Jan 15, 201412:30 PMPoint of View

The METROPOLIS Blog

Q&A: Marion Pressley, Landscape Architect

(page 3 of 3)

Pope John Paul Park II

Courtesy Kathry O’Kane

JG: You also transformed a landfill into a park. With the Pope John Paul II Park, your firm built natural land forms, brought back native plants, created meadows set within wetlands. What were the challenges in making all that a reality?

Another very important brownfield, but, of course, brownfields always so much depend on the engineers, as it did with the East Boston piers. The engineers made it possible to have these things happen. In this particular case, we were able to do more with the site.

We had a garbage dump and we had a drive-in theater. The dump was used for trash for years. That’s why there’s this rolling landscape, which we kept and accentuated.

All of the area had completely become overgrown with invasive plants. The landscape was a complete urban wild. But it was still an important park to these people, even in that condition because everybody walked their dog there. There were paths people had cut through themselves. Nobody had made it into a park. It was a community asset, as far as they were concerned, for certain things.

Again, we had a very active community. We worked with a state agency. At that time, it was the Metropolitan District Commission.

We were able to create wetland areas. Because this area is tidal, just like Piers Park, there’s a nine-foot tidal change of water here.

Pope John Paul Park II

Courtesy Kathry O’Kane

We were able to do what they wanted: A place where they could walk or wander through. There were plantings and an area of community gardens. There were shade structures that looked out over the water.

We took the brownfield area that was the drive-in theater, which was really one of the more contaminated areas, and turned it into a series of fields now mostly used for soccer. That was very popular. A playground with a shelter structure was also added. This became a totally new park with both active and passive uses. The community invested in its design.

JG: Lastly, looking over your multi-decade career, what advice do you have for young people who want to get into landscape architecture today? What special advice do you have to those who want to focus on historic preservation and design?

MP: One of the hard parts about going into preservation is that most of our academic institutions don’t really teach you enough landscape architectural history to make you an authority on even American landscapes. Forget about European or Asian or any place else. Most of us who are in this field at my age, and who started in the early seventies, are self-taught in many ways. What it really means is you need to build up a base of understanding of history. If you’re going to do preservation, you need to understand the theories and how things were done at particular times. You need to obtain this knowledge by either supplementing it with additional courses or you need to teach yourself.

There are some programs that are trying very much to add to this. There are four or five programs now doing this. Georgia is definitely one. I know ESF has a program. Education is an important piece and hopefully they will expand it, but no matter how much they expand it, you really have to know your history to know when you walk into a design what you’re looking at. You have to know what its context is. There’s so much you have to know to do these cultural landscape reports. It’s a process of self-education.

For example, with Steepletop, which was Edna St. Vincent Millay’s house, you have to look at other writers and artists who had similar landscapes during the period of significance. The homes of Edith Wharton, Robert Frost, or Theodore Dreiser are examples. There’s a whole series of these people, who were writers who created their own landscapes. You have to have that context in order to know what you’re preserving or bringing back. You have to know what’s important and what has integrity.

I would advise young landscape architects entering this field that they have to realize there’s going to be a lot of work they have to do before they get to this point. They should join a firm that’s doing that kind of work because that’s how they’ll learn to do it.

Most people who go into landscape architecture and stay with landscape architecture absolutely love their jobs. There’s a great deal of love in the profession. That’s one of the reason landscape architects keep working to such an old age. They just can’t give it up.


This post originally appeared on the American Society of Landscape Architects site.

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