Photo © Sahar Coston-Hardy
Laurie Olin: Well, cities are so exciting. I mean, that's where the people are. And I've always thought cities were rather like-- they're very natural phenomena. They're like a forest. There's all this stuff going on in them and things competing and energy flowing through them and lots of individual decisions of all the different organisms and they're rising and falling and changing in a constant state of flux, really. Most people think of them as being solid. They're not. They're absolutely dynamic.
Jo Reed: That was landscape architect and 2012 National Medal of Arts recipient Laurie Olin.
Welcome to Art Works, the program that goes behind the scenes with some of the nation's great artists to explore how art works. I'm your host, Josephine Reed.
Laurie Olin is one of the preeminent landscape architects working today. He's internationally renowned for his ability to get a sense of a place and understand what's needed, always balancing nature and cultivation. On the domestic front, his work spans from coast to coast from Battery Park City in Manhattan to the Getty Center in Los Angeles. He's built a four acre field on the top of a building in Salt Lake City, designed the park along Connecticut's restored Mill River, and redesigned the grounds around the Washington Monument. He's very active in the field of landscape architecture, too, publishing widely on the history and theory of landscape design as well as teaching his craft all through his career at universities like Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania. He's won more awards that I have time to mention, including a Guggenheim, the Thomas Jefferson Medal in Architecture, and now the 2012 National medal of Arts.
I met Laurie Olin when he came to Washington DC to receive the Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama. I began our conversation with a basic question.
What is landscape architecture?
Laurie Olin: It's the design of all manner of space for human use. It encompasses things you might think of on the smaller side like gardens, and then it gets bigger like parks and public grounds and squares and piazzas, but then it's a field that endeavors to plan the environment for humans. So that leads us to large scale infrastructure projects, park systems, whole campuses, regions, highways. We do a lot of things. It's sort of what Clausewitz said about politics, "It was war by other means." It's architecture by other means, so to speak.
Jo Reed: Describe the role of landscape architecture in the development of cities.
Laurie Olin: It's an activity that's been around for centuries, but it didn't become a profession until the turn of the century. And what it really is is it has to do with the physical design and shaping, the imagination of the spaces between buildings, the spaces that are shared, that are public. And so the role of landscape architecture is quite often to help with the sighting of things, to help with giving expression to the public realm. And we really are the advocates for the natural systems and natural process within the development process. So other people are good at structures or engineering or highways or traffic or something, but we really know a lot about natural systems. We know a lot about water, we know a lot about plants and animals, we know a lot about climate, we know a lot about geology and soils. And we also know a lot about people. And so one of the things is that we are interested in the kind of design of the ensemble and of the arrangement of the parts as much as we are the expression of the parts, hmm. And so my clients, quite often they will call me if they're thinking of doing a project. I'll get a client will call and say, "I was thinking of doing a project," and they'd like to either help with site selection or they'd like me to kind of help them think about the architect, the different architects they might work with, and how to do that or help them figure out how to structure a team. But we're almost always part of a team, for big, complex projects. And so, for instance, right now there's a project that we're just starting in Portland that has to do with an old mill right on the river. It's the last of the mills that haven't been torn down. It's a historic site and it's adjacent to the Pearl District, which is the most booming residential district west of the Mississippi and it's fabulously successful, great place, right on the river. Historic, important. So this client calls, thinks, "I got to put this together, this proposal." So he gets three different architectural firms, he gets some engineering firms, he gets a lawyer, he gets a bunch of other people, and he calls us. And we're kind of the glue. We kind of go between them all. And he calls us and wants us in the first meetings to help figure out where things go and what stays, what goes, how much natural stuff and how much cultural--
Jo Reed: Cultured.
Laurie Olin: Yeah, yeah, right. The balance between culture and nature.
Jo Reed: Yeah.
Laurie Olin: That's kind of where we are.
Jo Reed: How did you come into it? You studied architecture--
Laurie Olin: I did.
