The Figure

Laurie Olin


As one of the most significant landscape architects in the world, Laurie Olin has been awarded numerous honors include National Art Medal awarded by the National Art Foundation, presented by President Obama. Begin with Ian McHagg(1990), Dan Kelly (1997), Lawrence Harpring(2002) Laurie is the fourth of the award-winning landscape architects in the history.

Laurie received a degree in architecture from the University of Washington in Seattle. He became a professor at the School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania in 1976. In 1986, he was the dean of the Department of Landscape Architecture at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. Later, Laurie was back to the University of Pennsylvania as the professor of landscape architecture. In 2003, Olin assisted launching the Department of Landscape Architecture at Tsinghua University and became the first chair of the department.

Laurie’s featured works include Bryant Park in New York and Battery Park City, Getty Center, Washington Monument and so on.

当今最著名的景观建筑师之一,曾被授予无数的荣誉,包括由国家艺术基金会授予,奥巴马总统颁发的国家艺术奖章。该奖项是美国政府给艺术家的最高荣誉。欧林是历史上第四位获此殊荣的景观设计师,前三位分别是伊恩·麦克哈格 (1990)、丹·凯利 (1997)、劳伦斯·哈普林(2002)。欧林于西雅图华盛顿大学获得建筑学学位。他1976年成为宾夕法尼亚大学设计学院教授并任教环境设计课,1986年担任哈佛大学设计研究生院景观建筑系的系主任。此后,欧林返回宾夕法尼亚大学,继续担任景观建筑系的实践教授。2003年,欧林帮助清华大学创立了景观学系,并作为该系的第一任系主任。作为著名景观事务所OLIN公司的创始人,他的项目遍及世界各地。 最负盛名的作品包括纽约布莱恩公园(Bryant Park)和巴特利公园城(Battery Park City)、盖蒂中心(Getty Center)、华盛顿纪念碑(Washington Monument)等。

OLIN设计的纽约Bryant Park | www.thinglink.com

The Interview

Thank you for sharing ideas with GARLIC. Let’s get started. Please briefly introduce yourself to the GARLIC audience.

I am Laurie Olin. I am a landscape architect. I’ve been teaching here for a while and I’ve taught in other places. I have a practice which is great, stimulating and hard work. But it’s a wonderful thing to do.

Laurie Olin is having a conversation with his designers.| You Wu

“A park is a landscape. A city is a landscape. And a garden is a landscape.”


In your opinion, what is landscape architecture? What’s the meaning of nature to the city and human being in the 21st century?


You’ve asked what landscape architecture is. And what’s its meaning to the city?

Such a difficult question. But first landscape architecture as we understand it today is a very broad discipline with a lot of different ways of being. Landscape Architecture really has to do with shaping the world and space for human use. It is not engineering and it is not architecture. You could use engineering to make landscape architecture and you could put an architecture in a landscape. But the landscape is not a sauce. You don’t pour it over buildings to make them smell good, or taste good. The landscape is a structure of our world and our environment. It’s another word for saying that the relationship of all the parts and the elements of the environment.

So landscape architecture is shaping, moving, and adjusting the parts of our environment. It includes buildings, bridges, and roads. And it includes trees and rivers and that sort of things. So it occurs at many scales. It occurs at the scale of backyard or garden. And it occurs at the scale of valley or region. And for me, there are different kinds of landscapes. There are natural landscapes, agricultural landscapes, suburban landscapes and urban landscapes. The city is just a very urban landscape. It’s full of buildings but still a landscape, which has topography and dynamics, like a forest. Things come and go. In turns, they do all sorts of things. So one of the things about a landscape is that no one person can control or do it all. If you are interested in landscape architecture, you have to learn to work with other people, other fields, other disciplines and get people to help you. You are really working on the relationship of parts, not just making and shaping. There’re objects and we make and shape them. And we can make and shape places in a landscape. But the whole landscape is beyond most of our abilities, control, direct. It’s a wandering explanation. For me I would say a park is a landscape, a city is a landscape, and a garden is a landscape.

