Bill Johnson at the University of Michigan

William "Bill" Johnson Oral History

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The life, career, and design philosophy of Michigan-based landscape architect William "Bill" Johnson are the subject of the fourteenth oral history in the award-winning Pioneers of American Landscape Design® Oral History Project series.

The Lansing, Michigan-born Johnson studied landscape architecture at Michigan State University and graduated in 1953. 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 Peter Walker in 1992, which led to many national and international commissions. Johnson was named a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects in 1973 and awarded the ASLA Medal in 1986.

Oral History Framework

Video clips are divided into three categories: BIOGRAPHY, DESIGN, and PROJECTS.

Each clip is between one and six minutes long.

Interview: William "Bill" Johnson was interviewed by Charles A. Birnbaum at his home in Holland, MI in August 2015.

William "Bill" Johnson Oral History Transcript


Reflections: The Cultural Landscape Foundation contacted Johnson's colleagues and professional associates to share their stories and memories.

William "Bill" Johnson Reflections


  YouTube Clip Listing by Category


  Production Credits and Acknowledgments