Jo Reed: --when you were in college.
Laurie Olin: Yeah, that's true. Mm-hm.
Jo Reed: How did you move into landscape architecture?
Laurie Olin: Hmm. Well, it took a few years. I did it sort of in an odd, roundabout way. I grew up in Alaska, a great landscape. And I came out to the States, as we would say, to go to college. And got a degree in architecture, and while studying architecture I fell in love with cities. Not just mere buildings. And, um, one of my teachers happened to be a man named Richard Haag, who had been brought there to start a Department of Landscape Architecture, and because he didn't have any students yet and he was writing a curriculum and trying to recruit faculty, they stuck him in our studio for a year to give crits. What we call critiques. And Rich was, turned out to be, one of the great teachers and a rather remarkable landscape architect who's done some brilliant award-winning and kind of iconic projects. But at that point he was just a young teacher with lots of energy and nothing else to pour his energy into. And so he poured it into my class and started a small office and several of us worked for him part-time. Because you start a storefront office and you're in a new city and you need some help and you look at your students and you think, "Who draws well?" and "Would you like a beer?" "Come on over." So I didn't know I was studying landscape architecture but I had a pretty good exposure to one of the best while still a student. And then later in architecture, because in the summers I was going back and working in Fairbanks, Alaska, and in Anchorage and around the territory-- we weren't a state yet-- I was working for the highway commission and the road commission. And so I was doing civil engineering. So I was working as a civil engineer, training as an architect, working for a landscape architect, and so I got a pretty broad education without planning it. And then one thing lead to another as these…
Jo Reed: What was your upbringing like? Did you come from an artistic household or--
Laurie Olin: Well--
Jo Reed: --an outdoor household?
Laurie Olin: --how to explain. My mother had been a librarian, but didn't do it after she married my dad. He worked for the Corps of Engineers. We moved to Alaska right after the war. So I guess Harry Truman thought we were going to have a war with Russia, so they decided to build a bunch of bases, military bases in Alaska. So we moved there in 1946, and after the spring break-up the first year, we moved out of Fairbanks to a place called 26-Mile, which is 26 miles outside of Fairbanks. Anyway, we're--
Jo Reed: I love literal names.
Laurie Olin: Well, it's very American. My father and a couple of his colleagues were building an air base in the wilderness. And the workers were living in tents and we were living in a small sort of tar papered building. But we had lots of books and a lot of magazine subscriptions, and there was the outdoors. And first couple years I went to a two-room school, first, second and third in one classroom, and fourth, fifth and sixth in the other one. And then by the time I got to seventh grade we moved back to town and I went back to public school in Fairbanks. And I started college at the University of Alaska in civil engineering. And so the home was just a house. A very American house. Parents from the Midwest. But I had been drawing since I was, I don't know, since I could hold a pencil. I've always drawn.
Jo Reed: Did you think about rather than architecture, being an artist? Didn't you think about that for a while?
Laurie Olin: Well, I did a lot drawing and painting.
Laurie Olin: Yeah. Off and on. I dropped out of architecture a couple of times to do other things. But I don't know. I like building things, I like making things. And I also discovered that other people could paint better than I am. You hear Paul Klee, he studied music, and his father was a music teacher, and he played the violin and was in a quartet at the Bauhaus. But one of the reasons he went into art was he didn't know how good he could be in art but he knew what his limits were as a musician. And that's kind of how I feel about me as an artist, as a painter. My medium is landscape.
Jo Reed: What did you love about cities? Or what do you love about cities?
Laurie Olin: Oh, I still do, yeah.
Jo Reed: I'm assuming it's an ongoing love affair.
Laurie Olin: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It is. Well, cities for me, cities were just, they were so vital. There were so many different kinds of people and different things going on and I loved the bustle and the shops and the traffic and the buildings and the, you know, what was going on in theater and music and dance and art. They're just so exciting. You know what I mean? If you come from the sticks, cities are bright lights, right? I mean, I love the forest. Don't get it wrong.
