Lawrence Halprin: Landscape Architecture in Israel
As a teenager, the land of Israel captivated Lawrence Halprin (1916–2009). In 1929, at 13, he marked the ritual transition into Jewish adulthood and responsibility (bar mitzvah) in Jerusalem (then British-governed Palestine Mandate), where he and his family were living at the time. In 1933, at 17, he returned there for two years.
During this time, Halprin joined a group of pioneer men and women involved in the utopian kibbutz movement, which established collective, socialist societies (kibbutzim, Hebrew for “gatherings”) based on agriculture.
As one of the founders of Kibbutz Ein Hashofet, near Haifa, Halprin was deeply influenced by the kibbutz’s communal lifestyle and the opportunity to create a utopian community. Architect and urban design historian Donlyn Lyndon recalls that this time in Halprin’s life was a “formative experience working with others toward goals that could be held in common, his confidence that the landscape could become a guide and embodiment of social purposes.”
It was a generous, lovely way for people to live together. And that part of it influenced me profoundly, and it influenced me all my life.
Halprin noted that his experience on a kibbutz influenced his design of Sea Ranch, the landscape-design coastal community in northern California. Sea Ranch, “changed the way succeeding generations of designers perceived and worked the land,” the landscape architecture historian Kathleen John-Alder has observed.
Returning to the United States, Halprin entered college. He met his future wife Anna at the University of Wisconsin, where he studied horticulture, and later earned a degree in landscape design from Harvard University. After serving in World War II, he and Anna moved to northern California where they launched their careers and a family.
Following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Halprin felt a familiar pull. “My contact with Kibbutz En Hashofeth had taken on a kind of dreamlike quality,” he wrote. “The utopian ideals that had so intrigued me in my youth continued to haunt me. Israel had become a state in 1948 but it was still in the throes of consolidating its security and here I was in America, not really helping in a process to which I still felt committed.”
I needed to somehow maintain a relationship with Israel through my profession. In that way, I hoped, I could contribute in a vital way to the building of the utopian state.
Halprin would return to Israel throughout his life—to work and to visit. Among the projects he planned are the Givat Ram Campus of Hebrew University, the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, and national parks. In the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War, he was a member of an international committee advising Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollak on new city planning and design.
Halprin designed the Hadassah Medical Center Master at Ein Karem, the entrance to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, and Jerusalem’s downtown Ben Yehuda Pedestrian Mall. He “had an abiding interest and palpable affection for the Jerusalem landscape,” the landscape architecture historian Kenneth Helphand notes. “His signature project is the design of a promenade (tayelet) at Armon Hanatziv, a belvedere site that addresses one of the great views of the world,” which he designed with Israeli landscape architects Shlomo Aaronson and Bruce Levin.
The Armon Hanatziv Project (1984–2002)
Helphand calls Halprin’s Armon Hanatziv Project, a 1.5-mile complex linking East and West Jerusalem, one “of lasting significance.” In its design, Halprin blended influences from the Roman aqueduct that once stood on the site and from the British Romantic period that he had seen as a teenager.
Halprin described the view from Armon Hanatziv in his notes as “perhaps the most awe inspiring urban view in the world. There is a quality of ageless urban/landscape quality that is effable—the city and the landscape make an organic whole inseparable . . . the view must be kept in our planning for the entire area.’”
The first phase of Armon Hanatziv was the Walter and Elise Haas Promenade, which Halprin designed with Shlomo Aronson, followed by the Gabriel Sherover Promenade, designed by Aronson. The final phase was the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Promenade, which Halprin designed with Bruce Levin.
Though composed of several sections, Armon Hanatziv is viewed as one unit known as the tayelet. As Helphand explains, “The tayelet is a distinct Israeli landscape that has elements of the Mediterranean corso, urban boulevard, waterfront promenade, and garden belvedere. They are grand terraces that connect the built environment to its larger context; urban living rooms, meeting grounds where people gather; they are part of daily life, and where visitors are taken.”
