Beginning his career in the San Francisco Bay Area, California, in 1949, Halprin often collaborated with a local circle of modernist architects on relatively modest projects. These figures included William Wurster, Joseph Esherick, Vernon DeMars, Mario J. Ciampi, and others associated with UC Berkeley. Gradually accumulating a regional reputation in the northwest, Halprin first came to national attention with his work at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, the Ghirardelli Square adaptive-reuse project in San Francisco, and the landmark pedestrian street / transit mall Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis. Halprin's career proved influential to an entire generation in his specific design solutions, his emphasis on user experience to develop those solutions, and his collaborative design process.
Halprin's point of view and practice are summarized in his definition of modernism:
- "To be properly understood, Modernism is not just a matter of cubist space but of a whole appreciation of environmental design as a holistic approach to the matter of making spaces for people to live.... Modernism, as I define it and practice it, includes and is based on the vital archetypal needs of human being as individuals as well as social groups."
In his best work, he construed landscape architecture as narrative.
Halprin grew up in Brooklyn, New York; and as a schoolboy, he earned acclaim playing sandlot baseball. He also invested three of his teenage years in Palestine on a kibbutz near what is today the Israeli port city of Haifa. The Heritage Park Plaza in Fort Worth, Texas, designed by Halprin and built in 1980, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as its featured listing of the week, on May 21, 2010.
He earned a B.A. at Cornell University; and he was granted a M.A. at the University of Wisconsin. Then he earned a second bachelor’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where his professors included architects Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer. His Harvard classmates included Philip Johnson and I.M. Pei. A visit to Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio in Wisconsin, had sparked Halprin’s initial interest in being a designer; and his formal training began in classes with Christopher Tunnard.
In 1944, Halprin was commissioned in the United States Navy as a Lieutenant (junior grade). He was assigned to the destroyer USS Morris in the Pacific which was struck by a kamikaze attack. After surviving the destruction of the Morris, Halprin was sent to San Francisco on leave. It was there he would stay following his discharge.
After discharge from military service, he joined the firm of San Francisco landscape architect Thomas Dolliver Church. The projects he worked on in this period included the Dewey Donnell Garden (El Novillero) in Sonoma County.
Halprin opened his own office in 1949, becoming one of Church's professional heirs and competitors.
Halprin's wife, accomplished avant-garde dancer Anna Halprin, is a long-time collaborator, with whom he explored the common areas between choreography and the way users move through a public space. They are the parents of Daria Halprin, an American psychologist, author, dancer, and actress, and of Rana Halprin, a photographer and activist for Romani and human rights.
Halprin's work is marked by his attention to human scale, user experience, and the social impact of his designs, in the egalitarian tradition of Frederick Law Olmsted. Halprin was the creative force behind the interactive, 'playable' civic fountains most common in the 1970s, an amenity which continues to greatly contribute to the pedestrian social experience in Portland Oregon, where "Ira's Fountain" is loved and well-used, and the United Nations Plaza in San Francisco.
Recently many of Halprin's works have become the source of some controversy. Some have fallen victim to neglect, and are in states of disrepair. Critics argue his pieces have become dated and no longer reflect the direction their cities want to take. Budgetary constraints and the urge to "revitalize" threaten some of his projects. In response foundations have been set up to improve care for some of the sites and to try to preserve them in their original state.
Halprin's range of projects demonstrate his vision of the garden or open space as a stage. Halprin recognized that "the garden in your own immediate neighborhood, preferably at your own doorstep, is the most significant garden;" and as part of a seamless whole, he valued "wilderness areas where we can be truly alone with ourselves and where nature can be sensed as the primeval source of life." The interplay of perspectives informed projects which encompassed urban parks, plazas, commercial and cultural centers and other places of congregation:
- Ferris House landscape, Spokane, Washington, 1955
- Washington Water Power (now Avista Corporation) campus, Spokane, Washington, 1959
- master landscaping plan for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, Seattle, 1958–1962
- landscape plan for the West Coast Memorial to the Missing of World War II, Presidio of San Francisco, 1960
- Sproul Plaza, University of California, Berkeley, 1962
- Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, California, an early model for adaptive reuse of historic buildings, 1962–1965
- Saint Francis Square Cooperative housing project , San Francisco, design based on a pedestrian-oriented site plan, with three-story apartment buildings facing onto three landscaped interior courtyards, 1964
- Master landscape plan for Sea Ranch, California, a historically significant planned community collaboration with developer Al Boeke and architects Joseph Esherick, Charles Willard Moore and others, 1964
