Julie Bargmann wins the first Oberlander International Landscape Architecture Prize


Julie Bargmana Charlottesville, Va.-based landscape architect and educator whose metamorphic projects, both conceptual and realized, redeem what seems irretrievable and breathe new life into long-dead sites, was named the inaugural winner of the Cornelia Hahn Oberlander International Landscape Architecture Prize.

Established by the Washington, D.C.-based Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) in August 2019 after several years of behind-the-scenes work, the biennial Oberlander Award recognizes practitioners who are “exceptionally talented, creative, courageous, and visionary” and who have “a significant body of built works that illustrate the art of landscape architecture.” The award’s namesake is pioneering Canadian landscape architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander. The German-born, Vancouver-based Oberlander was 98 when it was announced that the first prize of its kind, which comes with a $100,000 prize and two years of public engagement activities , would bear his name. Just over two years later, the prize will be awarded to fellow visionary Bargmann in Oberlander’s physical absence. The ‘North Star’ of the award died a few weeks before his 100th birthday on May 22 this year.

In his quote, the Oberlander Prize Jury hailed Bargmann, who has been a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Virginia since 1995, as “tremendously important as a catalyst for other, younger landscape architects” who “embodies an activist approach to the practice, looking for opportunities, challenges, even unsolvable problems.”

Julie Bargmann, winner of the 2021 Oberlander Prize. (© Barrett Doherty/Courtesy TCLF)

“She was a provocateur, a critical practitioner and a public intellectual,” the quote continues. “She embodies the kind of activism required of landscape architects in a time of severe environmental challenges and persistent social inequalities.”

Chaired by Dorothee Imbertthe seven-person Oberlander Prize jury also included Tatiana Bilbao, Walter Hood, Gina Ford, Therese Gali-Izard, Michel Desvigneand Aki Omi. The initial pool of potential jurors was compiled by the independent body Oberlander Prize Advisory Boardchaired by Elizabeth K. Meyer, with selected jury members invited to participate in the process by Oberlander Prize curator John Beardsley. The jury met virtually several times over the summer to select the winner of the inaugural award.

“We couldn’t be happier with the jury’s selection of Julie Bargmann as the inaugural winner of the Oberlander Prize,” said Charles A. Birnbaum, Founder, President and CEO of TCLF. A. “As an organization focused on education and advocacy, the jury’s selection of such a brave and fearless individual who inspires us all – from mayors and professionals to students and neighbors – to take a stand and making a difference is key to informing people today’s design and management decisions.

“Julie is a storyteller with an extraordinary ability to connect people with abandoned, forgotten, even toxic sites by revealing and making visible their environmental and cultural stories; this is the basis of his innovative and inspiring work,” added Birnbaum, who was ex officio Member of the Oberlander Prize Advisory Board.

1990s photo of a group meeting at a former industrial site
Julie Bargmann with students at the Vintondale Coal Waste Pile. (Courtesy of TCLF)

A native of Bergen County, New Jersey, Bargmann attended Carnegie Mellon University, where she earned a fine arts degree in sculpture. Next came the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where Bargmann earned a master’s degree in landscape architecture in 1987. While at GSD, Bargmann worked in the then fledgling business of Michael Van Valkenburgh. After graduating, Bargmann went on to work with Van Valkenburgh twice more. In 1990 she was named a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome for Landscape Architecture. Two years later, in 1992, she founded Studio DIRT (“Dump It Right There”)a “self-proclaimed, research-based critical practice in design, driven by love of landscape, concern for marginalized communities, research into eco-technologies, inquiry into the history of sites and obsession with urban regeneration”.

Studio DIRT, now located in Charlottesville, is the natural successor to Project DIRT, a research initiative developed by Bargmann while teaching at the University of Minnesota where she traveled the country investigating abandoned mine sites.

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“I wanted to see how they were treated, and in most cases I didn’t agree with what I saw,” Bargmann explained. “Restrictive reclamation policies, uninspired remediation practices and cursory readings of former work sites – I became openly critical of all of these things, but I was also inspired by them. They instilled in me the desire to propose design alternatives and led me to create experimental studios.