Jo Reed: I'm not. It's not an either/or.
Laurie Olin: No, no, no. For me, the wilderness is unbelievable and wonderful and full and rich and doesn't need us, we need it. And the cities are just as rich, but they're very different. They're part of nature. It's the stuff in between I don't quite get.
Jo Reed: What are some great American cities, in your estimation?
Laurie Olin: Well, how about New York? I love New York. I live in Philadelphia. It's a great city. It struggles like they all do. I like San Francisco, I love L.A. L.A., beautiful, horrible. I love L.A., but I can't take it. But I moved out of New York because I thought I was going to go nuts. It was too much energy. I just was going to… I don't know. It was the ‘60s in New York was something else. But I love it still, and I go there all the time. I love Chicago. What a great city Chicago is. The interesting thing, Chicago, I don't know. There's something about the dimensions and the proportions of streets to the buildings that you can actually see the buildings in Chicago and you can't see them in New York. You know, one of the things about Battery Park City that we did when we worked on that was it was a way you could step out of the city and look back and see it. And you could actually be next to the city and actually see something. In Chicago, if you go up, you know, not just on the river along Wacker Drive, but if you go up State Street or any of the streets, you know, you actually can see the buildings and focus on them and really appreciate them. It's hard to do in New York because everything's too close. Dan Kiley once said, "Proportion is everything," and in this case it's something.
Jo Reed: Well, I'm glad you brought up Battery Park, because one thing I was going to ask you is as you design for a city like New York and a place like Manhattan, designing Battery Park, I would imagine it's a very different concept than designing something more smack dab in the middle of the city, like Columbus Circle.
Laurie Olin: Yeah. Columbus Circle and Bryant Park were completely different, yeah. But, well, Battery Park City, when we started, you know, Alex Cooper asked me to come help work on the master plan in 1979, and, you know, it was a big landfill on the Hudson River. It's a big pile of sand. It would be illegal today. You couldn't fill that much of the Hudson River today. Be against the law environmentally. But it was done as part of the Lower Manhattan plan, one of the only parts that ever got done. But when we began working there, it was-- there had been three or four failed attempts to do development under the Rockefeller administration by different firms and corporations. And Alex and I, we had this very simple idea that what we should do is just build more of New York. Don't do something bizarre or some spaceship or some mega structure, but extend the city and do more of what was good about the city. So then that was us looking at the city very carefully to say, "What makes it tick?" And a couple of streets were still too wide, but at least we realized, "Don't just make them parallel to the Hudson. Turn the grid slightly so that the North/South streets all lead to the water or the East/West streets all lead to the water." So at the end of every street there's the Hudson. So that was one of the things about a sense of where you are. And then it was very simple to say, "Why don't we just take the entire edge and make it public as a Esplanade?" which was fairly radical at the time. And it's a mile long. And then how to-- ventilate's not the right word. How to inter-lard it so to speak, with public space that goes from what was going to be the West Side Highway, from Westway, out to the river and how to add public spaces to give it breathing room because of the total densities that were really called for right next to Wall Street. Because really wanted high density, wanted, you know, mixed-use development, and wanted lot of residential. And we really changed Lower Manhattan with that project and set in motion the desire to give water access around the entire perimeter of the island, which has now almost happened. And so it was one of those things that, "How did you start?" Well, we just thought it was the nature of the place. And you know, and when you go to another place you think of something else. Our work, you know, doesn't tend to look the same. It's not about style. It's not a collectible.
Jo Reed: I was very happy to see that you got the National Medal of Arts, because I knew it would give me the opportunity to meet you and to say thank you for Bryant Park. Because what--
Laurie Olin: You're welcome.
Jo Reed: --that place was before--
Laurie Olin: Yeah, yeah.
Jo Reed: --was just a mess. It was a mess.
