In Memoriam: Professor Emeritus Roger Bond Martin

Professor Emeritus Roger Martin

The following post was written by Department of Landscape Architecture Head Joe Favour.

On December 21, 2020, the winter solstice, renowned landscape architect and Professor Emeritus Roger Bond Martin, FASLA, FAAR, passed away at age 84.

Roger played a significant role in shaping the profession of landscape architecture in the second half of the 20th Century. He was educated in Horticulture at the University of Minnesota and earned his Master of Landscape Architecture from Harvard University in 1961, where he was mentored by the influential landscape architect, Hideo Sasaki. He subsequently won the Rome Prize in landscape architecture in 1962 and entered academia at the University of California-Berkeley following his time in Rome. He returned to Minnesota in 1966 to start a landscape architecture program at his alma mater, the University of Minnesota.

He led by example, designing important public landscapes that have endured as icons of Minnesota’s urban fabric. If you have walked the Stone Arch Bridge, visited the Minnesota Zoo, or driven along the Minneapolis Grand Rounds, you have experienced a landscape designed, planned, or improved by Roger Martin (among hundreds of other places). He also co-founded an influential and important multi-disciplinary design firm, InterDesign, where collaboration among disciplines was emphasized in every project, a novel concept in the late 1960s that is now considered the standard approach to practice today. Later, he continued his practice in partnership with Marjorie Pitz, establishing the firm Martin and Pitz, where he continued to practice until his retirement. Roger also served the profession as national president of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), in numerous roles for the Minnesota chapter of ASLA, and as president of the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA) throughout his career.

Beyond his professional accomplishments, Roger also influenced generations of landscape architects as a teacher and mentor. He was recruited by prominent Minnesota architect and Chair of the U of M Architecture School, Ralph Rapson, in 1966 to start the landscape architecture programs at the U. He partnered in this action with colleagues, Professor Emeritus Roger Clemence as an urban design expert and Herb Baldwin, a practicing landscape architect. They designed a curriculum that emphasized collaboration and a systematic, analytical approach to problem-solving, which allowed students to understand and resolve the inherent problems of a site and design program. He did not stress a specific stylistic approach, allowing students to explore their own influences to find inspirations for their designs.

Roger also brought a keen observational skill to his research at the University. He traveled the world, studying the landscapes of antiquity and tirelessly sketching and diagramming their forms as lessons to influence his own design and teaching. The evidence of that work exists in detailed sketchbooks now found in the University of Minnesota Archives and culminated in a self-published book, Illusion in exterior space: Perception manipulation and placemaking on the land. His dedication to this research and love of travel was seeded in the landscape architecture program through study abroad programs that continue today.

He also embedded the programs with a respectful, measured approach to teaching, reflective of his own personality. Alumni frequently mention Roger’s kindness and caring approach to education. He was encouraging and wanted each student to develop their own tailored approach. This kindness repaid dividends by growing the profession of landscape architecture within the state of Minnesota and beyond. Early graduates of the U of M Landscape Architecture program went on to practice in newly established private design firms and in public agencies such as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the National Park Service. This growth in the profession has continued through the present and created an amazing collection of high-quality landscape spaces throughout the region in the form of plazas, parks, parkways, trails, gardens, campuses, and protected natural areas that contributes immensely to the high quality of life we enjoy today.

This is the ongoing legacy of Roger Martin, a humble, quiet man who hailed from Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, and played varsity football as an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota. He was also a trumpet player, a beekeeper, a baritone choir member, and a dedicated husband and father. Many who knew him remarked on the amazing partnership he and his spouse Janis shared, reflecting that she was an integral part of his success, and by extension, the legacy that he has created.

An excerpt from his obituary posted in the Star Tribune on December, 21, 2020 sums up much of what made him an unforgettable influence on so many lives.

“When once asked by his family how he would like to be remembered he said as a good husband, father and friend. They assured him he had been that and much, much, much more. He died as he lived, with gratitude and little fanfare.”

To paraphrase the University’s and State’s famous song, Hail Minnesota:

Hail to thee, Roger Bond Martin

Thy light shall ever be

A beacon bright and clear

Thou shalt always be our Northern Star.

