Charlottesville Mall, Charlottesville, VA
What's Out There Weekends

Lawrence Halprin's Legacy: Charlottesville Mall

Charlottesville, VA

Guides: Beth Meyer (FASLA), Merrill D. Peterson Professor of Landscape Architecture University of Virginia School of Architecture; Katie Schetlick, Dance Lecturer, University of Virginia Drama Department

Professor Meyer is a landscape architect and design theorist with a special interest in contemporary American landscape architecture. Ten years ago, in response to city plans to redesign Halprin’s 30-year-old pedestrian street in Charlottesville, she combined her scholarly activities with citizen activism. With architectural historian Lydia Brandt, Meyer raised local awareness of the significance of this designed landscape, and helped redirect the city’s efforts toward the repair and renovation of the existing landscape. In addition, Brandt and Meyer received a National Endowment for the Arts grant to undertake the first primary research into the social and design history of the Charlottesville Downtown Mall. Katie Schetlick, a choreographer and dance researcher, has a special interest in Anna Halprin’s dance practices and work in public spaces.

In the early 1970s, Lawrence Halprin & Associates was approached by the city of Charlottesville to design a pedestrian street that would revitalize its downtown. Over a period of three years leading up to the US Bicentennial, Larry Halprin and his project designer/manager Dean Abbott, among others, hosted a series of innovative Take Part community participation workshops, created a forty block urban design plan, and designed the core of what is now a lively, eight block pedestrian street. Its design features resonate with familiar Halprin design details and tactics, as fitting for this early 19th century courthouse town as Ghirardelli Square, also by Halprin & Associates, was for its San Francisco urban industrial setting. The Downtown Mall’s spatial organization suggests influences as varied as Larry Halprin’s book Cities, Abbott’s experience working for Zion and Breen and Anna Halprin’s dance choreography.

Why has this pedestrian street thrived when so many others have failed? Meyer has organized a field visit that will introduce participants to several reasons for this success, ranging from its design expression to the adjacent constructed environment, from political figures who stewarded the Mall for decades to the urban demographic changes that have occurred since the 1970s. The walk will start with a “tuning score” designed by Katie Schetlick to prepare visitors for the tour’s walking experience. During the walk, Meyer will explore the implications of the 2008 renovation for the integrity of this designed landscape and invite participation in speculation about future changes, such as the replacement of 40-year-old willow oak bosques and the extension of the Mall to the west and east.

While the group portion of the tour will end at 2:30, Meyer and Schetlick will linger to answer questions, and to direct interested participants on their own self-directed walk of Halprin’s Take Part score for Charlottesville. That scored walk connects key public spaces north and south of the Mall such as Courthouse Square and the Slave Market, Lee Park, the Vinegar Hill urban renewal area and the vista to Monticello. Following its route and responding to its prompts will allow participants to imagine the lessons Halprin and his associates hoped would surface in 1973 during the innovative community engagement process for this small southern college town that had only recently integrated its public schools and accepted women to its major public state university.

This tour is offered under the umbrella of TCLF’s What’s Out There Weekend: the Public Landscapes of Lawrence Halprin, in partnership with the Center for Cultural Landscapes in Charlottesville, and Preservation Virginia in Richmond.

This tour is part of a larger program intended to celebrate the life and legacy of landscape architect Lawrence Halprin. Learn more about the program and view other tours by returning to the event page for What's Out There Weekend: The Public Landscapes of Lawrence Halprin.