THE PROVOCATEUR | Landscape architecture magazine


Julie Bargmann and her Core City Park in Detroit. Left photo courtesy Barrett Doherty, The Cultural Landscape Foundation; Right photo courtesy of Prince Concepts and The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

Julie Bargmann receives the Oberländer Prize

Julie Bargmann is the first recipient of the Cornelia Hahn Oberländer International Landscape Architecture Prize from the Cultural Landscape Foundation.

Bargmann is known for the many students who cite her as an influence, as well as for her work as the founder of the DIRT (Dump It Right There) studio. A master at regenerating degraded land without erasing its history, Bargmann reveals layers of layers and ruins, but also layers of narratives that give her projects power, performance and a kind of raw beauty.

According to the Oberländer Prize jury, Bargmann was “a provocateur, a critical practitioner, and a public intellectual. She embodies the kind of activism that landscape architects require in a time of severe environmental challenges and persistent social inequalities. “

The award comes with $ 100,000 in prize money and a two-year public engagement program that focuses on the awardee’s work and the importance of landscaping.

A treatment pond in Vintondale Reclamation Park. Photo courtesy of DIRT Studio.

Bargmann has crawled through abandoned mines, featured in magazine headlines as “The Queen of Slag”, and worked with the EPA on design studios focused on Superfund sites. Known for her multidisciplinary approach, she works with architects, engineers, scientists, ecologists, and artists to push the boundaries of landscaping. In the Vintondale Reclamation Park (see “Coming Clean”, LAM, October 2005) Bargmann designed a passive water treatment system in the western coal country of Pennsylvania that diverts a stream polluted by acid mine drainage and diverts it into six basins, in which limestone, artificial soil and plants filter and purify the water. In Philadelphia, her company designed a campus for Urban Outfitters in a former Navy shipyard (see “Julie Bargmann Unexpurgated”, LAM, October 2007), mostly made from materials salvaged on site: bricks, rusty metal, and chunks of concrete large enough to give them their own nicknames – Barney and Betty Rubble. It’s an approach that kept nearly 1,000 cubic feet of waste out of the landfill. More recently, her design for the Core City Park in Detroit (see “To the Core”, LAM, October 2020) an excavated bank vault and parts of a fire station from the 19th

Bargmann is the first winner of the Oberländer Prize, named after Cornelia Hahn Oberländer, the pioneering landscape architect who died in May at the age of 99. According to the Kulturlandschaftsstiftung, the Oberländer Prize is awarded to extraordinarily talented, creative, courageous and visionary award winners who have an important architectural work that exemplifies the art of landscape architecture.

Bargmann’s approach to landscape architecture practice was unique when she developed it in the 1990s, but with her continued role model and influence, it has evolved into a fully fledged practice ethic and design language. She regards the landscape as “one big machine” and her work has played a crucial role in resolving false dichotomies between nature and industry, green and gray, and the “natural” and “unnatural”. Through pedagogy and practice, Bargmann has developed a hybrid synthesis between these seemingly opposing poles that functions within ecological limits and reduces the injustices of the built environment. In their example, this approach has defined another way of practicing landscape architecture as a design activism.

Bargmann’s Urban Outfitters Campus in Philadelphia. Photo courtesy Barrett Doherty, The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

Other coverage of Julie Bargmann in LAM:

“Prix de Rome Winner”, June 1989, on Bargmann’s 1989–1990 Prix de Rome grant and her proposal to examine prehistoric built forms in Europe and how they might relate to contemporary environmental art practices.

“Visionär”, December 1994. Selected as part of a jury with the task of recognizing “visionary” design, Bargmann rejected submissions that were “only beautiful design projects but had no content or vision” and instead nodded to work that “ were quite modest and reserved in their means, incorporating the real things of places as opposed to divine intervention through design ”.

“Design Culture Now”, June 2000, by Heather Hammatt, about an exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum that outlines the conceptual framework for the later Vintondale Reclamation Park by Bargmann.

“Let It Be”, December 2004, by Philip Nobel, sketching Bargmann’s design competition proposal for the New York High Line.

“Contours of Debate,” May 2015 by Timothy A. Schuler, where Bargmann explains her approach to mine reclamation practices that help biodiversity and recognize the site’s history.

“Deep Cut,” November 2015, by Zach Mortice, about the crucial role Bargmann played in creating a park-turned limestone quarry on Chicago’s South Side, reminiscent of the landforms of the city’s ancestors.

“San Antonio Takes the Shot,” April 2017, by Jennifer Reut, via DIRT Studio and Stephen Stimson Associates’ wild, gnarled, and indigenous Phil Hardberger Park in San Antonio.

LAMCAST: Julie Bargmann’s “Toxic Beauty”, March 2021, a Bargmann lecture to her alma mater, Harvard GSD, in which stigmatized landscapes appear as tragic characters deserving of redemption.

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