The meaning of nature is we are part of it. Nature doesn’t really need us. We need it. We are natural creatures. And the problem with many cities, why we have parks, why we worry about the design and arrangement of cities is that they can be very difficult environments for us. They can be hard to people. Not just dangerous, but in terms of our health, we need access to sunlight and fresh air. We need exercise. We need to be able to change the focal length of our eyes. We need the stimulus of the natural world that we came out of and are still part of even though we don’t know it. I’m in nature now. The laws of thermodynamics and physics are operating the room and in me. This is one of the things that some ancient philosophers both in Asia and in the West understood: we are part of a great flow of forces and energy, just like the animals and leaves and trees. We come and we go. We are part of nature.

So cities need some aspects of nature for the health of the citizens in them. I think it’s simple. What is complicated and difficult is that how to do that well, because there are a lot of competitions for space and for resources in cities. Some people think that natural areas and parks, for instance, are empty. They’re not. They’re full. They’re full of nature and full of life and full of things we need like sunlight and air. Filling them up with buildings solves some problems. It may solve rent and income for somebody. But it doesn’t solve the health of people who don’t have it.





OLIN had participated in the landscape planning of Getty Center| GARLIC.

“To be a landscape architect, I realized one has to have a feeling and passion and understanding for the medium of landscape.”


Looking back to your brilliant life, what are the most unforgettable moments that make you feel you are so proud of yourself, and what are the most valuable lessons you learned from your life that you think are very important to the young generations? How have those moments/lessons transformed your life?


Well, in my life, I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve known some wonderful people who have been very helpful to me, and I have been to some wonderful places that were very stimulating, exciting, and rich for me. My childhood in the north in Alaska was clearly very important because as a child, you don’t think much about your environment. It just is, and you are in it. Later, you realized that it did help shape you and give you experiences that you are always available. Some people have difficult childhoods, and they wish they didn’t have to remember them. I had a wonderful childhood so it’s good to remember. And what was so wonderful about it was in memory, how generous nature is, how rich and full, how much it is, how strong, and also how little and small we are, and in a way unimportant. Nature is not nice. Nature is not bad. Nature is. It just is. And it can bite you, or it can bust you, it can feed you, or it can run over you. So I learned as a child and later, human beings have to pay attention to the world around them, and learn from them, and be careful, thoughtful. And learning to be careful and thoughtful in a landscape is something that translates later.

When I came out of the states to go to college, I had some wonderful teachers who were very influential. One was Richard Haag of course. But I had some architects who were extremely patient and thoughtful teachers. Also along the way, a couple poets were extraordinarily helpful to me about art and what it takes to make art.

Your first draft is almost never the one you want. You have to struggle to make things as clear, simple and rich as you hope. The feeling for the medium itself that you are working in is essential. I’ve written about this and the painter Edgar Degas who we all love his paintings. He painted those pictures of young women doing ballet. But he also painted many other fabulous paintings, landscapes, and portraits. Degas was trying to write a poem when he was young. He wanted to be a poet. He was writing poetries like many young people who wish to be poets. And he found it difficult. He was having a hard time, and he went to another poet Stéphane Mallarmé and said, he was having a lot of trouble. He couldn’t understand why his poetry wasn’t turning out. He told Mallarmé that I have so many good ideas. Mallarmé said my dear Degas, poems are made of words, not ideas. What he was getting was that Degas didn’t have a feeling and love and passion and understanding and sensibility for words, which to be a poet you need to have. And to be a landscape architect, I realized one needs to have a feeling and passion and understanding for the medium of landscape. I love buildings. I did buildings. And some of them were really good ones. But I have more feeling in my fingertips, in my brains, and in my sensibilities for the earth, the water, the plants, the rocks, and the trees. I love pavements and I love stones. I like buildings. I like bridges. I like all sorts of stuff. But I really have a feeling for the moving through the world and its richness, and its color, its textures. So I like the medium. Then I get that. I don’t know as much about plants as I wish I did. I don’t know as much more geologies as I wish I did. But I love it. And those are things that are important.