Laurie Olin: Yeah. I saw a shooting there in 1967. Yeah.
Jo Reed: Oh. It was something you just passed by without looking at.
Laurie Olin: It was, you know, as you may recall, sometimes referred to as Needle Park.
Laurie Olin: It was pretty bad. And, you know Holly Whyte, William H. Whyte, the guy who wrote "Social Life of Small Urban Spaces" and "The Organization Man," and some other things, Holly did a study for the Rockefeller Brother's Foundation when the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation was hatched by the merchants and mostly by the library board, the board of the library and a couple of people who were CEO's of buildings around there. And he did a study of it sociologically, and it's great when you look at the drawings. It says, "Light drug smoking, heavy drug smoking, light drug sales, heavy drug sales, voyeurism, urination, blah, blah." And he mapped the social life of that place, and it was unbelievable. But Holly came up with the program that we use, basically. He was a sociologist and he said, well, part of the problem with Bryant Park as it had been was when it was redesigned in the 1930s under the Fiorello LaGuardia's administration and Moses was the new park director in 1934, when they redid the park, they made it as a sanctuary from the hustle and bustle and the nastiness of Broadway. So they- they made it so that you couldn't really see in or out from the street. It also worked fine under the social morays of the 1930s when a lot of out of work people would sit in the park all day and read and, you know, gossip and everything and it was a kind of big sort of lunchroom and a place for people to be during the day. Perfectly harmless. And it wasn't as dangerous because the drug industry hadn't taken off in this crazy way it did later in the ‘60s and ‘70s. So what Holly said was the solution to the park, to save it, would be to pry it open. Basically make it so that you could get in and out and see in and out and to put some social uses in the deeper recesses of it that would serve to tame it. And he hypothesized that the great parks, if you go to Europe or anywhere else, or even the other ones in New York at that point, usually there's things that people like to do in them that have to do with food and beverage and sociability. And so they experimented, the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation, experimented with a couple of kiosks for a while with sodas and light snacks and selling little tapes. Those were the days when we still had those little miniature tapes we all played, on little cassettes. And secondhand paperback books and stuff. And they were experimenting with little kiosks to see what would happen. And they produced these sort of little islands of civilization around them as long as they were open. They opened a little Tickets booth network for off-Broadway and Broadway tickets. So Holly speculated that if we put some activities in the place that were social attractors for the middle class, things like food and beverage, and if we pried the place apart physically, it would probably be better. And that's what I did. Yeah. I mean, it's surgery. It was editing. It's not really a restoration, it's a transformation through editing.
Jo Reed: Yes. Because what you did was you created something that felt like in some ways has been there all along.
Laurie Olin: Well, you know what Eisenhower once said, he said, "Things are more the way they used to be than they've ever been before." Funny that this --
Jo Reed: Yeah. But I don't mean old-fashioned.
Laurie Olin: Yeah.
Jo Reed: It was like, "Oh." You uncovered it.
Laurie Olin: Yeah, yeah, right. Set it free in a way, yeah. That was a great project.
Jo Reed: You've done a lot of work in Washington, D.C. as well.
Laurie Olin: We've done some, yeah.
Laurie Olin: We had some fun here, yeah.
Jo Reed: Can you talk about what it's like working in Washington as a city?
Laurie Olin: Well, it's hotter. No. Well, no. Let's see. The National Gallery was great fun, and I--
Jo Reed: You helped design the Sculpture Garden-
Laurie Olin: The Sculpture Garden, yeah.
Jo Reed: --which is beautiful.
