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ASLA 2003 Design Honor Award

J. Paul Getty Center, Los Angeles, California
Landscape Architect:
Olin Partnership, Ltd., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Owner/Client: J. Paul Getty Trust

The J. Paul Getty Center houses one of the world’s foremost art organizations on a 110-acre hilltop site surrounded by 600 acres of land preserved in its natural state in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains. Accommodating about 1.4 million yearly visitors and nearly 1,500 staff members engaged in activities that range from scholarly research to public programs, the Getty Center has layered a complex organization that responds beautifully to its hilltop site and the need to serve both public and private realms. From the outset of planting, the gardens and outdoor spaces were conceived as integral to the overall character of the Getty Center, and key to serving the Trust’s goal of creating a worthy addition to the City’s cultural destinations and creating a legacy to future generations that recognizes that mature landscapes are among civilization’s most evolved and complex artifacts. This pursuit of excellence resulted in a landscape that sustains environmental quality and cherishes its patrimony; that combines utility with pleasure, horticulture and aesthetics, artifice and nature, public and private space in a manner that is both unique and expressive of its time and place. Within this context, landscape concepts and planting strategies also had to be conceived to solve a host of site development issues that range from installing planting and water features over structures housing priceless artwork and manuscripts, to re-vegetating land affected by development of the site.

The landscape, fountains and gardens of the Getty Center are varied and complex, referring to both the natural context of southern California, and the cultural legacy of a new world institution with its roots in the old world. Italian Renaissance hillside villas provided a model for the architecture meeting terrain with stepped terraces, gardens and courtyards, while landscapes inspired by the larger Mediterranean context of Spain, France and Italy embrace the natural context of California characterized by original and inventive use of a wide range of plants, horticultural techniques and the need to prevent erosion and wild fires. Throughout the sensory journey, the gardens and fountains develop a sequence of rhythm and color and sound, texture, light and shade, fragrance, and form that compliment the architecture, orient the visitor and tell many stories. As one moves higher within the complex, the temperature and color of plants increases in relationship to the degree of exposure to the sun, while a single plant can condense a world of meaning such as in the Scholars Garden where soothing shade is provided by Olive trees, the symbols of Athena, goddess of wisdom. At the same, time, the gardens also extend the Getty’s mission of stewardship to the environment as only plants were selected that can thrive in the southern California climate without extraordinary measure for life support in order to meet a water conservation strategy. The fountains, like the gardens also reinterpret traditions of garden art through a regional lens, such as the Amphora Fountain, carved into travertine walls, which uses ancient form to create a modern grotto. While at the center of the Museum courtyard, an exuberant fountain and its more subdued counterpart in an adjacent courtyard, embody the history of California with spectacular marble boulders from the Sierra Nevada.

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The Cactus Garden – South Promontory (Photo by: Tim Rue, TRUE Photo)
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The Museum Courtyard Fountain (Photo by: Olin Partnership, Ltd.)
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Agaves, Euphorbias and other desert plants on the south terraces (Photo by: Olin Partnership, Ltd.)
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The occulus of the Amphora Fountain. The water source is a runnel in the terrace, above (Photo by: Olin Partnership, Ltd.)
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Fountain at the entrance plaza. The pool is fed by a gentle cascade that runs down steps alongside the grand stairway leading to the Museum (Photo by: Dominique Vorillion, copyright The J. Paul Getty Trust).
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