Martha Schwartz is a world-known designer of landscape architecture who focuses on artistic expression in her creations. She specializes in city facilities designing and private gardening. The Professor in Practice of Landscape Architecture and talented artist for over 29 years, Schwartz teaches the core team of design professionals to follow the principles of sustainable designing and thus, provide health across all aspects of the urban life. She has founded a leading international Martha Schwartz Partners team, practicing on activating and regenerating city centers and urban sites. The firm has offices in Cambridge, London, Washington, and even Shanghai. Having luxuriant imagination, historical and cultural knowledge of different countries, Schwartz makes her projects diverse and not similar to each other. Seeing many of her works, it is easy to notice her properly inspire by her clients. She has regard to the ways how people interact with each other, countries of origin, and the comfort level of their lives. Schwartz is not an ordinary landscape designer; she has a special view on the nature and its representing in architecture and landscape designing:
We seem to need nature in increasingly small doses. If you want it enough, drive or fly there – you can find our wilderness myth in National and State Parks. On an everyday basis, though, we’re happy with a potted shrub at the corner of a barren stone plaza, or a “garden” on top of a parking garage.
Usual elements of constructed environment such as sidewalks, parking lots, and alleyways are taken for granted, and remain invisible to individuals. In her lecture to the students of Boston Architectural College, Martha Schwartz presumes the landscape has to be designed to attract people “through dynamic, inspirational design, and structured attentiveness to community histories” (“The Softer Side of Sustainability”). Following her conception, the landscape architects should have identity and belonging, thus developing sustainable communities and improving the environment.
The minimalist works of Martha Schwartz include using of materials imitating plants and animals. Favoring artificial elements over natural ones causes controversy among critics. Some of them wonder whether Martha’s landscapes are user-friendly and ecological, “In response Ms. Schwartz says that many of her gardens occupy awkward urban lots that can’t support much greenery to begin with” (qtd. in Bernstein). Her innovative ideas were embodied in many projects such as Stella Garden (1984), Davis Garden, family residence in El Paso (1996), Jacob Javitz Plaza in New York (1992), Mesa Arts Center in Arizona, Exchange Square in Manchester, and many others.
One of the brightest samples by Ms. Schwartz, Stella Garden, shows how creative and diligent can the designer be in her work. The name of Martha’s mother is Stella Schwartz. Once, the daughter decided to transform the site behind her mother’s house outside Philadelphia, into something memorable. She began with the garden, collecting junks. Fishnets, Plexiglas, aquarium gravel, some objects from her mother’s garage provided a framework for materializing Martha’s idea. A mirror-image yard serves as a verdant background for Stella Garden. The visqueen plastic was laid over the scraggly remains of the garden herewith preventing further growth of the shrubbery. Then, she filled the entire area with gravel. “Water” feature was provided through assembling a wire-glass table on concrete block supports. Like water, the glass reflected the color and light of the sky. A canopy of fishnets was finally stretched like sails above the whole composition. Stella Garden was a unique experiment in oeuvre of Martha Schwartz.
Example of the urban version of the Spatial Planning illustrative design area is Jacob Javits Plaza in New York. The plaza had to be redesigned in 1992, due to the plans of the Federal Government. Creating useable, lively open space in the heart of the city was the intent of revitalizing the area. The new plaza provides innumerable seating opportunities for people. The serpentine benches of park are colored bright green, thus enlivening the plaza, which for the most part, is in shade. In this project the artist created a surrealistic mirage in the middle of a gray district of New York City through designing the bright-blue drinking fountains, egg-shaped bollards, smoking mounds of grassy hemispheres, and orange wire-mesh trash cans. All these create a favorable atmosphere for spending a while or hours there. The most elements are drawn from the Olmstead’s (the founder of American landscape architecture) traditions. However, the project is made with a notable consideration of “pop” trends, thus reflecting the required epoch changes in landscape design concepts.
Another best-known work of Martha Schwartz is Manchester Exchange Square in the United Kingdom. It is an area recovering from a recent bombing which is located in the heart of the city. More of a triangle than a square, the site is surrounded by shopping centers and some timber-framed pubs. Being kept in pastel shades, the site contrasts with the soft green space of nearby Cathedral Gardens. Exchange Square has rows of amphitheater seating assembled with metal bars. The decorative rail tracks with colored glass panels are inserted into the surface of upper level of the plaza. Level change concept of plaza makes the square accessible to all. The above-mentioned tracks “mark the historical importance of railroads in the industrial development of Manchester.”(“Martha Schwartz Partners (MSP) Projects Civic Institutional Exchange”). In addition, the proximity of the Cathedral is another reminder for this is an old part of the city. Schwartz gives the casual quality and freshness to this area through creating an abstracted river with stones, flumes, and water run imitation.
The numerous works of Martha Schwartz demonstrate how she follows her sustainability concept in landscape designing. In order to be sustainable, a place must be loved by those who use it. (McGuire and Martin). Keeping up magical and make-believe
elements in her projects, Schwartz generates the finest feelings in people.