Fresno’s Fulton Mall is among the earliest, designed by a partnership of Gruen Associates and Garrett Eckbo, who was one of the most highly respected and influential American modernist landscape architects of the 20th century. Working to overthrow the Beaux-Arts system of landscape design which came before he sought to develop an approach that would address the social and economic challenges of the modern world, Eckbo was deliberately experimental, his designs centered on the garden, which he believed was the prototype for all landscape design.
His work was influenced by modernist European architecture, modern art favoring a more casual and fluid use of space, utilizing clustered plant materials, geometric abstraction, and circular space to lend unity to the landscape. In Eckbo’s mind the human pedestrian was part of “a designed landscape that would stress the relations between human and land without apologizing for the human presence.” Eckbo saw landscape architecture as a social art, and to the Fulton Mall, applied principles consistent with many of his civic projects: space between buildings to encourage group gathering, the use of water as a unifying focal element that also animated the public spaces, and the incorporation of shade that reflected the regional palette.
Drawing inspiration from the surrounding valley and Sierra’s he brought the nearby natural context into the city center. The pedestrian mall, constructed of stained concrete punctuated by sometimes gently curving or angular lines, suggests the contours of the valley floor and also provide a utilitarian purpose of assisting with run-off drainage.
Years later, some similar malls, such as Charlottesville remain economically viable, while others in Sacramento, Minneapolis, Allentown and elsewhere have been reopened to vehicle traffic. And Fresno? Well our mall was recently determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, but its condition is rather sad and the city has yet to finalize the placement to the register. What’s happening in Fresno is playing out elsewhere in communities with modernist urban landscape architecture as our rich and diverse legacy of modernist landscape architecture struggles for visibility with many of these designs misunderstood and under appreciated.
Join About Town Taste’s next walking adventure experiencing some of Garrett Eckbo’s brilliant work, the Fulton Mall, before its too late. Our tours feature exclusive interior access to some historic buildings and food stops along the route all woven together with stories of those who came before us. Reservations required www.AboutTownTaste.com