New York City and the world lost one of the most creative advocates for the now-threatened environment with the death of Diana Balmori on November 14.
An urban and landscape designer, author, historian, and professor, she made a significant impact on the world with her writing, teaching, built work, and advocacy. Her seminal book, Redesigning the American Lawn: A Search for Environmental Harmony in 1993 (Yale University Press, second edition, 2001), was hailed by biologist Edward O. Wilson as a “manual for improving a large part of the American environment.” We need that thinking desperately now.
As a designer, Balmori created a Winter Garden with a grove of palm trees at New York City’s Battery Park in the World Financial Center. Her Plaza Euskadi and Campa de los Ingleses Park transformed the old port in Bilbao into the city’s greenest neighborhood. Her Beale Street Landing park in Memphis embraced the Mississippi River, and her master plan for the nine-mile-long hiking and biking trails in New Haven’s Farmington Canal Linear Park connected the Yale campus with surrounding neighborhoods and trails farther afield. Her 2006 master plan for Sejong, the new national-government city outside Seoul, South Korea, connected all the ministries with a landscaped two-and-a-half mile-long linear “Skypark.”
New Government City, Sejong, South Korea. (Courtesy Efrain Mendez, archframe.net, via Balmori Associates)
She was born in 1932, in Gijón, Spain. Her mother, Dorothy Ling, an educator and musicologist, was the first woman to receive a degree in music from Cambridge University. Her father, Clemente Hernando, was a linguist at the Instituto de Estudios Históricos in Madrid. The family fled politically turbulent Spain in 1936, eventually settling in Tucumán, Argentina, where Balmori’s father taught at the university and her mother created a network of primary and secondary schools with teaching based on play and folk music.
Balmori enrolled in the architecture program at the National University of Tucumán at 16, and then married a fellow student, Cesar Pelli. The young couple emigrated to the United States, where he went to work for Eero Saarinen in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and she studied and wrote about the landscape at Cranbrook. After Saarinen’s early death, Pelli finished some of his most important buildings, such as the TWA Terminal at JFK Airport. Then the couple moved to Los Angeles where he practiced architecture and she earned a doctorate in history at UCLA.
She taught history at SUNY Oswego and landscape architecture at Yale, and worked as partner in charge of landscape architecture and urban design at Cesar Pelli Associates.
Among her numerous books are Beatrix Farrand’s American Landscapes: Her Gardens and Campuses (2003) with Diane Kostiel-McGuire, A Landscape Manifesto (2010), Diana Balmori Notebooks (2011), and Drawing and Reinventing Landscape (2014).
Diana Balmori is survived by her husband, sons Denis and Rafael Pelli, granddaughters Delia and Iris Pelli-Walbert, as well as numerous friends and admiring colleagues.