So I learned from the writers that you have to love your medium, and you have to be willing to work and work and stay up and throw things away and try again, and it will get better. One thing I learned was that sitting around waiting for inspiration is a waste of time because nothing happens. If you wait for a good idea, you can wait for a long time. The way to get a good idea is doing something. Draw something, and then you immediately know what’s wrong with it. You immediately know this is terrible and you can make it better as soon as… When you have an idea in your head it doesn’t exist. It’s not out in the world. But the minute you put it out in the world, it exists as form. Then you can go to work on it. So I learned how to work from artists, from painters, from poets and from architects.

Bloedel Park by Richard Haag | www.tclf.org


我离开阿拉斯加去上大学之后,遇到了一些很棒的老师,他们非常有影响力。一位当然是理查德·海格(Richard Haag),而我还遇到了一些非常耐心并有思想的建筑师作为老师。此外还有一对诗人夫妇,他们对我理解艺术以及创造艺术所需的东西也非常有帮助。

我随便说一些好了:你的第一版草稿几乎永远不会是你最后想要的东西,你必须努力使方案变得如你所希望的那般清晰、简洁又不失丰富。对于你所用的媒介本身,应当保有必要的直觉:埃德加·德加(Edgar Degas),广受欢迎的那个画家,他画过那些年轻的女性芭蕾舞者,也画过很多其它很棒的体裁,像风景和肖像。德加年轻时尝试过写诗,他想当个诗人,但他写的诗和其他有同样理想的年轻人的诗没什么区别,于是他发现这并不容易。那是一段挺艰难的经历,他向另一个诗人斯特芳·马拉美(Stéphane Mallarmé)求助,说自己遭遇了很多困难。他不懂为什么自己写不出好诗来。他对马拉美说,明明我有这么多灵感,很棒的灵感,然后马拉美回答,亲爱的德加,灵感不能组成诗,词语却可以。马拉美发现德加不具备作为诗人所必备的,对语言的爱、热情、理解和敏锐。作为一个景观建筑师,我意识到你必须有一种,对景观这种媒介的直觉和激情。我爱建筑,我设计建筑,其中一些做得确实不错,但在我的指尖上、大脑中和感性认知里,我对土壤、水、植物、岩石和树木有更多的感觉。我喜欢路面,我喜欢石头,我喜欢建筑物和桥梁,我喜欢各种各样的东西,但我对变化中的世界有更强烈的感觉,那种丰富性,那些色彩和纹理,我喜欢这种媒介,所以我使用了它。我不具备我期望的那么多的植物学知识,也没有我期望的那么多的地质学知识,但我热爱我的工作,这才是最重要的事情。



Edgar Degas的油画女性芭蕾舞者 |  Wikipedia Creative Common

“I think landscape architects today are more prominent.”


Compared with other disciplines such as business, science, technology, policy, and economics, the salary of landscape architects is relatively low. Some young designers are trying to switch their focus to finance, technology, or business. For this situation, what would you tell the young designers and students? And how can landscape architects get broader social and political impact?


Do good work.

It sounds like simple. Zen monks tell you to do good. But I will put it this way. I can choose to be a developed landscape architect. That was something I could be doing. And I found the projects so interesting that I wanted to do them. Then while I am doing them, I want to do them so well. So when we started the firm, I didn’t intend to have a big firm. I didn’t intend to do a lot of things I’ve done. But I did want to do a good project. And in fact, after I did a good project, other people say oh will you come and help me do a project. So the way I advertised, which I never did, I never advertised, I just tried to do good work, and the work itself was a self-advertisement. It turned out to be a good marketing strategy I guess, doing excellent things. So good products, and being nice to people, paying attention to them, listening to them, but then working very hard to make things that move people’s spirits and solve their problems. That seems the best marketing strategy.

I think landscape architects today are more prominent again. I mean they were when Olmsted was around. He was prominent. He had worked at every university because he and his sons were considered to be superb. They were really good. They knew how to do things, and everybody knew it. It was a smaller society with fewer people, and they were the connections between institutions. They were tighter. It was an old boy network. Today, there are much more people, many more things going on, and a lot of chaos. The good news is it’s not just an old boy network — if you went to the right school and did all the work.

