Michael Van Valkenburgh

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Michael Van Valkenburgh
BornSeptember 5, 1951
OccupationLandscape Architect
Spouse(s)Caroline Van Valkenburgh

Michael Robert Van Valkenburgh (born September 5, 1951) is an American landscape architect and educator. He has worked on a wide variety of projects in the United States, Canada, Korea, and France, including public parks, college campuses, sculpture gardens, city courtyards, corporate landscapes, private gardens, and urban master plans.

Life and career[edit]

Early years and education[edit]

Michael Van Valkenburgh was born in September 5, 1951 and grew up in Lexington, New York, where his family owned a small dairy farm. Van Valkenburgh received a Bachelor of Science from the College of Agriculture at Cornell University in 1973, studied photography at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, from 1974–75, and earned a Master of Landscape Architecture from the College of Fine Arts at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1977. He worked at Carr, Lynch, Associates, Inc., in Cambridge, Massachusetts from 1979 until 1982, when he founded his own firm, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc. In the early years of his practice, Van Valkenburgh specialized in seasonally dynamic hedge gardens and ice walls. He received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts which allowed him to experiment with ice as a material in landscape design. In 1988, Van Valkenburgh received the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome.

Teaching career[edit]

Van Valkenburgh is the Charles Eliot Professor of Practice, Emeritus at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. His career at the GSD began in 1982; he served as program director from 1987–1989, and as Chairman of the Department of Landscape Architecture from 1991-1996.

Design approach and inspiration[edit]

Van Valkenburgh describes his work as an exploration of the living qualities of the landscape medium and an attempt to emancipate landscape architecture from a its traditionally subsidiary relationship to architecture. His designs are based on a sensitivity to the particular qualities of each project site and thus do not necessarily resemble one another with respect to form, details, or imagery. According to fellow landscape architect James Corner, Van Valkenburgh's work demonstrates "that the knowledge of a place derives more deeply through experience of material, time, and event, than through visuality alone, and that landscape experience is fuller and more profound when it accrues through inhabitation than through the immediacy of the image or the objectification of the new."[1]

As an architect, he has been influenced by his upbringing in an agricultural setting and his education at Cornell University during the 1970s—in particular his exposure to Ian McHarg's ground-breaking book Design with Nature. Van Valkenburgh has been recognized for his ability to successfully integrate new methods of sustainable design and ecological renewal into the experience of the places he designs, making sustainability part of the beauty of a place that educates visitors and raises environmental awareness.[2]

Crediting artist Robert Smithson's writings on Frederick Law Olmsted and the "landscape dialectic" as a source of inspiration,[3] Van Valkenburgh's landscapes are sometimes completely original explorations of naturalism and the constructed urban landscape (for instance, Teardrop Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park) but he has also completed many sensitive historic landscape restorations including Harvard Yard; Marion Square in Charleston, South Carolina; and several works at Wellesley College. According to landscape theorist Anita Berrizbeitia, in her introduction to a book of essays on the work of MVVA, "His parks and public open spaces are based on the conviction that not only can the power of nature and the power of the man-made coexist, but they are the better for doing so."[4]

Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.[edit]

Founding Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc. (MVVA) in 1982, he currently leads the firm with five fellow principals: Laura Solano, Matthew Urbanski, Paul Seck, Gullivar Shepard, and Emily Mueller De Celis. The firm has 100 employees and two offices, in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Brooklyn, New York. MVVA has completed a broad range of landscape design, construction, and restoration projects in both the public and private realms. To date, MVVA has completed over 350 projects, and has cultivated an expertise in sustainability, soil toxicity, and waterfront infrastructure. The firm collaborates frequently with artists, including Maya Lin, Ann Hamilton, Martin Puryear, Mel Bochner, Meg Webster, and Oscar Tuazon.


His practice has won many national awards for their designs, including 19 from the American Society of Landscape Architects. These awards include:

Recent accomplishments[edit]

Michael Van Valkenburgh continues to devote himself to design work and teaching. He has a National Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Board certification and is a registered Landscape Architect in twenty different states. In 2002, he was a speaker in the Spotlight on Design Lecture Series at the National Building Museum. In 2003, Van Valkenburgh served on the selection jury of the World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition and won the National Design Award for Environmental Design from the Smithsonian Institution's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. In November 2004, Van Valkenburgh was personally thanked by First Lady Laura Bush for his design for the renovation of Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. In 2007, Van Valkenburgh was asked to present the Rutgers Department of Landscape Architecture Margaret O. Cekada Memorial Lecture. In 2010, he was awarded two major prizes: the Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize in Architecture, from the American Academy of Arts and letters, for contributions to architecture as an art, and the Brendan Gill Prize from the Municipal Arts Society of New York City, which recognized Brooklyn Bridge Park as the work of art that best captured the spirit and energy of New York City.