Laurie Olin: They're wonderful people and old friends. The director, Rusty Powell, I'd worked for when he was at Los Angeles County Museum of Art. So that was kind of like working for an old friend but in a very high visibility site with a lot of constraints. I mean, that site was complicated. But no more complicated than when we did the grounds for the Washington Monument after 9/11, that competition that we won. After 9/11, you know, the Washington Monument was deemed one of those potential targets of terrorism and there was this bunkerdom here where barriers appeared everywhere on all the sidewalks. It was horrific. And the critic for the Washington Post at that point really savaged all the agencies for wrecking the public realm, and he was right. And so when the competition, when we were called and asked if we'd be interested in trying to deal with the Washington Monument grounds as a redesign of the grounds for security, I said, "Aha. Yes, of course." And I thought that was an opportunity to help undo things and to show how you could use design for security to enhance the public realm. And I used it as the excuse to redo the grounds and get rid of the parking. There's that parasite parking on the grounds. And there was this kind of hotdog stand in a concrete block bunker behind the little pavilion there and there was a lot of junk and I just used it as an excuse to kind of clean house and reshape the hill because it was really a terrible mess. And it just seemed to me that in Washington what happens is there are so many layers of approval that they should be your friends. And they should be your peers and you should be able to come in with a really good project and have them help you get it done and get the agencies and get the budgets to work out. And I think that's what we did. So it's not just about design and taste, it's also about thinking, "Hmm. These people really want something wonderful. How can I propose it so that they think they've got to do it?"
Jo Reed: Do you think by designing the Washington Monument the way you did, do you think you helped actually further that conversation about bringing landscape architecture into conversations about security?
Laurie Olin: Absolutely. And subsequent to that, NCPC then had a whole big study and commissioned a bunch of us to do some work, which we then did.
Jo Reed: And that's the National Capital Planning Commission
Laurie Olin: Several firms studied, worked, in the Monumental Corps to help clean it up and redesign it. And what came of that was many of the institutions, the Smithsonian and others, then sort of picked up their socks and kind of cleaned up their act and a lot of good work came out of it. And other monuments, like the Lincoln and the Jefferson, are still in process but those designs then were changed and Pennsylvania Avenue was improved and various other things happened as a result of it that I think were positive. And I think we've had barriers forever. Some of the earliest construction are hill forts, and fences, and farmers have had fences for years.
Jo Reed: The walled cities in Europe.
Laurie Olin: Yeah, yeah. And so it's not as if this is a new topic. Security is a huge topic. I mean, and now it's moved into digital realm and everything else. But security's always been an issue. I mean, personal safety is the other side of the security coin, and so landscape architects have dealt with it for a long time without calling it that, and so our notion was how to de-terrorize it and turn it into something to our advantage, something that has social purpose in other utility, not just a negative.
Jo Reed: I know you think about sustainability as well.
Laurie Olin: Oh, absolutely, yeah. The field. That's what we do.
Jo Reed: That is what you do. We can take Salt Lake for example, and your green field on top of the building.
Laurie Olin: You mean the big conference center we did in Salt Lake City.
Jo Reed: I do. Do you think that helps further a conversation about--
Laurie Olin: Oh, yeah. I should probably tell whoever's listening a little bit about what this project is.
Jo Reed: Yeah, please do.
