Paying homage at a planning and landscape design shrine

This past Sunday, a few hours prior to the arrival of Hurricane Sandy and my quick departure back to Michigan, I had the profound honor of visiting one of the ultimate shrines of the planning and landscape design professions – the Frederick Law Olmstead National Historic Site (FLO NHS) in Brookline, Massachusetts. This amazing home and business facility established by Frederick Law Olmstead occupies a quiet street corner parcel in a lovely, tree-lined, historic residential city neighborhood.

The home (aptly named Fairstead) was expanded and reconfigured by Mr. Olmstead after he purchased it. Both it and the adjoining offices of his landscape and design firm were masterfully designed and built to blend harmoniously with the surrounding landscape. The offices once employed as many as 70 people on site. In an ironic twist, Mr. Olmstead’s business operation would not be allowed today under most zoning codes.

The property is beautifully landscaped and well-maintained. We were fortunate to receive an inspiring guided tour by Park Ranger Clark who exuded sincere enthusiasm for the history of the site and its significance in American history. Among the little know facts – Frederick Law Olmstead posed the concept of a National Park System for the general public a number of years prior to John Muir.

At the conclusion of this post, are a series of indoor and outdoor photographs of this magnificent property. Most interesting to me was the office of Olmstead Brothers which included vintage surveying equipment, filing systems, drafting tables and rooms, print and blueprint production facilities, and other nuances. The home includes the most amazing porch/three-season room I have ever seen, as well as many other fascinating design features.

Outside, the property is a landscape architect’s dream yard with large conifer and deciduous trees, landscape accents, stone-outcroppings, and other wonderful features that allowed the home and office to be at one with their setting.

Perhaps, the ultimate lesson that comes from visiting FLO NHS is to plan, design, and landscape your site in a manner that compliments its surroundings and doesn’t detract from them. Mr Olmstead believed this, he, his firm, and his brothers practiced it, and his son Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr. continued the family tradition during his own career. Here is a weblink to a list of the many park and landscape projects they designed.

Here are some additional photographs below from my visit.

This entry was posted in adaptive reuse, architecture, art, cities, civics, civility, culture, education, entrepreneurship, environment, fun, geography, health, historic preservation, history, Housing, infrastructure, land use, landscape architecture, nature, new urbanism, placemaking, planning, psychology, revitalization, spatial design, sustainability, third places, tourism, Travel, urban planning, zoning and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Paying homage at a planning and landscape design shrine

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    Riverside Illinois, Central Park, Washington Park (Chicago), Garfield Park (Chicago), and other achievements done by the Olmsteads motivate us to maintain this blog. Unfortunately the Olmstead plan for Washington Park in Chicago was burned in the Great Chicago Fire in 1871…


  2. Dan says:

    Great post. I love discovering the less well known national parks and monuments. What is the phone booth-like object in the second to last picture?


    • Rick Brown says:

      Thanks, Dan. It was a machine built in Germany that helped with creating blueprints. It looks a lot like a H.G. Wells time travel machine.


    • Ned Jackson says:

      Rick–you were literally 2 blocks up the hill from the house of my childhood, which just changed hands now approaching 2 years ago. So my homestead was by Olmstead, I said. Philosophically, we loved having Olmstead’s place there, even though we hardly ever really went in. Shall we shift Meridian’s land pres operation to the emerald necklace model now? Thanks for sharing your travels.


  3. Katherine says:

    I was in Boston over the weekend and wanted to visit Olmstead’s place, but like you, sped home because of Sandy.

    These are great images. I almost feel like I was there. Thanks for posting.


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