The Olmsted in All of Us - Denver Botanic Gardens

Denver, CO

A lecture by Charles A. Birnbaum, TCLF's President & CEO

April 2022 marked the bicentennial of Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr.’s birth. Although many still do not know that there is no “A” in his name, and that there are actually three Olmsteds (news flash: he didn’t live from 1822-1957), generally speaking, there is still much to discover about his impact on the profession. Olmsted-designed landscapes are more than just picturesque scenery and public grounds for society’s use and enjoyment.

This presentation draws on 40 years of professional practice, incorporating big ideas and anecdotes, and lifting the veil on those in Olmsted’s practice and his successor firms from 1857-1979, beyond those named Olmsted. Additionally, this presentation addresses how the Olmsted practice serves as the definer and proselytizer of the professional discipline that Olmsted Senior named, and how the firm defines what a corporate practice should look like and how it should function--including support for the “grand tour,” as well as the idea of preparing multiple alternatives to sell your ideas.  

Olmsted introduced new typologies (parkway, park system), recognized that landscape is infrastructure, and that a thorough understanding of soils and water (from watersheds and hydrology to soil remediation) is essential. He understood landscapes and cities to be dynamic, possessing intertwined systems that are guided and shaped, and promoted the idea of managing change.  

Finally, the presentation reflects on how we can steward Olmsted’s ideas and built works today – from a deeper and broader cultural context (e.g. race and gender) to supporting and collaborating with individuals and organizations who are working in their communities to engage with Olmsted and his legacy.