Laurie Olin: The Mormon church has these-- it's a mother church, it's a world church, and they have people come twice a year from around the world and by the thousands, tens of thousands, for conferences. And, you know, I'm not a Mormon. I was kind of surprised when they called me, when I got a call to come help. But they wanted someone who apparently could do something that they felt they needed. And a friend of mine who was an architect asked me to come because he was asked to do the building. And what it is is a building that seats 25,000 people with perfect sight lines, beautiful building inside, perfect acoustics, you know, for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and, you know, all that. The roof of the building is six acres. And so we did a sub-alpine meadow of four acres on it with trees and fountains and waterfalls and then there's couple more acres of pavements and other things. And it's kind of amazing, because we contract grew all the wild flowers, forbs, herbs, grasses, at a whole set of nurseries out West, and then because the contractor had already taken the cranes away and they had to have a event before we could quite finish the roof, what happened was the only way we could get all the plants up there was with a human sort of bucket brigade up these stairways that I'd designed that were part of the exit system and also for the fun of it. So they handed all the grasses, all the plants, every flat, every shrub, except the trees, which had gone up earlier, were all ferried up by people handing them one to another to another to another all the way up onto the roof. And it was, like, six acres of plants, if you can believe it. And so one -- and then we worked with these volunteers, my partner, Susan Weiler, sort of laid out all the different beds and associations and drifts of wild flowers and stuff and we got them all hand planted over a couple weekends there with volunteers. And it's an amazing project, because it's one of the largest green roofs ever done. It's absolutely astonishing, and a few years ago when I went up there, went out to Salt Lake to give a lecture to some students, and one of the things that happened, I decided to take the students up there and just see how it was a few years later. Because you always want to check and see, "Does this stuff work? Did I know what I was doing?" and "Is it okay?" And so I went and what happened was the man said, "Excuse me, Mr. Olin, do you mind if I ask you question?" I said, "Well, of course not. What?" Said, "Well, I want to ask about the rodents." I thought, "Oh, dear. They have rats. Oh, no." Because it's a problem when people design urban parks. We're always struggling with how to deal with rats and that sort of thing. Well, what happened was I said, "Do you have a problem with rats?" He said, "Oh, no." He said, "It's the meadow mice. They're quite wonderful, but the hawks come to hunt them, and there have been owls here at night and we've seen rabbits." I said, "You're kidding." And he said, "No, no. They're here." I said, "Fabulous. I don't know how they got here, but it's just great." So right there in the middle of the city is nature bred in tooth and claw. I would say about our work, whether it's working with wetlands, working with water, storm water in cities, like, in Portland where I recently did a little square, they have fabulous standards in Portland where all the streets, you know, you just, you're required to take care of all the stuff. Philadelphia now has probably the hippest storm water program in North America, in a city. And what happens, our field, landscape architecture, has been pushing this stuff quietly, and sometimes not so quietly for the last decade or so. And now it's actually caught on. It's the habit. It's the way people do things. It's now a requirement. Clients expect it, the government requires it. These things happen now. But it was kind of fun pioneering it and--
Jo Reed: Have you ever designed a space with one vision in mind and it turned out to be quite successful but something else altogether?
Laurie Olin: Yeah. I've had a couple didn't work.
Laurie Olin: That was one. That was one. Social problems that I didn't understand. It really was about operations of maintenance. Wasn't about the physical design, but the physical design didn't help. And then I've done things where you think you're doing it for one group of people and then another group of people say, "Oh, fabulous. This is great. Let's use it."
Jo Reed: Yeah. That's more--
Laurie Olin: And they show up.
Laurie Olin: Yeah. I mean, well, Bryant Park, seeing kids in it was a surprise, but this little project we did in Portland, in downtown Portland, Director Square recently, finished it about two, three years ago, interesting thing about it is it's right in the heart of downtown near the museums and theaters and opera and office buildings. And so I thought I was doing a place for the community that would go after the opera or the office workers after work or people on the lunchtime. Well, last week I got the donor for the park, man named Jordan Schnitzer, wonderful man in Portland, sent me a photo he'd just taken with his phone of all these kids playing in this park in this fountain. And he said that two schools across the river, across the Willamette, had brought their kids over to play in this little place because it was so wonderful. Right in the middle of downtown. And so the people showing up, you know, as they say, is a real surprise. I mean, I did this fountain as a kind of jeu d'esprit[ph?], a little kind of fun, you know, thing. I mean, down about seven, eight blocks away, is one of the greatest fountains done since the Renaissance according to Ada Louise Huxtable, and I agree with her. It's a project that Lawrence Halprin did there called Ira's Fountain in front of the Civic Auditorium. And a fabulous piece from the ‘70s. And so, you know, I was doing another space in Portland and thought, "Well, be good to do water." People love water in public spaces. But I couldn't imagine competing with that. I mean, it's like, you know, there's Beethoven down the street. You don't try to do Beethoven. So I thought, "Well, maybe Mozart or something a little foray, something little lighter." So I did this little kind of I thought lighthearted, maybe witty, if I was lucky, fountain. And what happened is they can't stay out of it. There's just people in it all the time. And it's a nice space. People there day and night. I thought it was going to be a success, but I didn't think it'd be anything like it is. It's overrun.
