A Few Reasons I Think of Rich Haag as My Father

By Grant R. Jones, FASLA
August 6, 2018
Coyote Springs Farm

Richard Haag, my mentor, was the first Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Washington, in1961. Rich was my design teacher from 1959 to 1961.  He was my boss from 1962-1965 at RHA (Richard Haag Associates). He became a close friend, colleague, and lifelong supporter of my work after I founded Jones & Jones Architects and Landscape Architects. After many years of his always being there for me, I to regard him as my father. His passing on May 9th brought forth a number of memories.

The following are excerpts from my unpublished book on landscape design, ecological planning and stewardship:


So it was, zipping along the Alaskan Way Viaduct past the five-block-long Pike Place Farmer’s Market perched on the hill above Seattle’s waterfront, that I watched the railing posts pulsing and the street ends flashing into gaps to the market; and I wondered: what if the long linear courses and passageways of the crowded brightly, burlesque-lit produce market could emanate similar zen after-images of essential color and reconstituted textural pattern for a brisk steady walker passing through with an aesthetic experience being the primary focus of his or her mind? Maybe even a state of aesthetic clarity could be reached similar to the trances into nothingness enjoyed by experienced practitioners of Zen.

A new faculty member from San Francisco named Rich Haag (via the University of Illinois and Harvard Graduate School of Design) asked us to do a design plan that would employ a sequential notation system like Larry Halprin was experimenting with in San Francisco where he was using a choreographic technique like a musical score. We decided to use the Pike Place Farmer’s Market as our living laboratory. Ilze and I formed a triad with Mike Kabush. Ilze would do the watercolors; Mike would do the continuous linear plan of the Market’s stalls along the passageways of our experiment; and I would write the Lao-Tze inspired prose poem exploring the meaning of it all: inside the moment of universal truth.

Haag, who we still didn’t know too well, asked: “How would we bring the faculty design jury to the market?” Well, we would build a machine and bring the market to them, into the basement studio of old Architecture Hall. Ilze’s father, who had designed the turning wheels for the revolving Space Needle Restaurant at the Seattle’s World Fair, built the two steel, floor and ceiling socket bearings.

So, draped from a perimeter ring supported by sixteen radiating poles six-feet long, cantilevered from an axle clasped to the upper section of a pointed steel pipe, spinning freely in ball-bearing sockets mounted solidly to the ceiling and the floor of the basement slab, were separate continuous scrolls over thirty-six feet in length which could be installed and then spun by turning a bicycle wheel clasped to the spinning pipe’s lower mid-section. I gingerly spun the bicycle wheel ever more vigorously as the design faculty, who had crowded inside the creaking contraption, were now standing shoulder–to-shoulder in a ring around my torso and facing outward like birds perched on the axle of a roulette wheel, watched the figures that spun by until they became a pulsing blur. It was a huge success. They were amazed by the kinaesthetic phenomena. We swapped out the first scroll and rehung another, three in all, until huffing and gasping for air, the faculty had experienced the full spectrum of mutations—first the textures, then the patterns, and finally the colors.

Walking inside the Market Arcade and driving outside along the Alaskan Way Viaduct zipping beside it, we had made an evolutionary step. Personally, I had experienced the cerebral discomfort of taking a risk as well as the pleasure of adapting and growing within it. By challenging the faculty to experience parallel kinaesthesias, moving inside landmark cityscapes along elevated freeways and flowing through cultural landscapes inside public markets, by laminating the faculty between flows in architectural, cinematic, poetic, musical and meditational notation systems, we learned the powers of analogy. From then on for us it would feel natural to walk the line between forms and disciplines, to intermingle systems, to search for parallels. The challenge I would explore from here on would become living inside the question—the answer will show itself.

Rich Haag, the strange, funny and altogether different man who had shunted Ilze and I out of Old Architecture Hall into the corridors of the Pike Place Farmer’s Market, by coming on a regular basis into the architecture studio to listen to us and help teach us, had changed our pathways. He was not a building architect, but called himself instead a landscape architect. I had heard about this profession. But architects told us that all landscape architects did was plant shrubs around buildings. Haag had corrected that narrow outlook by showing us that landscape architects designed with all of nature in mind. The whole landscape was their medium. They laid out parks and designed the roads within them, new communities, and school campuses, gardens, designed even zoos. After graduation I worked for Rich for three years, learning the tools of this holistic earth-based trade.

Rich’s office library was brimming with interesting books. After hours I taught myself plants, memorizing thousands of Latin scientific names. I read stories about the great plant hunters of the Nineteenth century like Wilson, and I read Loren Eiseley’s magnificent essays on nature and evolution, as well as Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac. I designed a few residential gardens and small parks for the city. Eventually I helped manage a huge job that Rich brought into the office in 1962, to convert the Seattle World’s Fairgrounds into a downtown park and civic center.

I had roots in the City of Seattle. My grandfather, Richard Jones, was the construction superintendent for the Great northern Railway Station. My father was one the first architects in the City. Now, I too had a mission. I was hooked again, like I had been on the tideflats, except this time it was both the City and the Lost Forest that needed to be restored.

Haag started shipping all of us young architects who worked for him back to Harvard to become landscape architects. We were the “Northwest Mystics” (a term used locally by regional artists such as Mark Tobey, Morris Graves and Richard Gilkey), and a phenomenon around the Graduate School of Design, year after year, five in a row: Jerry Diethelm, Frank James, Grant Jones, Robert Hanna and Gary Okerlund. Jerry became the Landscape Architecture Chair at the University of Oregon; Frank became a famous and stalwart designer at Sasaki’s office; I co-founded Jones & Jones with Ilze; Hanna led urban design at the Boston Redevelopment Authority and then became professor of design for Ian McHarg at Penn and formed the office of Hanna Olin with Laurie; Gary became the most creative community planner in Charlottesville, Virginia. Before departing Rich Haag Associates, we had all come under the spell of Don Sakuma, one of Sasaki’s first designers in Watertown. Hideo Sasaki suggested that Don would be perfect to help Richard start the department of landscape architecture at the UW.

With the Richmond Beach tideflats and the Pasayten Wilderness under my feet, Haag’s sidelong Zen strategy, poet Throdore Roethke’s voice of intrinsic nature, Victor Steinbrueck, Ibsen Nelsen and Fred Bassetti’s professional activism, Sasaki’s gentle steel and Harris’ planetary vision, and my own eco-adaptational and geo-linguistic framework to stand on, there was nothing out there that was overly daunting, just juicy problems to jump into. Ilze’s powerful European-Northwestern cultural- landscape ethic and eco-urban vision couldn’t find expression in local design offices. Why not integrate landscape architecture and architecture in one practice right here like Sasaki had in Boston and why not make the Earth our client from this corner of the world? Ilze said she’d try it for a year.

The rest is history, nearly fifty years later.
Grant Jones
Coyote Springs Farm

Washington Chapter American Society of Landscape Architects 
[email protected] | (360) 867-8820 | www.wasla.org

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