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William “Bill” Johnson, FASLA, Subject of New TCLF Video Oral History

Johnson shared the stage with Peter Walker, FASLA, at the 2016 ASLA Annual Meeting.

William “Bill" Johnson, FASLA, is the subject of a new video oral history, the fourteenth in an ongoing series, produced by the Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF). The 104-minute long oral history is parsed into 32 one- to six-minute clips and organized under the themes of “biography,” “design,” and “projects.”

“Outdoor memories are very poignant,” Johnson says in the first biography clip, and they are omnipresent in the oral history, from recollections of his hometown of Lansing, Michigan, to his international travels. Johnson studied landscape architecture at Michigan State University and graduated in 1953, but it was during his military service in Western Europe that he got to see the powerful role landscape architecture played in Postwar reconstruction. Following his military service, he completed an M.L.A. at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design (GSD). While in Cambridge, he worked for Hideo Sasaki and was an instructor at the GSD. Returning to the Midwest to practice, Johnson formed Johnson, Johnson and Roy (JJR) in 1961, a partnership with his brother Carl and friend Clarence Roy. A master plan for the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor established the firm’s approach of integrated planning and analysis. The search for fitness, harmony, and community involvement became William Johnson’s core design philosophy and a trademark of JJR’s work.

Throughout his career, Johnson blended practice at JJR (1961-1975) and as William J. Johnson Associates (1980-1992) with his commitment to education. A professor of landscape architecture beginning in 1958, he served as dean of the School of Natural Resources at the University of Michigan from 1975 to 1983 and became Professor Emeritus in 1988. Johnson’s practice focused on campus, resort, and community planning, as well as parks and recreation projects. He formed a partnership with his GSD classmate and longtime friend Peter Walker, FASLA, in 1992, which led to many national and international commissions. Johnson was named a Fellow of ASLA in 1973 and awarded the ASLA Medal in 1986. He currently resides in Holland, Michigan, working on pioneering landscape infrastructure projects.

The Johnson oral history was shot on location in August 2015 at significant projects in Michigan and in his home/studio. The goal of the oral history series, which received ASLA’s 2010 Award of Excellence, Communications, is to make each practitioner’s story available to future generations of stewards, students, designers, researchers, and heritage travelers. In addition to producing and distributing the video oral history, TCLF has produced and published a written transcript of the history and collected a series of written recollections from friends and colleagues.

“We are very grateful to the extended landscape architecture community, particularly Robert Chipman, Charlotte Johnson, Sandy Fischer, and SmithGroup JJR, for supporting the Johnson oral history,” says Charles A. Birnbaum, TCLF’s president and CEO. “We’re also honored that Johnson and other practitioners, including Lawrence Halprin and Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, have entrusted us to help tell their stories and inspire future generations.”

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