- master planning for sections of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, San Francisco, 1964–1966
- Landscape work for Oakbrook Center in Oak Brook, Illinois, exterior landscaping and 'horsehead' fountain scheme for Northwest Plaza in St. Louis, Missouri, among many other post-war suburban shopping plazas, 1966–1968
- Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, one of the nation's first transitways, 1968
- Park Central Square, Springfield, Missouri, 1970
- Ira Keller Fountain (Ira's Fountain), with Lovejoy Fountain Park, part of a multi-block sequence of public fountains and outdoor rooms in Portland, Oregon, 1971
- Transit Mall in Downtown Portland, Oregon, 1971
- Water Garden, Olympia, Washington, 1972
- Skyline Park in Denver, Colorado - inspired by Colorado National Monument, 1974
- United Nations Plaza in San Francisco, California, 1975
- Sculpture Garden at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia, 1975, destroyed
- Manhattan Square Park in Rochester, NY, 5-acre (20,000 m2) urban park with waterfalls, playground and skating rink, 1975
- Riverbank Park, Flint, Michigan, 1975
- Freeway Park in Seattle, Washington, an innovative reclaiming of interstate right-of-way for park space, 1976
- Plaza 8 Water Feature, 8th Street (adjacent to the Mead Public Library), Sheboygan, Wisconsin, 1976
- Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, VA, 8-9 block pedestrian only zone along the city's historic main street, 1976
- Heritage Park Plaza, downtown Fort Worth, Texas, 1980
- Grand Hope Park, Los Angeles, CA, 1994
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C., 1997
- Letterman Digital Arts Center, San Francisco, California, 2005
- approach to Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park, dedicated 2005
- Stern Grove Amphitheater, San Francisco, California, 2005
- Levi Plaza in San Francisco, California
- Cascade Plaza in Akron, Ohio
- Main Street Streetscape in Greenville, South Carolina
- Innerbelt Freeway in Akron, Ohio
- 1964 AIA Medal for Allied professionals
- 1969 Elected fellow in the American Society of Landscape Architects
- 1970 Elected honorary fellow of the Institute of Interior Design
- 1976 American Society of Landscape Architects Medal
- 1979 Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture 
- 1979 Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement awarded by the AIA
- 1987 Elected into the National Academy of Design
- 2002 National Medal of Arts
- 2002 Friedrich Ludwig von Sckell Golden Ring
- 2003 ASLA Design Medal
- 2005 Michaelangelo Award
- A Life Spent Changing Places (2011) ISBN 978-0-8122-4263-8
- The Sea Ranch: Diary of an Idea (2003) ISBN 1-888931-23-X
- The FDR Memorial: Designed by Lawrence Halprin (1998) ISBN 1-888931-11-6
- The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (1997) ISBN 0-8118-1706-7
- "Design as a Value System", Places: Vol. 6: No. 1 (1989)
- Lawrence Halprin: Changing Places (1986) ISBN 0-918471-06-0
- Ecology of Form (audio book) (1982) ISBN 1-85035-074-4
- Sketchbooks of Lawrence Halprin (1981) ISBN 4-89331-701-6
- Lawrence Halprin (Process Architecture) (1978)
- Taking Part: A Workshop Approach to Collective Creativity (with Jim Burns) (1974) ISBN 0-262-58028-4
- Lawrence Halprin: Notebooks 1959–1971 (1972) ISBN 0-262-08051-6
- The RSVP cycles; creative processes in the human environment. (1970, c1969) ISBN 0-8076-0557-3
- “Motation.” Progressive Architecture Vol. 46 (July 1965): ppg. 126-133
- Cities (1963)
- King, John. "Architect Lawrence Halprin dies," San Francisco Chronicle. October 26, 2009.
- Walker, Peter et al. (1994). Invisible Gardens: the Search for Modernism in the American Landscape, p. 9.
- Rainey, Reuben M. (2001). "The Garden as Narrative: Lawrence Halprin's Frankllin Delano Roosevelt Memorial," in Places of Commemoration : Search for Identity and Landscape Design, pp. 377-413.
- Sullivan, Patricia. "Lawrence Halprin, 93; Urban projects won wide acclaim for American landscape architect," The Washington Post. October 28, 2009.
- Martin, Douglas. "Lawrence Halprin, Landscape Architect, Dies at 93," The New York Times October 28, 2003.
- Wallace, p. 116.
- Worth, Libby et al. (2004). Anna Halprin, p. 68.
- Walker, p. 153.
- Walker, pp. 153-154.
- Walker, p. 154.
- Carol Ness, "Landscape designer who built Sproul Plaza leaves a national legacy: Lawrence Halprin, 93, helped shape the modern Berkeley campus," UC Berkeley News, 30 October 2009.
- Muldoon, Katy. "Landscape Legend Lawrence Halprin dies at 93," The Oregonian. October 26, 2009.
- Woo, Elaine (2011-11-20). "Al Boeke dies at 88; 'father' of Northern California's Sea Ranch". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-12-03.
- Worth, Libby and Helen Poynor. (2004). Anna Halprin. London: Routledge. 10-ISBN 0-415-27329-3/13-ISBN 978-0-415-27329-9
- Rainey, Reuben M. (2001). "The Garden as Narrative: Lawrence Halprin's Frankllin Delano Roosevelt Memorial," in Places of Commemoration : Search for Identity and Landscape Design by Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn. Washington, D.C. : Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. 10-ISBN 0-884-02260-9/13-ISBN 978-0-88402-260-2; OCLC 185572850
- Walker, Peter and Melanie Louise Simo. (1994). Invisible Gardens: the Search for Modernism in the American Landscape. Cambridge: MIT Press. 10-ISBN 0-262-23177-8/13-ISBN 978-0-262-23177-0; OCLC 30476510
- The Telegraph: Lawrence Halprin obituary
- National Park Service article
- Illustrated appreciation of Ira Keller Fountain in Portland Oregon
- Washington Post profile of Halprin on the dedication of the FDR Memorial
- Article about an untitled Halprin fountain on the Capitol grounds of Olympia, Washington. Published in The Olympian. Copyright by Kristin Alexander.