A Generous, Rewarding Collaboration

People / Places / February 29, 2012

It’s time for architects and landscape architects to call a truce, says Raleigh’s Frank Harmon, and begin to enjoy the fruits of what can be a very generous and rewarding collaboration.

“Where to place a building on a site is the single-most important decision in any design work,” the architect says.  “We should be working together from the beginning.”

In a lecture on Feb. 27 at N.C. State’s College of Design, Harmon cited three of his own projects as prime examples. 

He worked closely with landscape architect David Swanson at Merchants Millpond in eastern North Carolina, canoeing and camping together before drawing the first line for a new environmental education center there.  For the newly opened AIA NC Center for Architecture and Design in downtown Raleigh, he teamed with Charlottesville landscape architect Gregg Bleam to place the structure in its most advantageous location.  And for his own home, he turned to his wife, a landscape architect in her own right.

“A lot of architects think of landscape architecture as a secondary discipline at best,” he says.  “I think it’s primary.  It’s just as important as the architecture – the land is more important than the building.”

At the same time, landscape architects might sometimes think of architects as prima donnas of sorts.  “If you go to any landscape architecture convention, you’ll find a general kind of suspicion and criticism of architects,” he says.

But the most important aspect of designing any building is to determine its sense of place, created by how it relates to its site.  Sunlight, orientation, cross-ventilation, hydrology, prospect and aspect are all determined by where a building is placed on site – and each should be thought through before a building plan is ever considered, Harmon says.

“In an ideal world, landscape architects ought to be called land architects, because it’s really about the use of the land,” he says.  “The ‘scape’ part refers to plantings.”

Perhaps, Harmon suggests, the single greatest collaboration ever between architect and landscape architect would be at Biltmore Estate, where Richard Morris Hunt turned to Frederick Law Olmsted to site the main house.

“Olmsted gave it a setting,” he said.  “He found the place for it to go.”

For more on Frank Harmon, go to http://www.frankharmon.com/


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Michael Welton




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