25 Aug Architect of the Month: Alfred Caldwell, August 2016
Alfred Caldwell (1903 – 1998), was a landscape architect who mastered the use of Prairie School style of architecture. Caldwell had an interest in nature from early on in his life continuing into high school when he worked part-time jobs with nurseries and landscape gardeners.
In 1921, he attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to study landscape architecture but his studies bored him and he preferred to craft his visions with work outside of the classroom. He left school and went to work for renowned landscape architect, Jens Jenson, in Chicago, from 1924-1931. Caldwell completed various jobs for his mentor, Jensen as their work relationship soon developed into a close friendship. After a short stint as a private practice landscape architect and with a recommendation from Jensen, Caldwell earned the position of superintendent of parks in Dubuque specifically overseeing the construction of Eagle Point Park from 1934 – 1936. He directed the construction of the shelter areas, the lily pond, and the ledge gardens and called his masterpiece a “City in a Garden.”
He left Dubuque in 1936 to accept the position of landscape designer for the Chicago Park District where he designed landscapes for hundreds of acres of Chicago’s parks, including the Lincoln Park Zoo lily pond. In 1945 Caldwell was hired by Mies van der Rohe to teach landscape architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) College of Architecture. IIT eventually awarded him a Master of Science in city planning in 1948. Caldwell left IIT in 1960 to teach at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. He then later taught at the University of Southern California until 1973.
Caldwell returned to teaching at IIT in 1982 until his death in 1998. He was not only a gifted landscape architect but also did work as a civil engineer, city planner, and a prolific writer of poems and essays. Additionally, he was a critic of urban sprawl and advocated for environmental conservation. Throughout the remaining years of his life, he continued to develop a marvelous Prairie school landscape at his Bristol, Wisconsin farm. Dennis Domer, the author of Caldwell’s biography, labeled him as the last representative of the great Prairie School landscape architects.
Caldwell’s work at Eagle Point Park will be examined and celebrated during Heritage Works’ upcoming inaugural Dubuque Heritage Festival on October 7 and 8. The afternoon on October 7 will feature a symposium for architects, landscape architects, historic preservation professionals and anyone else interested in history, Caldwell’s work or historic landscapes. Friday evening will feature a reception at the Dubuque Museum of Art and the opening of the museum’s exhibit of some of Caldwell’s drawings and other artifacts of Caldwell’s time in Dubuque. Saturday will give the public an opportunity to participate in docent-led tours of Caldwell’s shelters and landscapes in Eagle Point Park. For further information visit: http://heritageworksdbq.com/festival/