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The late poet and philosopher John O’Donohue has greatly contributed to my evolving understanding of place and placemaking, perhaps because of his Celtic soul and affinity for that unique landscape. O’Donohue remarked that much of our modern world consists simply of location, lacking any special qualities or meaning, but when people listen carefully and work closely with nature, “Then you’ve got something.”
That special ‘something’ John O’Donohue referred to shows up most impressively in a wonderful exhibition I recently visited at the State Historical Society of Missouri. Entitled Evolving Environments, the exhibition explores the contributions of father and son landscape architecture firm Hare & Hare to Missouri and American landscape architecture. Their design work represents a living Missouri heritage that demonstrates the art of placemaking at an incredibly high level.
These native sons from Kansas City worked on important landscape architecture projects at many levels during the first half of the 20th century. Like most landscape architects of that period, they worked extensively on the residences of wealthy clients. However, Hare & Hare also helped to shape many public places in Missouri:
➢ Institutions such as the Nelson-Atkins Museum
➢ Districts such as venerable Country Club Plaza
➢ Missouri state parks such as Montauk State Park
➢ City planning for Columbia, Missouri and others
Their firm bridged the 19th century romanticism of Frederick Law Olmsted to the modern environmental design of Ian McHarg and others. Their drawings for these masterworks demonstrated incredible draftsmanship: ink line drawings on sheepskin and vellum that constitute works of art in their own right. Schooled in Beaux Arts classicism, Hare & Hare looked backward and forward in their work, giving their designs what noted literary critic Northrop Frye once called “an expanded present”.
Great placemaking like that of Hare & Hare continues to evolve in valuable new ways. Perhaps two dozen people crowded into the State Historical Society gallery on Saturday afternoon, August 27, for a presentation by Dr. Carol Grove about the work of Hare & Hare. Many of the attendees talked about their own experiences of the places depicted in the exhibition, while some people even showed pictures of themselves or their families at the sites to show how the designs have evolved. Dr. Grove will also publish a new book about the work of Hare & Hare growing out of her research for the exhibition. Hopefully Hare & Hare’s keen awareness of and concern for a site’s natural and cultural heritage will continue to shape Missouri’s special places and give them that extra ‘something’ that makes them more than just locations.