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Born in Gijón, Spain, Diana Balmori spent most of her childhood in Spain and England before her family settled in Argentina. Her mother Dorothy Ling (born in England) was a musician and musicologist. Her father Clemente Hernando Balmori (born in Spain) was a linguistic experts. At an early age Balmori learned to sing, dance, play piano, and her parents encouraged her to explore a wide range of mediums. She brought many of these influences with her into the design world.
She graduated from high school at the age of 16 and studied at the Architecture School at the National University of Tucumán in Argentina in the undergraduate program, and then emigrated to the United States. Balmori continued her education at the University of California at Los Angeles, earning her Ph.D in Urban History. After graduation, she entered the world of academia, accepting a teaching position at the State University of New York at Oswego and holding undergraduate seminars in Landscape History at Yale School of Architecture. Balmori continued her own education, studying landscape architecture at Radcliffe College, until she was made partner at Cesar Pelli Associates, where she also founded their in-house Landscape Architecture department. She continued to work as a partner at CPA before leaving in 1990 to start her own firm, Balmori Associates.
Balmori married the architect and founder of the architecture firm where she was a partner, Cesar Pelli. They had two children: Denis, a neurobiologist and Professor of Psychology and Neural Science at New York University and Rafael Pelli, like his father also well-known architect. The couple resided in an apartment in The San Remo on Manhattan's Upper West Side. She died in her sleep on November 14, 2016 at the age of 84.
Balmori's interest in landscape and urban design grew out of her interest in public space; the way it is used and designed, and its role and effect on the larger environment. Her design style is recognized by the way it creates a fluid interface between landscape and structure in the development of urban public spaces. The work explores how form can respond to a new understanding of nature – not simply as visual imitation – but contingent on an understanding of process.
Balmori frequently collaborated with artists and architects.
Balmori has been the principle landscape designer on innovative projects, including the Master Plan for the Abandiobarra District in Bilbao, Spain, where her landscape designs run alongside the Nervion River and adjacent to the building of the Guggenheim Bilbao. She realized the concept of Robert Smithson for a floating island around New York City. Out of 36 submissions from 9 countries, Balmori Associates (New York) with StudioMDA, Knippers Helbig Inc., David Skelly, CITA, Bluegreen, John A. Martin & Associates, and David Langdon, was selected as one of five finalists in the ARC International Wildlife Crossing Infrastructure Design Competition, a competition sponsored by ARC Solutions, which challenged competitors to propose design concepts for a wildlife crossing over US Interstate 70 (I-70), near Denver, Colorado.
In addition to her work as principal designer for Balmori Associates, Balmori has written on cities, environment, and the history of design. She links her practice with foundations and academic institutions.
Balmori has been honored by institutions including the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Institute of Architects. In 2006, Balmori was appointed a Senior Fellow in Garden and Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC.; she served two terms on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. Dr. Balmori held the Davenport Chair of Architectural Design for the Spring 2004 at the Yale School of Architecture and was the William Henry Bishop Visiting Professor of Architectural Design in the Fall 2008 at the Yale School of Architecture and she also teaches in the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She is a member of the American Historical Association, and the American Society of Landscape Architects. She is a Fellow for the Dumbarton Oaks Garden & Landscape History Institute and Harvard University, as well as being on the Board at the Van Alen Institute in New York City and Minetta Brook, a Public Art Organization. She served as a Committee Member for the Comprehensive Design Landscape Plan for the White House in 1999.
In 2014, Balmori's firm, Balmori Associates, moved into a new space in Soho, New York City. Balmori lived and worked in New York City.
- “Drawing and Reinventing Landscape”: Wiley, (United Kingdom) 2014
- “A Landscape Manifesto”: Yale University Press, (United States) 2010
- “Tra Fiume e Cittá Paesaggi, Progetti e Principi”: Bollati Boringhieri, (Italy) 2009
- “Balmori”: C3 Publications, (Korea) 2007
- “The Land and Natural Development (LAND) Code, Guidelines for Sustainable Land Development” co-authored with Gaboury Benoit: John Wiley and Sons Ltd. (United States) 2006
- “Mapping in The Age of Digital Media: The Yale Symposium” co-authored with M. Silver: John Wiley and Sons Ltd. (United Kingdom) 2003
- “Information Exchange: How Cities Renew, Rebuild and Remember” Interview with Joan Oakman and Paulsen Sherida: Van Alen Institute, (United States) 2003
- “Saarinen House and Garden: A Total Work of Art” co-authored with Roy Slade, and Gregory Wittkopp, photography by Balthazar Korab: Harry N. Abrams, (United States) 1995
- “Transitory Gardens, Uprooted Lives” co-authored with Margaret Morton: Yale University Press, (United States) 1995
- “Redesigning the American Lawn” A Search for Environmental Harmony co-authored with F. Herbert Bormann and GordoGeballe: Yale University Press, (United States) 1993
- “Trails for the Twenty-First Century: Planning, Design, and Management Manual for Multi-Use Trail,” co-authored with Charles A. Flink, Peter Lagerwey, and Robert M.Searns, ed. Karen-Lee Ryan National Rails-to-Trails Conservancy: Island Press, (United States) 1993
- “Beatrix Farrand, American Landscapes:Garden and Campus Designs” co-authored with Diane McGuire and Eleanor McPeck: Sagapress, (United States) 1985
Publications featuring Balmori
- Ivy, Robert. "Editorial: Beyond Legalisms." Architectural Record November 2007 Beyond Legalisms
- Sokol, David. "Asian Cities Go Green." Business Week November 2007 Asian Cities Go Green
- "Campa de los Ingleses." Europaconcorsi
- Usborne, David. “Perfect Company.” Monocale July 2007: 84–88.
- Merkel, Jane. “Urban American Landscape” AD March–April 2007: 36–47.
- Kim, JinOh. “Principal of Balmori Associates: Diana Balmori” ela March 2007: 114–116.
- JooEun, YeeOh. “International Competition for the Master Plan of Public Administration Town.” C3 March 2007: 136–145
- Chamberlain, Lisa. “View from the Bridge.” Metropolis Magazine September 2006: 97–101.
- Chamberlain, Lisa. “ Silvercup Sprouts” Polis July 2006
- Martineau, Kim. “Activists Blaze Trail Through Yale.” The Hartford Current 5 February” 2006.
- Lockhart. “Coming to the East 40's: Ground Zero.” Curbed 10 November 2005.
- Williams, Sam. “Cool(er) Roofs” Gotham Gazette October 2005
- Moore, Bob. St. Louis Front Page "St. Louis Riverfront Plan – If You Dream It, Can You Build It?"
- Kennedy, Randy. "It's Not Easy Making Art That Floats." The New York Times 10 August 2005.
- Chamberlain, Lisa. "A Roof Garden? It's Much More Than That." The New York Times 10 August 2005.
- Chamberlain, Lisa. "Green roofs sprouting across U.S. skylines." International Herald Tribune. August 2005.
- "Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects Records".
- Visionary Landscape Architect And Urbanist Diana Balmori Has Died
- "50 visionaries who are changing your world.". The Utne Reader. 11: 36–45. 2009 – via Proquest.
- Merkel, Jayne (2007-03-01). "Urban American Landscape". Architectural Design. 77 (2): 36–47. doi:10.1002/ad.422. ISSN 1554-2769.
- ARC International Wildlife Crossing Infrastructure Design Competition, Arc Solutions
- Thomas E. Luebke, ed., Civic Art: A Centennial History of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, 2013): Appendix B, p. 540.