Since first launching in 2003, The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF)’s Pioneers of American Landscape Design oral history series has profiled 17 vanguard landscape architects, with each edition exploring their invaluable contributions to the built environment. Central to the series are in-depth video interviews with the subjects themselves, conducted by TCLF president and CEO Charles Birnbaum, in which these forerunners in the field reflect on their life and work. Past Pioneers have included (since) departed landscape luminaries like Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, Lawrence Halprin, Richard Haag, and Carol R. Johnson, along with many more who are still with us including Laurie Olin, Harriet Pattison, and M. Paul Friedberg.
The latest landscape architect whose career is examined and celebrated in the series is Pamela Burton, a prolific writer and landscape architect in the California Modernist tradition whose public and private commissions—a healthy mix of residential, commercial, and civic landscapes—span across her native Southern California and further afield including in New York, Japan, Australia, and Brazil. Active for nearly five decades, Burton is regarded for what TCLF refers to as an “ecologically sensitive and artistically inclined approach” that integrates landscape, art, and architecture and is influenced by a site-specific layout and plant palette.
Named as a fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects in 2006, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)-educated Burton worked extensively alongside some of the 20th century’s leading California-based modernist architects early in her career. Notably, Burton designed the grounds for several Richard Neutra homes.
Nine featured projects are discussed in Burton’s oral history, and include the Northridge campus of California State University; the landscape of the UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center, and the grounds of the Rochaverá Corporate Towers in São Paulo, Brazil. Also highlighted are commissions completed at private residences in Los Angeles and New York.
A recent project executed by Burton’s eponymous Santa Monica-based landscape architecture firm, Pamela Burton & Company, was also featured by AN in the profile of the Ojai Valley School’s rebuilt upper campus. That project’s architect, Frederick Fisher, is a frequent collaborator and one of several friends and colleagues to offer a reflection for the Burton oral history. Another close friend is the sculptor Elyn Zimmerman, who referred to Burton as a “plant geek” who has “galvanized many of her friends and students to pay more and closer attention to the living world around us” in her contributed reflection.
A full list of the projects by Pamela Burton & Company, which was founded in 1975, can be viewed here.
Interviews with Burton and other footage included in the oral history was filmed on location in June 2019 at both her home in Ojai, in Ventura County, and at her busy namesake studio in Santa Monica as well as at several significant Southern California projects. Running 92-minutes long, the documentary is divided into 29 short individual segments organized under the themes of Biography, Design, and Projects.
In addition to the release of the Burton Oral History, TCLF’s Courageous by Design conference is also just around the corner. Taking place October 15 at the Highline Stages in New York City, the daylong symposium will feature speakers that include, among others, Kate Orff, Elizabeth K. Meyer, Signe Nielsen, and Lisa Switkin.