  • Designing a Garden: Monk's Garden at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Michael Van Valkenburgh, essay by Laurie Olin, Monacelli Press, 2019
  • Foreword, Taking Measures Across the American Landscape (by James Corner and Alexander S. MacLean), New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996.
  • Design with the Land: Landscape Architecture of Michael Van Valkenburgh, Princeton Architectural Press, 1994
  • Gertrude Jekyll: A Vision of Garden and Wood (with Judith B. Tankard), Sagapress, 1989.
  • The Flower Gardens of Gertrude Jekyll and Their Twentieth-Century Transformations, Design Quarterly 137, MIT Press for the Walker Art Center, 1987.
  • Transforming the American Garden: 12 New Landscape Designs (with Margaret B. Reeve, and Jory Johnson), Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Graduate School of Design, 1986
    • Built Landscapes: Gardens in the Northeast, Brattleboro Museum & Art Center, 1984


  • "Built Landscapes, Ecologies and Re-defining 'Preservation'", CRM: The Journal of Heritage Stewardship, National Park Service, v.7, n.2, Summer 2010
  • "Faculty project: Teardrop Park [Battery Park City, New York]", Harvard Design Magazine, n.12 (Fall 2000), pp. 92–93
  • "Ein Hof mit Streifen", Garten + Landschaft, v.106, n.2 (Feb. 1996), pp. 26–28
  • "Restoring The Harvard Yard Landscape", Arnoldia, Spring 1994 (with Peter Del Tredici)
  • "Conceiving a Courtyard", Places, Spring 1990 (with Carol Doyle Van Valkenburgh)
  • "Best laid plan: Gertrude Jekyll's brilliant planting and Edwin Lutyen's architectural mastery make Hestercombe a superb example of collaborative garden design". House & garden, v.161, n.3 (Mar. 1989), pp. 150–157 (with Carol Doyle Van Valkenburgh)
  • "The Flower gardens of Gertrude Jekyll and their twentieth-century transformations" Design Quarterly, no.137 (1987), pp. 1–30
  • "Notations of nature's process", Landscape Architecture, v.76, no.1 (Jan.-Feb. 1986), pp. 40–45
  • "Two Views of Landscape Design: A.E. Bye and Dan Kiley," Orion Quarterly, Spring 1985.
  • "Built Landscapes at Wave Hill," New York Times, August 11, 1984.
  • "Ice: To Freeze on Walls," Landscape Architecture, January 1984.
  • "Illusion of Space," Garden Design, Vol. 1, No. 1 (March 1982).
  • "Garden Spot for Half a House," Landscape Architecture, March 1981.
  • "Principles for the Design of a Mixed Use Development in Kendall Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts," Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, October 1978.
  • "Grade School Children's Use of and Attitudes about Two Play Areas in Carle Park, Urbana, Illinois," Proceedings of the Ninth Conference of the Environmental Design Research Association, Washington, D.C., April 1978.

Publications about Michael Van Valkenburgh and MVVA[edit]

  • Amidon, J., Michael Van Valkenburgh/Allegheny Riverfront Park: Source Books in Landscape Architecture, Princeton Architectural Press, 2005
  • Berrizbeitia, A., Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates: Reconstructing Urban Landscapes, Yale University Press, 2009
  • Blum, A., "The Active Edge", Metropolis, March 2006
  • Gilette, J., "Michael", Landscape Architecture Magazine, Feb. 1998
  • Werthmann, C., Green Roof - A Case Study: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates' Design for the Headquarters of the American Society of Landscape Architects, Princeton Architectural Press, 2007
  • Mitani, T., "American Landscape Architecture", Space Design (Japan), Summer 1998

Notable works[edit]


In Progress[edit]

Competition Wins[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Design with the Land, Landscape Architecture of Michael Van Valkenburgh. New York: Harvard Graduate School of Design, Princeton Architectural Press. 1994. pp. 5–8. ISBN 1-56898-022-1.
  2. ^ Meyer, Elizabeth K. (2008). "Sustaining Beauty, The Performance of Appearance, a Manifesto in Three Parts". Journal of Landscape Architecture. Spring (1): 6–23.
  3. ^ Ouroussoff, Nicolai (April 2, 2010). "The Greening of the Waterfront". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 May 2011.
  4. ^ Berrizbeitia, Anita (2009). Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Reconstructing Urban Landscapes. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 7. ISBN 9780300135855.
  5. ^ "Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence". Bruner Foundation. Retrieved 3 September 2013.
  6. ^ "World-Renowned Landscape Architect Michael Van Valkenburgh Selected to Lead Creation of Master Plan for Dorothea Dix Park | raleighnc.gov". www.raleighnc.gov. Retrieved 2017-02-22.
  7. ^ Hume, Christopher (9 May 2007). "A winning vision for the Lower Don". The Star. Toronto.
  8. ^ http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/metro/article_ccccaf5a-c5ba-11df-ae53-00127992bc8b.html
  9. ^ Wald, Matthew (14 Jan 2011). "For Wildlife, a Safe Highway Crossing". New York Times Green blog. New York.
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-03-21. Retrieved 2013-03-12.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

External links[edit]