M Paul Friedberg

M Paul Friedberg

M. Paul Friedberg is a landscape architect who has influenced urban design of playgrounds, parks, plazas, and outdoor malls. He feels that urban designs are not for creating a break from the city life, rather they “engage the whirl of urban life and (are) unapologetically vital and active.” His designs accommodate recreation for different age groups, facilitate interaction between people in the community, and “enhance life by revealing beauty in the environment.”1

Born in New York City and raised in rural Pennsylvania, Paul initially studied horticulture at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. His father owned a nursery and wanted Paul to earn a degree that would benefit the family business. However, Paul's father died after his first term and Paul interrupted his schooling to run the nursery for a year.2

Since this was during the Korean War and he was soon going to be drafted, Paul chose to return to Cornell and join the ROTC. He continued to study horticulture but found that he could also take art courses which opened the whole world of art and design to him for the first time. He graduated from Cornell in 1954 with a Bachelor of Science degree.3

Desiring to be in New York City, Paul scrambled for a job there; eventually commuted to one in Hartford, Connecticut for a few months; and then began working for Joe Gangemi, a landscape architect in Manhattan. However, by the end of the year, Paul was at the US Army base in Fort Sill, Oklahoma going to Survey Officer's School. As a new survey officer he reported directly to Korea and was assigned as a captain at a division level. This post gave Paul four men, two trucks, and one helicopter at his disposal. Since the war was over and his duties were light, he had the means and time to travel and acquaint himself with the local culture.

After fulfilling his service obligation, Paul returned to New York City to work with Joe Gangemi. Soon thereafter, he shifted his perspective from earning a living to creating a profession. When he was asked to draw up Joe's courtyard design for a client, Paul took a professional interest and created his own design. When Joe presented both designs to the client, they picked Paul's and he became an associate in the firm.

In 1958, Paul established his own firm, M. Paul Friedberg and Partners. For the next five years he developed his own design vision in his new field of landscape architecture, questioning the already established practices. His first big break came in 1963 when he designed the outdoor areas at the Carver Houses, a public housing project, with Cy Brinas.4 By utilizing a sandbox and a spray pool and by removing the typical fences, asphalt, and play equipment, they began exploring a new approach to playgrounds.

The Carver House project led to the Jacob Riis Houses project for Paul and Cy, this time with Paul leading. In 1965, Paul created a series of adventures, such as a tree house, a tunnel, and mounds which were connected with paths, slides, and swings. His approach was to provide opportunities for “discovery, experimentation, exploration, creativity, and cooperation.”5 Paul felt that a playground was a “challenging facility” and needed a variety of experiences because choice was a major component of play.

Paul's departure from the normal playground was widely reported in the media, including an article in Life magazine, and Paul became an authority on urban play areas. Over the years, he came to conclude that all urban design situations involved play for children and adults. He declared, “I think the notion of people being able to play, whether it's as a surrogate or whether it's through doing it itself, I think it is essential...We as landscape architects have a professional obligation to find/create the places where this can occur.”6

This philosophy was furthered in 1970 in Paul's book Play and Interplay, which called for a new recreation plan that incorporated education, housing, commerce, and transportation into the design of play areas. That same year he assisted in founding the Urban Landscape Architecture Program at the City College of New York. In the still emerging field of landscape architecture, the purpose of this program was to bring new talent into the field. Paul directed the program, one of the first in the nation, for the next twenty years. Over the years, Paul has also been on the faculty of Harvard University, Columbia University, and the Pratt Institute.

Paul's second book, Handcrafted Playgrounds: Designs You Can Build Yourself, was published in 1975. He illustrated for the amateur builder how timbers, poles, nets, tire swings, and drums could be linked together to create something more than just a playground. His goal was a stimulating natural environment for play that could be adapted to different ages, available budgets, and a variety of lot sizes.

With Paul's hands-on leadership style, M. Paul Friedberg and Partners have completed numerous urban design projects including the A.C. Nielsen headquarters near Chicago (1972); the Peavey Plaza and the Loring Park Greenway in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Pershing Park and Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. (1979); Park Place located above a parking garage (1982); the Olympic Plaza in Calgary, Alberta, Canada (1987); a rooftop plaza at New York's Fordham University (1989); the 67th Street playground in Central Park, New York City; Battery Park City in New York City; Holon Park in Holon, Israel; La Jolla Commons in San Diego, California; and the Andromeda Houses in Jaffa, Israel.

In 1979, Paul was made a fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects, and in 1980, he received the AIA Medal for an allied professional from the American Institute of Architects. Four years later in 1984, France honored him with the Chevalier de L'Ordre des Arts et de Lettres. Twenty years later and after 85 national and international awards for individual designs, Paul was given the highest award of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Design Medal.

Paul's use of flowing water, bridges, play features, connecting slides, catwalks, and tunnels has resulted in “a continuous flow of play, exploration, and revelation.”7 Even though his designs have been heralded as “a parameter of the future,”8 Paul himself believes that, “Design is not the ultimate goal. It's the vehicle by which the ultimate goal is play.”9

  • 1. Randl, Chad. “Biography of M. Paul Friedberg.” The Cultural Landscape Foundation. 28 March 2012.
  • 2. Birnhaum, Charles A., Sheldon, James, and Shirley Veenema. “M. Paul Freidberg Oral History Interview.” The Cultural Landscape Foundation. < > 28 March 2012.
  • 3. “Principals.” M. Paul Friedberg and Partners. 28 March 2012.
  • 4. Op.cit., Birnhaum.
  • 5. Op.cit., Randl.
  • 6. Op.cit., Birnhaum.
  • 7. Op.cit., Randl.
  • 8. Op.cit., “Principals.”
  • 9. Op.cit., Birnhaum.