Joseph R. Favour, ASLA
Department Head + Associate Professor in Practice
Department of Landscape Architecture
College of Design

***

In honor of Professor Emeritus Roger Martin, the landscape architecture community has set-up the Roger B. Martin Travel Prize through the College of Design. This prize will not only benefit the individual award winners but the results of recipients’ travels will become shared knowledge for all Minnesota Landscape Architects to the benefit of those we serve.

9 comments

  • Patricia Nordstrom Mahoney- BS, U of M

    A worthy tribute to a remarkable talent and life-long learner.! His death has left a void in many lives. but his life is celebrated by so many that knew him.

  • Jim Larson

    I was lucky to be able to sit with Roger twice a week for over fifteen years. He was a quietly brilliant man. I miss him.

  • Dewey Thorbeck

    Roger and I intertwined in many ways from meeting him when we both won the Rome Prize and spent two years at the American Academy in Rome; when he started the LA program at the U of MN so that it became the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture; when we joined together with Peter Seitz, graphic designer, and Steve Kahne, computer expert to start the firm of InterDesign and shortly after selected to design the new MN Zoo that woud become the first northern climate zoo in the world to be open year round. Roger’s wife, Janis, was a great support in everything he did and I wish her the very best. Roger was a great designer, a great person, and a great influence on making the College of Design what it is today. He will remain in my memory forever with his quiet determination and wonderful talent.

  • I am lucky to have known Roger. Our paths crossed only few times but just enough to impress and enlighten me. He was a scholar gentleman who was ready to help anyone!

  • Dr. Jon Bryan Burley

    In 1975, Roger was my landscape history professor. It was a great course, I learned so much and it established the “road-map” for my international travels, writing landscape history papers, and to lead study abroad at Michigan State University. We also shared an interest in Mayan and Asian site design. I tell my students they are second generation Roger Martin students (as well as the other great instructors at the U of MN in the 1970s). Roger had great tolerance and patience, even for someone as different as myself. I never saw him lose his cool, even when telling a class to quit posting “eye-brow” raising graphics on the studio walls– no one was going to defy his request — he commanded great respect. He was one of those professors who could inspire one to go way beyond the requirements for an assignment and learn as much as possible. He was highly organized and sincere. My class learned that we could make him smile when we pursued the unexpected with passion. He did not desire to make replicas of himself, but rather that each person excel on the path they had chosen. Individuality was important to him. An energized class energized him. He was like an admiral with an armada of ships. Farewell admiral, your legacy and fleet will “carry-on.”

  • Roger Martin was my teacher, my colleague, and a man whom I deeply admired. Arriving at the University of Minnesota to pursue a BLA in 1973, I benefited from the lively esprit de corps he had established among a faculty who thrived in their varied individual pursuits and personal styles. There was a sense of openness to widely varying design expressions and approaches that challenged each of us to be inventive and fresh. Roger’s quietly expressive elegance in design and drawing, shared over the boards, inspired us all by example.

    Later, as Roger’s faculty colleague, I saw his profound decency even more clearly, in the way he approached his work and in the way he treated students and colleagues. Roger’s generosity of spirit was a constant in our life as faculty, and this spirit benefited the entire profession when he served as ASLA trustee and then national President at a time of change. His life reminds us of what it means to do good work.

    I will remember him fondly and with great respect.

  • Tom Martin

    Mr Burley, and colleagues I am the oldest son of Roger Martin, my name is Tom. Your words have summed up my father perfectly. I was brought to tears reading your post and many others. I just wanted to thank you and all his former students and colleagues for carrying on his legacy, and making it your own. Dad could never imagine tributes like these and that is why we miss this humble man immensely. Thank you all for being his friend. God bless you all!

    • Ken Hirsch, Jr.

      Thank you. God bless you! Your dad, Tom, has left me with the fondest memories I will always cherish as my advisor at the U. He was simply the best and his legacy will live on!

    • Sue Fitzgerald

      Tom, your father was the gentlest and the most kind person I’ve known. He was my professor at the U, and I worked at InterDesign for six years. My sympathy to your Mom and to you and your family. He was a great man.

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