James Douglas “Doug” Macy, FASLA


Few landscape architects have touched such a wide swath of a region as James Douglas “Doug” Macy, FASLA, the cofounder of Walker Macy in Portland, Oregon, who died November 10. Macy, 72, an art collector, rancher, and philanthropist, built a practice that designed dynamic urban plazas such as Pioneer Courthouse Square and Portland State University’s Urban Center as well as treasured Oregon landmarks such as Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center. He also worked to help shape the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Act.

Macy’s holistic relationship to the land emerged from growing up on a Madras, Oregon cattle ranch and forming deep bonds with Native Americans on the basketball court. “Being raised in the West, being out all day, taking care of living things, all became the soup that led me to landscape architecture,” he recalled in a public talk in 2017. “I always felt secondary to native people, who were here first. That had a strong impact on my attitude about the relationship between landscape and culture.”

Established in 1975, Walker Macy became an Oregon institution, known for its reach in projects across the West, its generous pro bono work, and as a “finishing school” for young designers. “Doug advanced the profession at a time when there was little knowledge in the region of what landscape architects do,” says Carol Mayer-Reed. “Without him, Portland would not look the way it does today.”

Such award-winning firms as Mayer Reed, Lango Hansen, PLACE, and 2.ink Studio grew directly out of what Macy wryly called the “University of Walker Macy.”
“People really helped each other,” says Jane Hansen of Lango Hansen. “Unlike a lot of offices, there was no internal competition. I think it came from him growing up on a ranch: People understood they had to behave.”

Mary Anne Cassin, a former employee of Walker Macy, recalled how Macy’s deep devotion to “greater good” led her, and many alumni, to guide park and green space designs for Portland Parks & Recreation, Metro regional government, and other public agencies. “As a woman in the firm, you felt completely equal,” Cassin noted, “even if you didn’t always with clients.”

In Macy’s landscape designs, circles and spirals abound: the elegant merge of the amphitheater and accessibility ramp that sweeps through Pioneer Courthouse Square (designed in collaboration with the architect Willard K. Martin); the gently descending Oregon Vietnam Veterans’ Living Memorial; the rock-top tribute to Nancy Russell, the founder of Friends of the Columbia Gorge. To Macy, curvilinear forms were a means of drawing architecture, people, and landscape together. “The spirit circle, the teepee—the soft, embracing form works in the things I’ve been drawn to work on.”

“Doug had a completely natural, intuitive way of seeing the world as a whole,” recalls the architect Thomas Hacker, who collaborated with Macy on many projects, among them Urban Center and the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center. On both buildings, one urban, the other semi-rural, Hacker recalls how Macy’s canny sense of site and grade synthesized the building and landscape that transformed the buildings. “Natural processes, architecture, and human experiences were inseparable to him.”

Macy assembled significant collections of northwest Native American art, Southwest historic native textiles, ceramics, and contemporary art. He established a gallery at Northern Arizona University in memory of his late son, Aaron, who studied ceramics there. Macy’s name could be found high on donors’ lists, from the Portland Japanese Garden to the Pacific Northwest College of Art.

But Macy’s most indelible impact on the region may be the least known. As activists battled forbidding political odds to establish the 1986 Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Act, Macy, working almost entirely pro bono, compiled a study of scenarios for the most important scenic, natural, cultural and recreational resources, creating before-and-after images of how county-approved subdivisions would alter the gorge. The study, hundreds of pages long, says Bowen Blair, founding director of the Friends of the Columbia Gorge, shaped the National Scenic Act’s “Special Management Areas”—covering 45 percent of the Gorge.

“I would be coming home from a long week or two in D.C., exhausted, flying with a group of business lobbyists in dark suits,” Blair recalls of his frequent chance airport meetings with Macy during the nonstop political push for the legislation. “Doug would be heading out with no bags, but a fishing rod, clad in khakis and flannel, smiling, laughing, eager to help more, and eager to get to his destination.”

--by Randy Gragg, a longtime writer on architecture, landscape and urban design in the Pacific Northwest

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