BY ZACH MORTICE
Put away your tracing paper and charcoal pencils. Shut your books. Stop thinking. Put on a blindfold and go for a walk in the woods. Make a structure out of yourselves, human bodies. Catalog everything that you see, hear, feel, and smell. Build a city out of beachside driftwood in complete silence. Take off your clothes. Now start thinking about design.
You could call these instructions those of a thought experiment. They came from Anna and Lawrence Halprin’s workshops, held in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1960s and 1970s. But that was not the point. The Halprins held weeks-long events that took landscape architects, architects, artists, and dancers to redwood forests, expansive beaches, and into the city of San Francisco and asked them to shed all theory and dogma so they could explore and interpret their environment totally through sensory experience.
A new exhibition at Chicago’s Graham Foundation, up until Dec. 13, has assembled the Halprins’ extensive documentation of their Experiments in Environment workshops. The show is done in conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania, where Halprin’s archives are held. Put together in just months, Experiments in Environment: The Halprin Workshops, 1966–1971 is the first ever serious exhibition into the Halprin workshops.