Olmsted didn’t go to the right school. He didn’t even go to university. I don’t have a degree in landscape architecture. So it’s not about that. It’s about the thought, the work, and the energy. And one of the reasons why landscape architecture today is prominent is that a series of very important and interesting projects have gotten done. And people see them, and they have learned those are designed by landscape architects. What we did at Bryant Park and did at the Getty, what James Corner did at the Highline, what Michael Van Valkenburgh has done in Brooklyn Bridge Park, or what Peter Walker has done…People see these projects and like “Oh My Gosh. I need to get one of those. Call that guy. Who did that?” Why do they have a good career? They have a good career because they’ve done brilliant work. It’s not because they hire more advertising firms. It’s they built something that people feel terrific and impressed. You know Halprin’s work. Halprin didn’t have an ad agency. He just made friends with some other designers. From them he got work. And from that work people said “Oh My Gosh. Look at this work. This is really good”. And he grew his firm.

I think as a business we have a terrible business environment. Not in my office, it’s terrible or our business is terrible. But the profession is basically with that kind of 18th-century business model and yet we are in the 21st century. So we’ve got to get our business ideas and how we pricing. We should price ourselves on what the cost to do the work for ourselves, not on some funny percentage that was worked out in the 1930s that all they should get two percent. That’s ridiculous. It takes us as much to do a small house as it does a corporate headquarters quite often, maybe not as many years, but the amount of time and energies. If you pay people based on some kind of goofy percentage, of course, it won’t be a good business. So our office just doesn’t use the business models that people have used for years. We don’t like them. We try to get paid for what we do.

I need these people. They need to buy a refrigerator, put their kid in school, get a new car and do stuff. They have needs which cost the same as a cost for a young attorney. They need to be paid well. So we need to charge for our work well so that we can have a normal life. The models that the profession is using are antiquated. They are fallacious because they are not based on real life. So my idea is that if people want to have an office, then they have to pay well. People doing it are not so rich. They are doing it not as a hobby but to pay the bills. However actually, you don’t set up to become a landscape architect to pay the bill. You become a landscape architect because that interests you more than being a fisherman or an attorney. So that means when you’re doing landscape architecture, it’s not you should be paid like a fisherman or an attorney, but you should be paid adequately to have a worthy life.




其实奥姆斯特德也没去对的学校,他连大学都没上,我也没有景观建筑学学位,所以这些都不是最重要的,重要的是想法、作品和它传达的能量。所以当代景观建筑师更容易彰显自己的原因之一是,一系列有趣又重要的项目建成了,人们看到了它们,并且知道它们是由景观建筑师设计的。我们在布莱恩特公园(Bryant Park)和盖蒂中心(Getty Center)做了什么,詹姆斯·科纳在高线(High Line)上做了什么,迈克尔·范·沃肯伯格(Michael Van Valkenburgh)在布鲁克林大桥公园做了什么,或者彼得·沃克做了什么……人们看到这些项目的时候,他们会说“我的天哪,我也想要这个人做的这样的项目”。为什么他们的事业能成功呢?因为他们的工作真得很出色,不是因为雇了更多的广告公司。他们建造了一些让大家交口称赞的项目,这是自发宣传。你知道哈普林(Halprin)吧,他没做过任何广告,他只是从一些设计师朋友那里得到了项目,然后人们对着这些项目说“天啊,看看这个作品,真的很棒”。他的事务所就是这么成长起来的。


New York Central Park by Olmsted  | www.bigappledreaming.com

“Some of our ways of arranging our world are wrong. And we need to change them.”


If you receive a design challenge to imagine a new territory on a new planet, for example in Mars for people to settle in 2050, how will your design story begin?


