World-Renowned Landscape Architect Michael Van Valkenburgh Selected to Lead Creation of Master Plan for Dorothea Dix Park

News posted Feb. 21, 2017 - 6:00 am
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The Raleigh City Council today unanimously approved the selection of world-renowned Landscape Architect Michael Van Valkenburgh to lead the creation of a comprehensive master plan for Dorothea Dix Park. The council accepted the recommendation of the Dorothea Dix Park Master Plan Executive Committee (MPEC) to select Mr. Van Valkenburgh’s firm, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA). Chaired by Mayor Nancy McFarlane, MPEC includes representatives of the partnership between the City of Raleigh, the Dix Park Conservancy, and North Carolina State University.

The City Council’s vote on MPEC’s unanimous recommendation follows an intensive six-month process where MVVA emerged as the preferred consultant to lead a park planning process that will feature robust community engagement and outreach.

“The Master Plan Executive Committee was extremely fortunate to have four incredibly talented consultants to choose from,” Mayor McFarlane said. “However, Michael Van Valkenburgh rose above the rest as the consultant best able to develop a master park plan that reflects the past, captures the present and reveals the future of Dorothea Dix Park. Raleigh is a hub of innovation and I am so excited to see what Michael is able to accomplish in partnership with our wonderful community here in Raleigh!”

For more than 30 years, Mr. Van Valkenburgh has created landscapes around the world that welcome, engage, and inspire people. An understanding of the relationship between people and the landscape has always been central to the firm’s work. Recent city park projects, including Brooklyn Bridge Park and Chicago’s Maggie Daley Park, have been recognized not only for the quality of experience they provide but for positively transforming their urban context. Mr. Van Valkenburgh’s work has shaped some of the most important cultural and academic institutions in America and internationally, including Princeton University, Harvard University, CityArchRiver (the St. Louis Arch Grounds), the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, and beginning this year, the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago, among many other acclaimed projects. MVVA’s ongoing work for Waterfront Toronto, the Waller Creek Conservancy in Austin, and A Gathering Place for Tulsa has been at the forefront of a growing movement for integrated landscape and urban planning in North American cities.

“This is an important and exciting day for our community,” said Jim Goodmon, board chair of Dix Park Conservancy. “With Michael leading the effort, it’s clear that we have a real opportunity to create something bold and visionary at Dix Park – something that will both serve and define us for generations to come. Here we go!”

Mr. Van Valkenburgh and MVVA are consistently recognized with the highest professional honors for design excellence and innovation; as just one example, in 2010 Brooklyn Bridge Park became the only landscape ever to win the Brenden Gill Prize, created by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to honor the artistic work that most embodies the spirit of the City of New York.

“Michael is an inspirational creator of beloved places,” said Sean Malone, newly appointed president and CEO of Dix Park Conservancy. “It’s going to be so exciting to see him engage with the community and develop a plan for Dix Park that will meaningfully enrich the quality of life of everyone who lives in or visits this region.”

For his part, Mr. Van Valkenburgh will be taking a full leave from all of his duties as professor in practice of landscape architecture at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design so that he can devote the necessary time and effort to the Dix Park project. The expectation is that the master planning process will begin this summer following development of a full scope of work and contract to be reviewed and approved by the City Council.

“Our goal for this project is simple – for Dix Park to emerge as the most remarkable new public park in America,” said Kate Pearce, senior planner with the City of Raleigh and the project manager for Dix Park. “With MVVA, the unparalleled team of international experts they’ve assembled, and their impressive track record of committing to projects from the earliest conception through construction, I know that goal is going to be achieved.”

Mr. Van Valkenburgh said the master plan for Dix Park “is among the most inspiring assignments I have ever been asked to take on.”

“A true and deeply rewarding pleasure in my professional life is park-making …,” he said. “The generosity of (Dix Park’s) 308 acres, so close to a vibrant and walkable downtown, the borrowed landscape of Raleigh’s Downtown skyline, the rich architectural history of the site and legacy of the associated social welfare, and the promise of a site still waiting for its greatest potential to be unlocked, poised to transform with the city around it — these are the kinds of things I hope for in every park planning project.”

*Images: Photos are examples of Landscape Architect Michael Van Valkenburgh's work.

For more information, contact

  • Kate Pearce, Senior Planner, Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department, 919-996-4855
  • Sean Malone, Dix Park Conservancy, 919-744-3165
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