As a landscape architect, Professor Walter Hood believes that his work operates as a reconciliation process, seeking to assimilate multiple layers of history into the present.

Hood is Professor of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning and Urban Design at the University of California, Berkeley, and also the creative director and founder of Hood Design Studio in Oakland, California.

In the latest edition of the UNSW Built Environment’s UTZON Lecture Series, Hood explored how public space could embrace the past, present and future.

People lie at the heart of landscapes, says Hood, explaining that landscape isn’t just about paving patterns and planting plans. “Each landscape tells a story about us – our fears, our values and attitudes of who we are and how we want to live in a place,” he says.

His firm, Hood Design Studio has a global reputation for uniquely imagining urban spaces that are ‘public sculpture’. Using research built from archival and oral histories as well as physical, environmental and social patterns and practices, the studio ensures every project remains true to how people inhabit the space through life, work and play.

For instance, the Broad Museum Plaza in downtown Los Angeles features century-old Barouni olive trees transplanted from a defunct orchard, and repurposed tree trunks from the same nursery for tables and seating below the canopy of the trees.

A lawn serves as the venue for The Broad’s outdoor public programming, which includes films, performances, receptions and educational programs, as well as events produced with the restaurant.

For Hood, a landscape design project must serve a larger purpose, such as the development of community and the revitalisation of the neighbourhood. By constantly engaging, empowering and connecting communities with his work, he avoids the prospect of these communities becoming marginalised in the making of landscapes.

Speaking about how his work also operates as a reconciliation process, he observes, “History forces us not to forget… and who records history gets the opportunity to be prophetic. It is also the context for reconciliation… particularly in the post-colonial world. I’m [always] amazed at how many histories we are uncovering in the contemporary landscape.

“This means that where covered up… to truly move forward, we need to reconcile the past.”

Hood admits his approach to landscape architecture is not without challenge.

“It’s important that we get people to invest in the places and people that need the most investment… rather than the continued investment in places of low impact.”

In his lecture titled ‘How Urban Spaces Can Preserve History and Build Community’ delivered as part of the UTZON Lecture Series recently in Sydney, Hood explored the concepts that guide his approach to creating spaces that illuminate shared memories and force us to look at one another in a different way.