In a different planet… I don’t know. I am so interested in life on Earth. I can’t imagine how I will do that because I’m not interested really in science, fiction or fantasy. I’m interested in the real thing, ordinary stuff like real people, real life, real love, and real food. And I am interested in how one might approach helping people on our planet in a different cultural setting or in a different ecological setting. I find that to be a challenging and difficult and interesting thing to do. One of the reasons I’ve not done much work in China even though I am very fond of China, and spent some wonderful years coming and going and living in China was that I felt that I could do small things, or I could help people think about processes. But they need to think about them for themselves and solve it on their own terms without using our habits. I think the West has developed some very bad habits that we have to get rid of, or we are going to be in real trouble. We already are in some serious trouble. But with climate change and some economic things that are happening, some social issues that have to do with work, property, and education, I think frankly, some of our ways of arranging our world are wrong. And we need to change them.

So for other people to be imitating the way we’ve been doing things that we now know it’s wrong with them, that shouldn’t happen. They should think of alternative ways to do it. Think of it from their own history, economics, and environment instead of building suburbs that require a lot of travel between job and home. They should rethink that because we put things in the wrong relationships and then it costs a fortune and time and money and energy. We’ve wasted years of people’s lives.

We polluted the planet because we put things in bad relationships with each other in space. And if we reorganized live-work pattern, how people are collocated and how they have access to recreation and fresh air. If we did it differently, we will have a better city, better life. Other people should skip over it. It’s kind of like a place like Africa, where the interesting thing was because they never did do enough land lines for telephones, they just went from not having phones to having cell phones. They just went to the digital age of satellites with nothing in between. And it seems to me that a lot of people in the world, Africa, Latin America, China, Asia, could skip over some of our bad habits, and go to the next thing and do a better thing right off the bat. So that would be more like going to Mars to see an alternative, wouldn’t it?




“I certainly won’t turn up in a black internal sweater, at any design event. I just won’t do it because I feel it’s like going among the penguins and there are all these penguins. I’m not going to be a penguin.


Designers travel a lot. I am sure you have some interesting traveling tips. Would you mind sharing some with us? Designers also have their own style. For example, they love black and the grays, which can be reflected in their dressing style. Do you have a preference for certain kind of style in your life?


Let’s talk about travel first. The first thing about travel is, just as people are interested in slow food, I think slow travel is a good idea. Zipping around taking a lot of pictures is not travel. I don’t know what that is, maybe some form of tourism. But if I really want to see some places and get to know them, and learn something from places, I tend to go there and to stay there, and walk around, sit still, do drawings, eat some food, meet some people, and spend time going slowly deeper into a place instead of going to four places in two days.

I’d rather go to one place for four days, especially if it’s different. Because I’ll now get something more out of it. I’ll get more depth. I think learning to sit still is one of the best things to do when you travel. It sounds funny. But it’s not about how fast you can move and how much you can see. It’s how much you can take in and slowly digest.

And I think we learned a lot from going to the places that make us a little uncomfortable, not so uncomfortable that you cannot pay attention, but not so familiar that you have to keep your eye out, figure things out, and pay attention. So I think for me Mexico and China are wonderful places to go because they are quite different. I don’t quite know what’s going on part of the time, so I have to pay attention. They have rich histories. Peoples there has a different sense of color, different sense of form. They eat differently. The landscape is beautiful but not the same as I am used to, but it’s beautiful in another way. And yet there are things that are familiar: the sun comes up, the sun goes down, etc. It’s not the same, but it rhymes, it’s kind of similar. It’s different, but it’s off. And that’s when you can learn a lot.

You’ve asked about color and I just mentioned that. Here are two cultures I know that have a different sense of color. People from northern Europe tend to be kind of drab, you know they are calm. They don’t have a lot of bright colors unless they are from Netherland or somewhere like that, or from southern Italy. But if they are from France, Germany, England, they tend to be. They have a lot of influence on Americans. I think the fact that so many designers despite how I dress today. I have a blue check shirt on and a blue sweater. But I usually don’t wear black because it’s become such a cliché. I don’t like to do it.

