June 27, 2014


Even if you don’t know Frederick Law Olmsted’s name, you probably know his parks: Central Park, Prospect Park, Mount Royal Park, the Buffalo park system, Boston’s Emerald Necklace.

And when he wasn’t rethinking cities, he designed campuses: Stanford, University of Chicago, Cornell, Smith - the list goes on and on.

Although Olmsted became the most sought-after designer of public spaces in the 19th century, he started out as a farmer, and then a reporter for The New York Times. He was broke when a friend recommended he help rethink Central Park.

After he and co-designer Calvert Vaux won the contest to design Central Park, Olmsted completely engineered it, developing a style that continued throughout his career.

And he made sure to design the entire outdoor experience. When visitors to an Olmsted park think that they’re framing a beautiful picture, it’s actually part of his overall vision, explains Lawrence Hott, producer and director of “Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America.”

“Olmsted set it up that way. He sets up the park for framing. So the lakes and the trees and the pathways all are set up to make a beautiful picture.”

In addition to his work as a landscape architect, Olmsted was also a tireless preservationist, on par with John Muir, and was involved in the battle to save Niagara Falls.

“He got the state legislature to set aside part of the American side as Niagara Falls State Reservation. This is the first time in American history that a place has been set aside, preserved,” says Hott.

Because of his fame, Olmsted got away with being very opinionated.

Hott shares an exchange between Cornell president Andrew White and Olmsted. When asked his opinion of the campus, Olmsted wrote, “your buildings are boring, they’re monstrosities. I’ll make you a bet, that two hundred years from now on the other side of the River Styx when we meet, that your buildings will have been demolished and mine will be standing.”

To learn more about Olmsted’s work and legacy, listen to our full interview, above.

Green, Central Park, landscape architecture, Olmsted, documentary, Lawrence Hott

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