Retrospective celebrates 50-year career of Edward L. Daugherty

Next time you're at the corner of North Avenue and West Peachtree Street, notice the sunlight shining on All Saints Episcopal Church. It's the red stone edifice on the northwest corner across from the MARTA station. The light isn't an accident. Landscape architect Edward L. Daugherty put it there in 1977.

Daugherty may not have physically moved photons through space, but his efforts that year kept the church's neighboring skyscrapers far enough back on their lots to ensure that All Saints would always get sufficient natural light. Both the church and its enclosed gardens reaped the benefits: an island of humanity in a concrete wilderness.

Daugherty occupies a revered position in Atlanta's architectural ecology. His resume reads like a who's who, or rather a where's where of Atlanta institutions: Agnes Scott College, the Governor's Mansion, Clark Atlanta University, the Atlanta Botanical Garden, Georgia Tech. An intimate retrospective of his work at the Atlanta History Center details the breadth of Daugherty's more than 50-year career here. On view through Oct. 10, Edward L. Daugherty, A Southern Landscape Architect: Exploring New Forms provides glimpses of the man and his work through 50 sketches, plans and photographs.

A rough sketch of the gardens at the Henrietta Egleston Hospital for Children on Clifton Road greets visitors to the small gallery. It's fairly typical of Daugherty's design philosophy: Curvilinear pathways and hedges that form warm embraces for their human occupants are suggested with just a few loose lines on aging, yellowed paper. Daugherty is a master of shaping space to offer comfort to the ailing and oases of calm for the weary urban dweller.

While standing in front of the sketch, the 82-year-old Daugherty describes his expansive Atlanta career. He speaks in a careful, deliberate tone and wears a messily tied bow tie that looks as though it's been with him on more than a few site visits. "If you go outside," he says, "you'll notice how you don't see any cars." He's referring to the History Center's grounds, which he also designed. Indeed, from the center's front door, the parking structure sits behind a distant berm and is further disguised by a circle of water oaks between the entrance and the deck. Daugherty has used the land to create that all-too-rare breed of space: a car-free zone.

Landscape architecture is a complex practice. When explaining its intricacies, Daugherty adopts the patient stance of someone who's had to correct the same misconceptions over and over. "Landscape architecture is a lot more than adorning a building," he says. "It's working with the architect to assist in locating the building as one element of a building project."

Curator Staci Catron chimes in to explain that landscape architects think about light, drainage, traffic flow, and a host of other elements that determine how a building relates to the people who use it and to other buildings.

Such a human-centered, collaborative approach wasn't always the norm. Until World War II, landscape architecture was dominated by rigid orthodoxies of style. Typically the symmetrical, neoclassical garden occupied the apex of the landscaper's pyramid.

Architecture had its own silos, too. "Architects were being taught to build a building and to hell with anything else," Daugherty says. "They ignored not only how the buildings related to one another, but how they related to the site. And that worried me."

Daugherty was among the first generation of landscape architects to question such practices. A former student at Georgia Tech and UGA, and graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Daugherty worked contemporaneously with leaders in the field such as Thomas Dolliver Church, Garrett Eckbo and James Rose. Together, they and others brought a modern approach to landscape architecture, refusing to graft a copy of the gardens of Versailles onto every building.

And in Daugherty's case at least, this "modern" approach included values stunningly similar to what's recognized as progressive 55 years later: respect for the existing land, a concern for preservation and recycling, and an interest in walkable, human-scaled communities with lively streetscapes. What we now call New Urbanism was basic landscape architecture and common sense to Daugherty and his cohorts.

As is evident in the History Center's exhibit, Daugherty maintained these values even when the pressure for larger parking lots and inhumane strip malls was the order of the day in Atlanta suburbs. In the late '60s, Daugherty was asked to advise about turning Marietta Square's beloved Glover Park into a parking lot. He refused. Instead, he drafted a plan for the park as a community greenspace for civic engagement. Although Daugherty's specific plan was never adopted, Glover Park still remains today thanks to the range of solutions Daugherty proposed.

It's not unusual for Atlantans to forget the giants of culture in our own back yard. In the Atlanta History Center's small but vital survey, we have a chance to appreciate a pioneer who's never lived more than two blocks from Peachtree Street. While much of Atlanta seems to have been built for cars and businesses, Daugherty's civilizing example offers the quiet alternative of shaping land for people and life.


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