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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

March 2007 Issue

IN DUBIOUS BATTLE
Are landscape architects and PPS really working at cross-purposes, or is common ground there for the taking?

By Linda McIntyre

IN DUBIOUS BATTLE Laura Tedeschi/ images.com

“All professions,” the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote more than 100 years ago, “are conspiracies against the laity.” Today, in the world of public design, the banner of the skeptical amateur is carried by Fred Kent, president of Project for Public Spaces (PPS), and landscape architects rank high on his list of professional targets.

Kent, who has been president of PPS since it was founded in 1975, has made a name for himself as the bête noire of designers and the white knight of people everywhere who feel harassed by gridlocked traffic, soulless plazas, and iconic architecture. He resembles a character out of Shaw (or Shaw himself) in his passionate social conscience and his faith in the ability of people to effectively control their own lives and communities. But Kent’s scathing blanket criticism of landscape architects—too many, he says (often, and publicly), are driven by ego and aesthetics and not by the desires of the communities for which they do their work—risks alienating a lot of creative people who share his and PPS’s goal of “creating and sustaining public spaces that build communities.”

Asked whether any landscape architects are doing good work in the public realm, Kent says no. “It’s not that [landscape architects] aren’t trying, or that they don’t have the capability,” he told Landscape Architecture. “But they don’t really understand or respect the relationship between function and form.” And Kent doesn’t shrink from offering his assessments to landscape architects directly—in a forum convened in Seattle a couple of years ago, he told the participants that their profession “denigrates human activity as a core philosophy” (see “Contested Terrain,” Landscape Architecture, May 2005).

Architects, planners, and traffic engineers have also been targets of Kent’s unsolicited and undiplomatic suggestions for improvement. Who does Kent, who is trained in none of these disciplines, think he is? Does PPS have something to teach landscape architects about creating good public work? And is PPS prepared to learn anything from landscape architects about comprehensive, sustainable, diverse—and beautiful—design?

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