects in every corner of the world. Her projects are well-known for her unique designs that utilize a variety of forms, including master plan, public plazas, waterside parks, and  gardens. There, her keywords of connection between nature and city, fusion of architecture and landscape, and sustainability weave through.

One of her most prominent works is the design of the Public Administration Town of Sejong in Korea. She set up three integrated urban strategies: Flat City, Link City, and Zero City. In other words, a horizontal city rather than vertical, connected internally and environmentally friendly. The low-rise and sinuous buildings were in harmony with the surrounding natural environment. The buildings were all connected by a walkway. The rooftop of each building was also greened and connected as a park.

She also participated in a 300,000 m² development project in Bilbao, Spain. Bilbao, a declining industrial port city, is referred to as a representative example of the urban revitalization of public-private partnership. She has designed a masterplan that integrates Abandoibarra and Nervion riverfront near the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum, and has created a large green space in the middle of the city to serve as a central space to connect pieces of urban spaces.

Other projects include various rooftop gardens in Manhattan, such as 684 Broadway and Battery Park City's luxury apartment, ‘Solaire’, Memphis waterfront development, a project in New Haven that transforms the abandoned railway into a long linear park, and the Prairie Waterway Storm Water Park in Minnesota designed to prevent floods.

She did not only focus on ecological problems. Her concept of landscape was "collecting all the pieces in one place" (The New York Times). "It's not just a building or a road. It is social, geological, and climatical, and is much more complex mixtures." The Washington Post reported that she argued to deal with the city socially as well as ecologically, citing the 11th Street Bridge Park masterplan competition in Washington DC as an example. In this competition, her entry did not make it to the final selection, but her proposed greening was aimed at alleviating the surrounding gentrification issues.

"American love for lawn is ecological anachronism”, she criticized.

Diana Balmori was born on June 4, 1932 in Gijon, Spain. Her mother was a musician from England and her father was a Spanish linguist. During the Spanish Civil War, her entire family fled to England, and her father moved to Argentina again, obtaining a position as a professor at Tucuman National University.

She met her future husband when she was in college in Argentina. His husband is Cesar Pelli, the architect who designed the Kyobo Life Building in Seoul, Gwanghwamun in 1980. He also has designed several landmarks and skyscrapers around the world. Together they moved to the United States in 1952.

She received her doctorate degree in urban history from the University of California, Los Angeles campus in 1973, and began teaching at the State University of New York in 1974. Here she became interested in the pioneering landscape designer Beatrix Farrand, and wrote a book, 'American Landscape of Beatrix Farrand' (1985), with fellow scholars. Farrand is a senior designer in the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens, Washington, USA, and has designed campuses such as Yale and Princeton. Gradually, the landscape became a great interest for her.

In 1980, she joined Cesar Pelli & Associates,and created a landscape design department. Until 1990, when she founded her own office, she worked with her husband on various projects.

Dr. Balmori, along with two fellow scholars, also published an impressive book, The American Lawn Redesign (1993). They analyzed the industrial and social background why grass has been consistently loved in the United States, and criticized Americans for their love of lawns as false naturalism, an "ecological anachronism."

Since then, she has taught students at Yale University School of Architecture, and School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She has also been a senior research fellow in the Garden and Landscape Research Division at the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library in Washington, DC. Her most recent book is ‘Groundwork: Between Landscape and Architecture’ (2011) and ‘Landscape Manifesto’ (2010). ‘Groundworks’ contains her recent yet persistent claim that architecture and landscape should be approached with a holistic concept for ecological restoration. In ‘Landscape Manifesto’, she presents 25 criteria that are used as the basis for her landscape design work.

What attracted attention recently in 2015 was the 'Floating Landscape' project in Brooklyn, NY. She made a small floating island, named ‘GrowOnUs’, on the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, one of the most heavily polluted stream in the US. She used plastic sewer pipes as floating flowerpots, laid soil and stone on them and planted an indigenous plant, literally creating insular nature.

"We do not put nature into city."

She said that this island is a sort of prototype, which tests if urban space can expand into a lake or a river. In the future, she imagined city dwellers could form even larger islands where they could grow their crops. "Some cities have no big land available anymore," she told the Wall Street Journal in an interview. "This is one way to create a land that is capable of intensive production."

Now the time has passed when we call it an ‘ecological city’ simply by adding a park or greenery to the city. In an interview with the Dirt in 2012, American Society of Landscape Architecture’s weekly news site, she explained one of her keywords; putting the city in nature rather than putting nature in the city.

"All the systems in the city must be like natural systems. In the 19th century, water and wastewater systems were very important, and the city grew. But we now have a natural system that can collect water from developments, process it in one place, purify and reuse it, and send some of it back to the atmosphere through the evaporation by factories. (...) It would be difficult to apply this method to a large city in a lump sum manner. But if we are to introduce a scheme resembling the natural system in regional scale, it could change the city little by little, then the city will be put into nature."

Rosa Lee, op-ed