Landscape architect Peter Walker, founder of PWP Landscape Architecture in Berkeley, California, has been chosen as the 2012 recipient of the ULI J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development, the Institute’s highest honor.
Walker, whose career spans five decades, is widely recognized as one of the most accomplished landscape architectural designers of his time, forging the renaissance of landscape architecture as a discipline. The scope of his work is expansive, ranging from the design of small gardens to the planning of cities around the globe, with an emphasis on corporate headquarters, plazas, cultural gardens, academic campuses, and urban regeneration projects. Exploring the relationships among art, culture, and context, he challenges traditional concepts of landscape design.
Walker was one of the chief designers of the National September 11 Memorial, Reflecting Absence, in New York City, which opened September 12, 2011. His thoughtful approach to the memorial has been highly praised as reflecting both the collaborative aspiration of his practice and the public impact of his work. Other prominent projects include Jamison Square Park in Portland, Oregon; the Nasher Foundation Sculpture Garden in Dallas; Sony Center in Berlin; and Millennium Park in Sydney. He has been chosen for the prominent Constitution Gardens project on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
“The thread that runs through all of my work is to make public space memorable, to make it the heart of the city,” Walker said. “You have to make people aware of the space so that it sticks in their memory and it is important to the community. It’s not enough to just have open space. It has to have character and uniqueness.”
The ULI J.C. Nichols Prize recognizes a person, or a person representing an institution, whose career demonstrates a commitment to the highest standards of responsible development. The $100,000 prize honors the legacy of Kansas City, Missouri, developer J.C. Nichols, a ULI founding member who is considered to have been one of America’s most creative entrepreneurs in land use during the first half of the 1900s.
Walker was chosen by a jury of widely recognized urban design and development leaders: chairman John Bucksbaum, founder of Bucksbaum Properties in Chicago; Ronald A. Altoon founder and partner, Altoon Partners LLP, Los Angeles; F. Barton Harvey, former chairman and chief executive officer, Enterprise Community Partners, Baltimore; James D. Klingbeil, chairman and chief executive officer, Klingbeil Capital Management, San Francisco; and David M. Schwarz, president and chief executive officer, David M. Schwarz Architects, Washington, D.C.
The selection of Walker as the ULI J.C. Nichols laureate underscores the key role of landscape architecture in constructing public space that fosters a sense of community, Bucksbaum said. “For ULI, choosing Peter Walker makes a statement about the importance of landscape architecture to the built environment, and especially the necessity of providing sustainable systems, both built and natural,” he said. “His work is completely representative of what the Nichols Prize stands for—a lifelong dedication to building places that will be shared and cherished for generations.”
Walker’s approach has been described as minimalist—one that encourages ample creativity in how the space is used. “A public space should be flexible enough so that people can use it for all sorts of reasons. The goal is to bring enough importance to the space to create a great memory for all who visit,” Walker said.
Through his writings, teachings, and work, Walker has advanced the level of professionalism in landscape architecture and has influenced generations of landscape architects and related professions. His career includes service as the chairman of the Landscape Architecture Department and the acting director of the Urban Design Program at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design; and he was head of the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of California at Berkeley. Walker has served as consultant and adviser to numerous public agencies and institutions, including the Sydney 2000 Olympic Coordination Authority; the Redevelopment Agency of San Francisco; the Port Authority of San Diego; Stanford University; the University of California; the University of Washington; and the American Academy in Rome.
“What is most compelling about Peter is the intersection of his practice with his pedagogy, the fact that he teaches and has brought so much erudition and education to the field of landscape architecture,” Schwarz said. “He has been a leader to a generation of people studying the landscape and the interrelation of the natural and built environment.”
A fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and the Institute for Urban Design, Walker has been granted the ASLA Design Award; the Institute Honor Award of the American Institute of Architects; Harvard’s Centennial Medal; the University of Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson Medal; and the International Federation of Landscape Architects’ Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe Gold Medal.
“To portray Peter Walker simply as an accomplished landscape architect is to ignore his extraordinary contributions that have transformed our thinking about human environments. His Zen touch creates timeless spaces,” Altoon said. “Peter sculpts on the cusp between need and desire, between the objective and the subjective, and in doing so he crafts community and imbues memory.”