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In Memoriam: Dr. Diana Balmori

on January 20, 2017 at 2:01 am under

The quintessential thinker, master professional, and inspirational ecological designer, Dr. Diana Balmori, FASLA, IFLA, passed away on November 14, 2016 of lung cancer.  The brilliant, classy, and just wonderful lady transcended professional and even nationalistic labels; her design ethic metamorphosed fields of study and melded into one of a progressive yet sensitive sense of living architecture.

In Memoriam Dr. Diana Balmori Balmori Associates

Dr. Diana Balmori. Photo by Margaret Morton.

Based in New York City for over 20 years, Diana Balmori was the renown landscape designer and principal of Balmori Associates.  She received numerous accolades over the years, and was internationally recognized for her progressive body of work.

2015 Virtual Summit Keynote Video

We here at were very fortunate to have had Diana Balmori as a Keynote speaker for our 2015 Greenroofs & Walls of the World Virtual Summit 2015 ~ Connecting the Planet with Living Architecture: People, Projects & Design.  We had known her elegant soul since 2002, when she and I had both spoken at the Earth Pledge Foundation (now defunct) in New York City.  Since landscape architecture is my own background, I had been inspired by her work for a long time and greatly enjoyed following her progress throughout the years as a truly thoughtful representation of female leadership.

In July of last year we released her Greenroofs & Walls of the World Virtual Summit 2015 Keynote Video: “Green Roofs to New Cities” by Dr. Diana Balmori; please watch it below to see some of her recent work:

Regarding greenroofs, for her 2015 Keynote video Diana wrote:

“The big picture is that half of the world lives in cities; it will be 2/3 by 2025.  Cities are major producers of all the things which are feeding climate change. Green roofs are a simple tool we could us to change this effect, if used at the macroscale.  Green roofs can also play an urban role as open space and as connectors.” ~ Greenroofs & Walls of the World Virtual Summit 2015

Specifically, she explained why greenroofs are a revolutionary tool at these levels: Building – by altering the relation between landscape and architecture to the benefit of both; City – by reducing the heat island effect; River – by preventing floods and cleaning drainage water; and Living Being – by improving our health.”

A Global Perspective

Having been born in Gijón, on the Bay of Biscay in northern Spain, in 1932, she left with her parents to England in 1936 since her father, Clemente Hernando Balmori, a Spanish linguist and a Loyalist, needed to escape political persecution during the Spanish Civil War.  Her mother, Dorothy Ling Balmori, was an English pianist and composer who met her husband in Berlin while both were doing postgraduate work.  Right after the start of World War II, the family relocated to Argentina when her father obtained a teaching position.

Diana started her educational life in architecture; however, because of a student outbreak over a protest, her entire class was expelled.  She emigrated to the U.S. in 1952 with her Argentine-born husband whom she had met at university, the noted architect César Pelli.  She moved to Los Angeles in 1964 and in 1973 earned a doctorate in urban history at U.C.L.A.

Ms. Balmori championed a new understanding of landscape architecture and the built environment. She rejected the division between architecture and landscape, and the idea of landscaping as “shrubbing up,” as she sometimes put it: providing a beautiful backdrop for buildings. Instead, she saw the urban fabric as an interweaving of human activity, natural forces and designed settings and buildings.

“It’s bringing all the pieces together,” she told Guernica magazine in 2013, describing her concept of landscape architecture. “It’s not just buildings, it’s not just road; it’s also social factors, geological factors, climate factors — a much more complex mix.” The goal, she said, was a blending of “very clear human engineering with ecology and with landscape.” ~ The New York Times, 2016

Read the entire excellent “Diana Balmori, Landscape Architect With a Blending Philosophy, Dies at 84” by William Grimes of The New York Times for more on her life.

Recent Life and Times

In Memoriam Dr. Diana Balmori Balmori Associates

From Diana’s staff in 2015 for the Virtual Summit:

Diana Balmori founded Balmori Associates in 1990. The landscape and urban design practice is recognized internationally for designing sustainable infrastructures that serves as an interface between landscape and architecture. In 2006, she created BAL/LABs within Balmori Associates, to further push the boundaries of architecture, art and engineering: Green Roofs, Floating Islands, Temporary Landscapes, Forms of Representation, and Zero Waste City, among others.