I certainly won’t turn up in a black internal sweater at any design event. I just won’t do it because I feel it’s like going among the penguins and there are all these penguins. I’m not going to be a penguin. But there is Coco Chanel who was a fashion designer in France in the 20th century. She was like black is the only modern color. She was basically trying to be radical and modern but also simple. It’s like in the army. I love the army. And one aspect of the army is that we wear the same clothes every day. Just get up and put it on. So always the same and never have to think about this. But everybody in the course had been turned into the same person. So on the one hand, it simplified things so that’s why wearing black actually turns them all into the same person. I’m not interested in that. It doesn’t mean I am gonna show up in a bright orange sweater tomorrow but I do actually own one and I wear a lot. My wife told me not to wear something I was wearing the other day. But you know I kind of like it. It makes me feel warmer.

I would say the world is full of color out there except the dead of winter in the north where is black and white. But the rest of the time the world isn’t black and white. A lot of architects in my generation grew up with books, all the art history and architecture history and a lot of resources were black and white. Black and white photography, black and white drawings and everything. So the first time I went to Stuttgart, I went to see the reconstruction of the buildings that were built there before World War II. And there is a house by Le Corbusier. I went into it and I was like oh my god, look at the color. This is really terrific. Who knows this? Because I was growing up and looking at all this black and white photographs of Corbusier’s buildings and black and white drawings from the Swiss publications. Of course, I knew this, but you don’t think about this when you were 22 years old and trying to be a really good architect.

It didn’t dawn on me that he was also a painter. He did all the stuff and was actually a very good painter of a certain sort. He had this wonderful color sense and his colors are very rich, very beautiful, they very much go together. They’re superb combination of colors. His boast and pitchy colors, and soft mossy greens. Oh my god, they are beautiful colors. And it goes through all his works. The only time he used really punchy color was when he was doing a big mural. But his buildings, you know, they’re honey color, they’re butter color. So architecture really is in full of color but most a lot of architects don’t think of it. So the fact that they dress in black, I think it shows that not thinking about the fact that the world comes in 3D and color and they don’t like to look at the building from a corner, they’re just looking at the elevation. This is a certain limitation there that I found unfortunate. My friends in landscape are always talking about this autumn this spring, this is coming out, that’s going away, this is dying, and that is coming. The colors, the textures are parts of our medium.








Laurie Olin loves sketching while traveling | Cindy Xu

“Animals that ask questions tend to thrive, and I think designers that ask questions thrive.”


The last question is about your famous students, as we all know you have many influential students including Cindy Sanders, Anita Berrizbeitia, Gary Hildebrand, Chris Reed, James Corner, and much more. In your opinion, what are the major characteristics do you think they all share to make them successful? You can choose one or two students to go into details.

最后一个问题和你的知名学生有关。我们都知道你培养出来很多有影响力的学生–OLIN事务所的总裁Cindy Sanders,Harvard GSD景观系系主任Anita Berrizbeitia,Reed Hilderbrad的创始合伙人Gary Hilderbrand,Stoss Landscape Urbanism的创始人Chris Reed和James Corner Field Operations事务所创始人James Corner等等。


I have a lot of wonderful students, and a great number of them have gone on to do very well, teaching and practicing. And what they have in common is not just strength of personalities which they do have, but is that they were all curious. They were curious about the world, about why things have to be the way they are. How does something get to be this way? What is it? They had this inquiring mind, every one of them. Some of them were a little difficult as students because they would provoke me and the other faculties. They’d push you. They’d make you uncomfortable and ask difficult questions because they were questioning. That questioning has led them to an attitude of why not. When they think of something, they would try something else. Why not try this? How about that? Why is it this way? Or what if we did. That inquiring mind is what they have in common. And the difference is their personalities. Some are loud, some are quiet, some are sneaky, some are very open. They are all very different. But they are very smart, very successful. They do wonderful works. Many of them are good teachers. And one thing they do have in mind in common is that they are continually thinking, searching, and seeking curious people. Animals that are curious about their environment tend to survive and do well: what’s going on, what’s over there, what’s behind me, what’s the weather doing, is this stream deeper or shallow? Animals that ask questions tend to thrive. And I think designers that ask questions thrive.




Zhangkan Zhou
Siyang Jing


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