Lawrence Halprin’s Motations & Ecoscores

Lovejoy Fountain Park – Lawrence HalprinLovejoy Fountain Park – Lawrence Halprin

Interdisciplinary landscape architect Lawrence Halprin used the term Ecoscore to describe a score indicated by features in the natural environment – the path of a river, for example, as it carves through a landscape to create a succession of temporal signifyers. The Ecoscore was a precursor to Halprin’s Motations [movement notations] – diagrammatic representations of movements through time and space using the traditional musical score as a framework.

Ira Keller FountainIra Keller Fountain – Photo: Phil Gilston

Halprin’s open-ended approach using a personalised ideographic system allowed him to design a range of scores to choreograph the movement of elements in urban parks, plazas and cultural centres. The process he used allowed him to create designs for some of the most daring, exploratory, and potentially dangerous (and therefore exciting) public spaces in existence. His Motations were guides for the intended motion of people through space as well as scores for actual moving parts of the architecture itself – such as water in fountains. Essentially Halprin ‘construed landscape architecture as a form of narrative

Motation Drawing – Lawrence HalprinMotation Drawing – Lawrence Halprin

Seminary South Park Fountain ScoreScore for the choreography of water flow in a fountain by Richard Halprin designed for Seminary South Park

‘I saw scores as a way of describing all such processes in all the arts, of marking process visible and thereby designing with process through scores. I saw scores also as a way of communicating these processes over time and space to other people in other places at other moments and as a vehicle to allow many people into the act of creation together, allowing for participation, feedback and communication’ – from The RSVP Cycles: Creative Processes in the Human Environment.

Freeway Park Seattle – Lawrence HalprinFreeway Park, Seattle – Lawrence Halprin

Halprin’s designs offer an alternative to the current era of dreary passive open spaces where leveled patches of well trimmed grass prevail. Spaces such as The Ira Keller Fountain in Portland offer infinite participatory possibilities of small-scale psychogeographic choreography.

Ira Keller FountainIra Keller Fountain – Photo: Phil Gilston

Ira Keller FountainIra Keller Fountain – Photo: Phil Gilston

‘The space is choreographed for movement with nodes for quiet and contemplation, action and inaction, hard and soft, yin and yang. The second basic approach was to bring into the heart of downtown activities which related in a very real way to the environment of the Portland area – the Columbia River, the Cascade mountains, the streams, rivers and mountain meadows. These symbolic elements are very much a part of Portlanders’ psyche…. Finally these places were for the first time designed to be used to be participatory – NOT just to look at – they say COME IN, not stay off….Visually the Ira Keller Fountain suggests a remembered, stylized, simplified, sense-memory of some wilderness waterfall canyon experience you never quite had.’ – Walt Lockley.

Ira Keller FountainIra Keller Fountain

Further explorations:

Architecture/Dance: Choreographing and inhabiting spaces with Anna and Lawrence Halprin – Peter Merriman [PDF]
In his own words: Lawrence Halprin
Fountain Stage in Manhattan Square Park
Representing Motion: Landscape Urbanism on Notation Systems in Architecture
Notation Systems in Architecture – Premjit Talwar [PDF: 1970s thesis from MIT]

Other notations at Dataisnature:

The Musicality of The Two-Way, Magnetic-Electric Thought-Wave Universe of Walter Russell
Jorinde Voigt – Network Dynamism

8 Responses to “Lawrence Halprin’s Motations & Ecoscores”

  1. Greg J. Smith writes:

    I’m a huge Halprin fan and his thinking was decades ahead of the landscape architecture curve. By chance, I stumbled across a copy of “The RSVP Cycles” the first time I wandered into an architecture library and I was imprinted for life.

  2. paul writes:

    Greg, yes I agree, decades ahead!

    I came into contact with Halprin’s Motations by way of the excellent ‘West of Center: Art & the Counterculture Experiment in America 1965-1977.

    It also has info on the workshops ‘Experiments in Environment’ carried out in 1966-68 with his wife Anna which were informed extensively by the New York Happening’s [Kaprow et al], Fluxus, Black Mountain College and the interdisciplinary practices of the Bauhaus School. Fine influences indeed!

    Will try and track down a copy of ‘The RSVP Cycles’.

  3. Phil Oster writes:

    Another brilliant watercourse designed by Larry Halprin is in the Levi Plaza, San Fran. How things have changed though; in 2007 I was instructed by a security guard to get out of the water as it has chemicals in it that would give me a rash. I politely told him that I was from NZ and it didn’t bother me. I explained to him (hopefully to some avail) that the water was there to be in, not to just look at! Also, it’s taken 40 years but I personally prefer the terms Motation and Ecoscore to “psychogeographic choreography”. Try Alibris or Abebooks for a copy of “The RSVP Cycles” or “Taking Part”

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  7. Lawrence Halprin | white space writes:

    [...] “Interdisciplinary landscape architect Lawrence Halprin used the term Ecoscore to describe a score indicated by features in the natural environment – the path of a river, for example, as it carves through a landscape to create a succession of temporal signifyers. The Ecoscore was a precursor to Halprin’s Motations [movement notations] – diagrammatic representations of movements through time and space using the traditional musical score as a framework.” Source: Data Is Nature http://www.dataisnature.com/?p=1583 [...]

  8. Aleksandar Jevti? writes:

    Elvis Costello said, mocking, that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Well, the guy obviously didn’t know what he was talking about. :) This score method is so inspiring.

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