Jo Reed: We don't have time, which is unfortunate.
Laurie Olin: Uh-huh.
Jo Reed: Because I'm thinking about the developing world and the mega cities that are blossoming there. And--
Laurie Olin: Cities are the problem of our time and the environment is a crisis everywhere. As humanity moves into these cities, water is the biggest problem facing us. Bigger than oil. Air. But sanitation, water are enormous problems around the world. And, you know, producing an environment that is healthy is one of the critical problems facing society today. And global warming's a big part of it. Certainly the federal programs in our country are on the right track. The president has the right idea. He's right on, but trying to get everybody to realize that we're affecting generations and all these other people we don't know or see. And so one of the real dilemmas is the design of and structure of cities is so critical right now for hundreds of millions of people. And in 1938, Claude Lévi-Strauss wrote this incredible thing. He said, "Cities aren't an architectural problem, they're a cultural landscape." That's what they are. And there's lots of buildings but there's also all this other stuff. You know, streets comprise most of the open space in all cities; most of the public spaces are in circulation spaces. And they're too important to just leave to transportation and traffic, because they're the public realm. And especially in the cities of the poor around the world
Jo Reed: Most particularly. You're the recipient of a National Medal of Art.
Laurie Olin: Yeah. It's amazing, isn't it?
Laurie Olin: It's kind of wonderful.
Jo Reed: How did you find out?
Laurie Olin: I was on a train in the quiet car and my cell phone rang and I had to go out on the platform where I could hardly hear, and it was someone from your agency calling me, from NEA, telling me. And I said, "What? What? You're kidding. No. Who? Who is this?" Sort of like the people when they get the Nobel Prize, they think it's a friend playing a joke on them. I thought, "No, come on." It was amazing. Then, of course, I couldn't tell anybody about it. Not only in the quiet car, but for two months, because the president kind of likes to roll out his announcements on his schedule. And not just this president; all of them. Yeah. So it's kind of like being hit by lightning. You think you don't quite deserve it. But in this case it's so special. It's better than being hit by lightning. You feel a little bit I don't know, kind of unworthy because all the other wonderful people who are so worthy who either didn't get it or the other people who got it you're so impressed by and amazed by. I mean, look at the people who got it this year. Ellsworth Kelly, Elaine May, Tony Kushner. Fabulous gains. Toussaint. I mean, these people are fabulous people. I admire them. I've known them for years and studied their work and take them seriously and wow. It's great company, but I feel sort of genuinely humbled by it.
Jo Reed: Well, I was genuinely glad to see your name. Thank you for everything you've done for my city. I really appreciate it.
Laurie Olin: Thanks, Jo. It's great to see you.
Jo Reed: Thank you.
That was Landscape Architect and 2012 National Medal of Arts recipient, Laurie Olin
You've been listening to Art Works produced at the National Endowment for the Arts.
Special thanks to Jennifer Kreizman.
Adam Kampe is the musical supervisor.
Excerpts from "For Eric: Piano Study" from the album Metascapes, composed and performed by Todd Barton, used courtesy of Valley Productions.
The Art Works podcast is posted each Thursday at arts.gov. You can subscribe to Art Works at iTunes U -- just click on the iTunes link on our podcast page.
Next week, Pulitzer Prize winning playwright and national medal of arts recipient, Tony Kushner.
To find out how art works in communities across the country, keep checking the Art Works blog, or follow us @NEAARTS on Twitter. For the National Endowment for the Arts, I'm Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening.
Laurie Olin on the work of landscape architecture—balancing nature and cultivation. [32:45]