Shaping the Post-War Landscape


Meredith Arms Bzdak


Partner, Mills + Schnoering Architects, LLC

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Shaping the Post-War Landscape

Edited by Charles A. Birnbaum, FASLA, FAAR and Scott Craver, FAAR


Reviewed by Meredith Arms Bzdak, PhD, Partner, Mills + Schnoering Architects, LLC


The new publication Shaping the Post-War Landscape represents a significant contribution to the body of literature on landscape architecture and to the scholarly writings on design of the Modern era in general.


The body of information on the design leaders, the special terminology, and the conservation issues that characterize landscape architecture is still relatively small. As an advocacy and education organization with the goal of connecting people to places, The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) has been working diligently to change this. Their ongoing Pioneers of American Landscape series, of which this new book is a part, has filled a substantial void. Shaping the Postwar Landscape offers over forty years of perspective on the topic, shining the spotlight on a range of practitioners who have designed the landscape environments in which we live.


The book’s editors, Charles Birnbaum and Scott Craver, note that the publication “does not attempt to give an exhaustive account of modernist landscape architecture in America, but rather a representative one.” The pioneers they have selected to include do in fact demonstrate that the work being completed by landscape architects at mid-century was diverse and multi-faceted, from vest-pocket parks to playgrounds to shopping malls, and was indeed a true reflection of the growing complexity of the country’s business and leisure activities in the postwar years.

The organization of Shaping the Postwar Landscape is logical and accessible: a series of alphabetized essays, well illustrated in both color and black and white. For many people – but particularly for non-professionals – these images may serve as initial access to the designer’s work, and they well chosen. The Introduction is highly readable and offers important context, clearly laying out the ways in which landscape design expanded during the Modern era and the factors that currently place it at risk. The book advocates for greater education, engagement, and understanding. 


The editors have included a range of scholars who have made the selected practitioners a focus of their work; their essays follow a similar pattern and are consistent in style. Each narrative is a self-contained story, including biographical information, and is made whole by the illustrations and the list of extant publicly accessible landscapes (which can certainly facilitate exploration!). The inclusion of allied professionals within the entries (for example, Denise Scott Brown) allows the publication to serve as a resource for a broader audience and makes plain the blurring of lines between architecture, landscape, and planning. As one reads, it becomes obvious that there is a considerable degree of interconnectedness among the pioneers profiled.

Landscapes are particularly fragile resources, often overlooked, marginalized, or ignored. Publications like Shaping the Postwar Landscape go a long way toward helping to change that, allowing us to become more educated about what we see and to be better informed advocates. The more we understand, the sooner we will see our environments more holistically and treat them accordingly. This book offers critical information for those of us who seek to identify and protect the best examples of our Modern heritage and allows us all to be better informed while we still have a chance to make a difference. It will stay at the top of my favorites list long after it is no longer new and I’m certain it will be used regularly. I’ve been waiting for it for such a long time.