Diana keeps an active voice in national policy and decision-making on topics that relate to landscape design, architecture and urban planning. She has served as: member of The United States Commission of Fine Arts in Washington, DC; a Senior Fellow of Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC; a member of the Allston Development Group at Harvard University, Boston, MA; on the Board of The Van Alen Institute, New York City; The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation for the World Trade Center Site, New York City; and as a Committee Member for the Comprehensive Design Plan for the White House.

Diana’s opinion-editorials and articles about her work have been featured in Dwell, The Architects Newspaper, Monocle, El Pais, PBS, WNYC, Design Observer, and Utne Reader, which named her one of fifty “Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World” in 2009. She was named Fast Company’s Third Most Creative People in Business (June 2013) and one of ten Innovators by Architectural Digest (September 2013).

Her book A Landscape Manifesto (Yale University Press, 2010) has received international attention and was recently translated into Chinese. Her most recent book is Drawing and Reinventing Landscape (Architectural Design Primer) [above] (A/D Wiley, 2014). Since 1993 she has been a Critic at Yale University in both the School of Architecture and the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

As noted above, Diana was voted one of 2013’s “100 Most Creative People in Business” from Fast Company – at # 3, no less.  She had been artfully leading the combined fields of landscape design, architecture and urban planning for decades:

In Memoriam Dr. Diana Balmori Balmori Associates

Diana was one of the early proponents of greenroofs and living architecture, and her 2005 research piece/inventory study on Long Island City – and its resulting “Asthma Alley” – demonstrated how living roofs could affect a direct health-oriented benefit in communities.  This research resulted in greenroofs being constructed atop Silvercup Studios and the Gratz Industries Company.

In Memoriam Dr. Diana Balmori Balmori Associates

In 2014 Diana and her firm Balmori Associates completed the enormous new governmental city of Sejong, Public Administration Town in South Korea.  Based on the previous natural attributes of the mountains and rivers on the site, her large masterplan introduced the idea of a landscape taking the primordial organizing idea to organize the architecture – the result is buildings interconnected with sweeping, continuous greenroofs.

In Memoriam Dr. Diana Balmori Balmori Associates

In Memoriam Dr. Diana Balmori Balmori Associates

Balmori Associates said, “We proposed a new approach to city-making, one that starts with landscape architecture. The master plan consists of a continuous linear park on a continuous roof joining all the ministries.” Dictated by the contours of the land that were once hilly but now flattened to make way for as many as 500,000 future residents, a grid of streets and transit runs through the center of the city within a network of green spaces. The connected buildings were designed to look like an Oriental dragon in flight from above and the superstructure on top contains a variety of planted sloping walkways, wide-open expanses, ramps, and corridors – with the government offices below. Three interconnected urban strategies were proposed: FLAT CITY, LINK CITY, and ZERO WASTE CITY. The beautiful greenroof equals 28 acres and the pitches vary considerably, allowing it to slope down to the ground in pedestrian-friendly inclines.

In Memoriam Dr. Diana Balmori Balmori Associates

A Celebration of Diana Balmori’s Life

Diana Balmori is survived by her husband, César Pelli; sons, Rafael Pelli and Denis Pelli; and granddaughters, Delia and Iris.  A Celebration of Diana Balmori’s Life will be presented on January 30, 2017 at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York by Balmori Associates who says that all are welcome to attend; please see more information at their website.

In Memoriam Dr. Diana Balmori Balmori Associates

Dr. Diana Balmori. Photo via Balmori Associates, by Kristin Gladney.

Dr. Diana Balmori was an exceptional bright shining star in our universe of ecological architecture and design, with decades of contributions in the form of thought leadership, outstanding projects, and education and will be greatly missed and remembered by design followers from across the globe.

By Linda S. Velazquez, ASLA, LEED AP, GRP Publisher


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