Lawrence Halprin’s Skyline Park and Urban Memory

Endangered public landscapes have been a recent topic of discussion across the nation. Downtown Denver’s own Skyline Park is being used as an example of what not to do when handling these situations in the future. Nearly a decade ago, the park faced major renovations to improve some issues that arose in the parks more recent years. A recent article in the Denver Post titled, “Skyline Park in Denver focus of debate over art, history and function” details elements of the decade-old controversy.

Among the issues were poor upkeep and a limited visibility from the street which lent the park an uninviting reputation as being a hub for drug activity and delinquency. No doubt, the problems needed to be addressed by the city for matters of public safety.

The solution to the problem came in the form of a major redesign, demolishing the majority of Lawrence Halprin’s design that the park had been known for. In an attempt to make the park a useful space again, a piece of important architectural history was destroyed with it.

The issue of modernity also reared it’s head in the initial debates over the park’s renovation. The park’s unique mountain canyon design was out of place amongst the modern structures around it. More to the tune of the decade it was designed, it appeared awkward in the contemporary metropolis of steel and glass.

Despite the plethora of reasons why the park needed to be changed, the fact remains that an iconic piece of architectural landscape history dissolved with the redesign. In an effort to preserve the park an emergency documentation grant was awarded just before the demolition. With the grant, a team was able to compile photographs, video and drafts of plans for the park in a rushed attempt to preserve the history of the original Lawrence Halprin’s Skyline Park.

Ann Komara, associate professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Colorado at Denver recently published a book titled “Lawrence Halprin’s Skyline Park.” It is the first in a series about the transitions and transformations of modern landscapes. The book looks at the initial urban redevelopment plan Halprin crafted as well as the construction, use, and demolition of the park.

The book has put the issue back in the spotlight, using the past as a measure of how to treat similar situations in the future. Komara will be at the Tattered Cover Book Store talking about and signing the book on October 18th at 7:30pm.