Design studios that followed included a series curated in conjunction with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; all focused on restoring a dozen Superfund sites, including the former Roebling Ironworks in New Jersey, a Superfund site since 1983, and Avtex fibersa 440-acre former rayon manufacturing complex in Front Royal, Virginia.

a lush garden in a former industrial area
Turtle Creek Waterworks, Dallas. (© Barrett Doherty/Courtesy TCLF)

As with those early studios, much of Bargmann’s later work has revolved around transforming post-industrial sites, those that have been abandoned, abused and, in the eyes of anyone other than Bargmann, tarnished beyond any kind. of repair. Throughout his career, Bargmann saw the potential in these derelict and often-sullied sites and sought to regenerate them, giving them new life in the public realm.

As she explained in a statement:

“Digging up the raw ingredients of design from trash and wasteland defines my life’s work. Both the pedagogy of my teaching and my methodology as a designer respond to the social and ecological imperatives of reclaiming degraded lands. Integrating regenerative technologies into design proposals and built landscapes embodies my contribution to the discipline of landscape architecture.

Major projects, usually carried out in collaboration with larger multidisciplinary teamsinclude Vintondale Salvage Park in Pennsylvania, a 2001 National Design Award-winning project that Bargmann called “a project that I believe started DIRT and still defines its trajectory; ” Turtle Creek Pumphouse, a 2002 private commission in Dallas that involved the wholesale recycling of an abandoned historic pumping station into a deconstructed residential garden art center; Urban Outfitters’ highly rated 9-acre lot corporate campus at the redeveloped US Navy Yard in Philadelphia (2005-2014) and, more recently, downtown park in Detroit, a 2019 sitewide reuse green space project executed in collaboration with Detroit-based developer Philip Kafka of Main Concepts which the jury described as a “nascent urban forest planted in cleverly rearranged urban rubble”.

Core City Park, Detroit, photographed in Spring 2021. (Courtesy of Prince Concepts and TCLF)

As noted in the jury citation, these last two projects – Urban Outfitters corporate headquarters and Core City Park – embody Bargmann’s “commitment to not only environmental restoration, but more equitable access to urban landscapes.”

Just a sampling of other DIRT studio projects include:

Mass MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts (1997), Dearborn’s Ford River Red Factory (2000), Chicago Stearns Quarry Park (2002), Sainte-Croix Community Housing in New Orleans (2006), Zilber Park at the brewery in Milwaukee (2008), the Brooklyn Dockyard Visitor Center (2010), and PS1200a Prince Concepts project in Fort Worth slated for completion in 2022. (Bargmann is a regular contributor to Prince Concepts, who was featured by A during a studio visit in August 2021.)

In addition to winning the top Oberlander Prize, Bargmann will see his completed works added to the TCLF What’s there database and it will be the subject of a future American landscaping pioneers video oral history. (The most recent Pioneers oral history documents the work of Pamela Burton, based in Southern California).

a corporate campus with uncovered old railway tracks
Urban Outfitters HQ at the Philadelphia Navy Yard (© Barrett-Doherty/Courtesy TCLF)

The announcement of the first Oberlander Prize winner comes a day before the Oberlander Prize forum, Brave by Design, a one-day symposium focused on climate resilience in New York City kicking off tomorrow, October 15, on the High Line stages in Manhattan. Field sessions in four different New York City landscapes will take place the following day.

“The Oberlander Prize for Landscape Architecture, which is now the most important prize in landscape architecture, signals where the discipline should go and what kind of values ​​the discipline should uphold,” said Maurice Cox, Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development for the City of Chicago and former Director of Design at the National Endowment of the Arts. Cox, along with Beardsley and Meyer, are interviewed in a video that Bargman Overview and his work.

“[Bargmann’s] advocacy for fallow landscapes, contaminated landscapes, literally digging into the ground of urban areas and finding beauty, has in itself shaped a public dialogue about lost and forgotten landscapes as places where solutions can be found, where landscapes can be regenerated,” Cox added.


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