The Inaugural Oberlander Prize Winner is Julie Bargmann

The long-awaited Cornelia Hahn Oberlander International Landscape Architecture Prize winner was announced by The Cultural Landscape Foundation. The award was seven years in the making and finally, the jury (Dorothée Imbert (chair), Tatiana Bilbao, Michel Desvigne, Gina Ford, Teresa Gali-Izard, Walter Hood, and Aki Omi) selected Julie Bargmann as the first laureate. An excerpt from the jury citation says: 

… Julie Bargmann embodies an activist approach to practice, seeking out opportunities, challenges, even intractable problems. She has been a provocateur, a critical practitioner, and a public intellectual. She embodies the kind of activism required of landscape architects in an era of severe environmental challenges and persistent social inequities.

She is a Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Virginia School of Architecture and the founding principal of the office D.I.R.T. (Dump It Right There). The office focuses on neglected industrial sites or, as she says:

»D.I.R.T. cultivates a perverse attraction and an unapologetic approach to wrecked landscapes.«

The inaugural Oberlander Prize is good news for the global profession and the American community for two reasons. The first is that Bargmann has already produced a body of outstanding works that will hopefully inspire and educate many. Her work for neglected industrial sites is indeed very interesting and, in my belief at least, shows a promising course for the thinking about the development of American landscape architecture.

From a European perspective, landscape architects in the States have since always mastered details, the variety of materials in projects, and the execution quality level has been astonishing in general. But fortunately, we are all more and more aware of the environmental effects and needed resources involved in making material-heavy landscapes, let alone the resources necessary for ‘erasing’ landscapes blank and constructing ‘new’ ones in place. Julie Bargmann talks about ‘modesty’ and says, »No material leaves the site!«.

We’ve seen a couple of offices that practice similar progressive approaches, like Marti FranchWagonAtelier le BaltoRuderal, Peter Latz and so on. But Bargmann’s projects are unique precisely because of the American context. Looking at her works, it seems she found the fine and incredibly subtle balance between being aware of the American landscape architecture heritage, site’s history, progressive approach to design, and her creative force. I’m not sure I’d call them ‘modest’, but instead ‘careful’. Being careful and at the same time imaginative is a true virtue in our profession. How to design simple but not plain landscapes? I think Marc Tribe wrote something like »Simple gestures, rich experience« in one of his books. In this department, Julie Bargmann excels and shows that the design process needs time. She demonstrates the ability to be careful with the site, the environment, context, meaning, but at the same time consciously daring in creating unique and appropriate situations.

I first became aware of Bargmann’s work and thinking during her lecture at the Biennial in Barcelona, where she was very critical of the design for the Highline. She showed their proposal for the site that was much more in spirit with the Highline as found overgrown by the Friends of the Highline and especially as photographed by Joel Sternfeld in the most beautiful possible way. While the Highline as we know it today did contribute to the awareness of our profession, it at the same time represents an attitude we should be leaving behind and acquire a more Bargmann-informed professional credo.

To get to know her a bit more, I recommend watching her lecture at the GSD below. Furthermore, T.C.L.F. produced a couple of videos for the occasion of the award announcement, but they, unfortunately, feature irritating corporate music in the background, which makes them a bit challenging to follow. Other than that, the Award’s team did an excellent job in highlighting pivotal moments in Bargmann’s body of work. Although a bit outdated, D.I.R.T. website offers a glimpse into the work of Julie Bargmann.

The second reason why I think this is good news for our global professional community is that we got a significant award that will be a thrill to follow. Looking at Bargmann’s achievements makes me very curious who the next winner will be in two years.

Congratulations to Julie Bargmann, the jury and the organizers!

Zaš Brezar, editor-in-chief

Julie Bargmann in Daniel Urban Kiley Lecture, Harvard GSD

Gallery of Julie Bargmann’s works

Published on October 19, 2021

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