Who Was Olmsted? the Dirt Reviews Justin Martin’s New Book

One of the most enduring legacies in landscape architecture is the work and life of Frederick Law Olmsted, after whom the Olmsted Prize is named.With work throughout New York, Boston, and Chicago, Olmsted’s hand has played a part in the historic development and image of many American cities. His colorful career is littered with projects, with more than thirty public parks, and his partnership with Vaux produced New York’s celebrated Central and Prospect Parks. In a recent book by Justin Martin (reviewed here on The Dirt), the author chronicles the history and legacy of the designer. Quoted in the book, Olmsted often worried about the effects of his work and the impact of his legacy:

“I have all my life been considering distant effects and always sacrificing immediate success and applause to that of the future. In laying out Central Park, we determined to think of no results to be realized in less than forty years. Now in nearly all our work, I am thinking of the credit that will indirectly come to you.”

Olmsted’s brilliance stemmed not just from his ability to manipulate grounds, to create innovative grading, and to set up layered pedestrian circulation systems. His true genius lay in his ability to project his vision into the future and to understand the implications of his work and the effect of design on a time beyond his own life. In a world full of instant gratification, overwhelming information, and a constant socio-technological buzz, designers today are hard-pressed to find the clarity, vision, and wisdom of Olmsted.

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