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Landscape Architect Kathryn Gustafson, Going With the Flow
Gustafson hoped visitors would contemplate the metaphors. Instead, they danced in conga lines, washed dogs and left diapers in the turbulent river of Diana's life. In crowds, people do things they normally wouldn't, the designer says. And they just kept coming.
"People loved it to death," she said. "There were 5,000 people an hour."
Nature behaved badly, too, clogging drains with storm water and downed leaves. The British press called it "Diana's mud bath."
In May, after months of redesign and reconstruction, the memorial reopened with granite surface roughened, safety bars over the drains and new drainage systems under the lawn, which was relaid with sturdy soccer rye. A gravel path has been created around the perimeter to provide solid footing in any weather. It spoils the seamless quality Gustafson strives for. So does an unsightly crowd-control fence.
Hilderbrand characterized the saga as "a moment of controversy in the long life of a good memorial." Injuries have occurred before in public parks, he pointed out. Designers rely on codes, but there is no checklist of do's and don'ts.
"If engaging the water is part of an undergirding conquest for meaning, you have to find ways for people to engage the water," he said. But designers are not responsible for "all the inventiveness of human behavior."
The Diana memorial appears to be an anomaly in Gustafson's career. Born in Yakima, Wash., in 1951, she studied art and worked in fashion. After studying at the Ecole Nationale Superieure du Paysage in Versailles, she set up an office in Paris in 1980. A historical garden theme park in Terrasson, France, is part of her portfolio as a finalist for a National Design Award, which the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum will announce in October.
In 1997, she shifted her base to Seattle, establishing the Gustafson Guthrie Nichol partnerships. Projects have included the Lurie Garden in Chicago's Millennium Park, which in photographs holds its own next to Frank Gehry's band shell. A broad hedge honors Carl Sandburg's city of "big shoulders," and lapping water acknowledges Lake Michigan.
She is also a partner in the London firm of Gustafson Porter. A Garden of Forgiveness in Beirut, at the epicenter of Lebanon's civil war, was a centerpiece of the Museum of Modern Art's recent "Groundswell" exhibition. The firm also designed a 50-acre park on a reclaimed industrial site in Amsterdam. It includes urban beaches, bike bridges and an "events lake" in which children can play.
Water is a central feature of recent landscapes around Seattle's city hall and at Seattle Center, where the Kreielsheimer Promenade at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall offers operagoers an opportunity to dip their Manolos in a quarter-inch sheet of water, which shimmers like glass, except when the water is turned off as a conservation measure.
The promenade has won an award from the American Society of Landscape Architects. Hilderbrand served as jury chairman. Shelly Yapp, director of redevelopment at the Seattle Center, says she is not worried about injuries.
"People here are used to walking through puddles," Yapp said.
Washington Canal Park promises a puddle with boulders for benches. Private and federal funds have already been pledged or allocated for what will be the District's first new civic park in decades, and planners are ecstatic to have a designer of Gustafson's stature involved. She does not see any risk that Canal Park will suffer the problems encountered in London. The Diana memorial was "the destination" of its inaugural summer, she says. "Canal Park is not by definition a destination place."
Though, with the right design, she agreed, it might become one.