Sarah O’Leary observes that “The tayelet is a place of daily pilgrimage. In the morning, when the hillside is still cool, and in the evening, when the air is pungent with sage and myrtle, Jews from West Jerusalem approaching from above and Arabs from East Jerusalem approaching from the valley below meet in this space between.”
Anna Halprin (front row, center) leads a peace procession on the Rhoda Goldman Promenade designed by the renowned landscape architect Lawrence Halprin. On the viewer’s left is Susie Gelman, daughter of Richard Goldman, who commissioned the promenade.
The tayelet’s geographic location—between East and West Jerusalem—combines with its historic significance—it is the place where the 1967 Six Day War erupted in Jerusalem and the New Testament location of the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot—to provide a place of connection and peace.
The tayelet is “a tranquil retreat enjoyed by Muslims, Jews, and Christians,” the San Francisco Chronicle wrote in 2006. That year Halprin and the San Francisco environmentalist and philanthropist Richard Goldman received the Jerusalem Foundation’s 2006 Teddy Kolleck Award for the site.
Most recently, in the fall of 2014 Lawrence’s wife, the postmodern dance legend Anna Halprin, traveled to Israel. There she led over 100 Mulsim, Chrisian, and Druze women on a peace walk along the Goldman Promenade. This interplay between Lawrence’s landscape designs and Anna’s dances was one of the hallmarks of their marriage and professional relationship.
As Judith Wasserman writes, “Lawrence Halprin saw the world in motion. For him, landscape architects hold a unique role amongst the design professions, that of navigating through the ephemerality of nature and the complexity of communities in order to lay out a process, and finally a design to accommodate and invigorate fluidity, flexibility, and a world in motion.”
Along with his wife, Anna, Halprin accomplished all that, and much more.
- The Cultural Landscape Foundation, Lawrence Halprin Biography: Living in Israel, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDX3GPeCG_M
- Lawrence Halprin, A Life Spent Changing Places (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press 2011)
- Kathleen John-Alder, “California Dreaming,” Siteline: A Journal of Place 7, no. 2 (Spring 2012)
- Matthew Kalman, “A no-man’s land becomes a park for all Jerusalem / Bay Area pair created a tranquil retreat enjoyed by Muslims, Jews, and Christians,” San Francisco Chronical, May 28, 2006
- Donlyn Lyndon, FAIA, Halprin Memorial Service, December 20, 2009, https://tclf.org/sites/default/files/HalprinMemorialTribute_Lyndon.pdf
- Sarah O’Leary, “It’s About Time: Uncovering a Jewish Approach to Space Making,” The Reconstructionist 69, no. 1 (Fall 2004)
- Judith Wasserman, “A World in Motion: The Creative Synergy of Lawrence and Anna Halprin,” Landscape Journal 31, no. 1–2 (2012)
The works of Lawrence Halprin are preserved at the Architectural Archives of the University of Pennsylvania, one of the leading repositories of architectural drawings and records in the world.
Learn more about Lawrence and Anna Halprin at the California Historical Society’s exhibition Experiments in Environment: The Halprin Workshops, 1966–1971 (January 21–July 3, 2016)—funded by the Walter and Elise Haas Fund, the Lisa and Douglas Goldman Foundation, and the John and Marcia Goldman Foundation—and at http://experiments.californiahistoricalsociety.org/blog/.
“I am delighted that Experiments in the Environment has come to its home base in San Francisco, the home of radical, humanistic, and participatory innovation. The exhibit excites me as well because it is including a new section describing my collaboration with Larry and our work beyond the Experiments. As Larry inspired me with his sensitivity to the environment which influenced my experiments, I influenced him in my use of movement audience participation as I pioneered new forms in dance. This combined exhibition shows the impact we had on each other throughout our lives and I hope it helps people understand our work better.”
—Anna Halprin, 2015