‘54 Detroit Lakes grad, Roger Bond Martin, remembered for his influential work, ‘unassuming’ manner
The story, titled “Landscape Architect Under the Direction of Listening,” is a free piece about Martin, a 1954 Detroit Lakes High School graduate and Laker football star who later became professor emeritus and, to quote the first line of the article, “One of the most influential American landscape architects of the past 50 years. “
Roger Bond Martin helped found the Landscape Architecture Institute at the University of Minnesota in the late 1960s and won the Rome Prize. He is pictured here in the 1990s. (Photo from the University of Minnesota Archives)
Martin is best remembered in Detroit Lakes as the leader of the Laker football team in the early 1950s – an era that has been dubbed the “days of glory” for Laker football. He then played soccer for the University of Minnesota while studying.
Not so well known locally that Martin went to Harvard afterwards, did his Masters in Landscape Architecture and then had a long and illustrious career in the field. He won the Rome Prize, “one of the world’s most elite art and design grants,” says the Star Tribune article, and helped found the University of Minnesota Institute of Landscape Architecture.
The article was brought to the Detroit Lakes Tribune by Tom Fritz, a longtime local dentist who is now retired. He fondly remembers Martin and thought the story would be good to share with Detroit Lakes readers.
Fritz was a few years younger than Martin but knew him from the Lakes Sport Shop, where Martin had a part-time job in high school and Fritz sometimes went as a child to help with dusting and other odd jobs. The two also grew up in the same neighborhood.
“The guy was a straight arrow,” laughed Fritz and explained, “even at a time when there were a lot of rough and stumbling guys here,” Martin was never someone to be cursed at.
Jerry Fox also remembers Martin. He played side by side with Martin on the Laker soccer team and says he knows him well.
“If he got angry, he’d say, ‘Gee Whiz,'” Fox recalled with a chuckle. “He was just a wonderful guy … but a terror on the soccer field.”
Martin was co-captain of the team for his senior year and a significant force during the undefeated 1953 season. After his college years and a stay at the University of California-Berkeley, he returned to Minnesota in 1966 and settled in the Minneapolis area.
Martin’s design from the 1960s for the Vincent Murphy Courtyard at the University of Minnesota was an example of landscape modernism with exposed concrete, rough stone and water in a submerged environment. (Photo from the University of Minnesota Archives, circa 1972)
Fox said he only saw Martin “about half a dozen times” in all those years after high school, and met him at school meetings and so on. Until the story came out in the Star Tribune, he never knew to what extent Martin was professionally successful – and he suspects that hardly anyone here ever knew either. Martin was known to be quiet and humble.
“He was a very humble guy,” said Fox. “A very intelligent guy. Just a very well thought out ‘All-American’ guy. “
Martin died on December 21st.
The story, published in the Star Tribune, was written by Frank Edgerton Martin, a landscape architect historian and freelance writer. It is reprinted here in its entirety with permission, as originally written by the author and with its original heading.
With the recent death of Roger Bond Martin, Minnesota lost its greatest teacher of landscape architecture and one of the most influential American landscape architects in the past 50 years.
Harvard-trained Martin helped found the University of Minnesota Landscape Architecture Institute in the late 1960s and taught generations of landscape architects. He also won the Rome Prize, one of the world’s most elite art and design grants.
Martin’s renovation of the approximately 80 km long parkway system of the Grand Rounds in the Twin Cities included designated cycle paths that were rare at the time. He also directed the design of the Minnesota Zoo, which was revolutionary in bringing animals to their northern homelands.
Yet few Minnesotans know his name, despite the fact that he has designed projects that have defined not just the subway area but the entire state.
Roger Martin’s master plan for the Minnesota Zoo shows the revolutionary approach to experiencing animal species with cold climates in their home. (Courtesy photo by Dewey Thorbeck)
He grew up in Detroit Lakes with a mother teaching music and served as a lineman on the Gopher soccer team in the late 1950s. The architect Duane Thorbeck met Roger Martin in 1961 at Cerny Associates, a leading architectural firm in Minnesota that gave birth to a generation of modern designers. Over the next 50 years, Thorbeck and Martin’s careers as designers, professors and business partners overlapped.
In 1962 they both won the Rome Prize and lived near the American Academy in Rome for a year, each with their own studio and creative projects. Martin, who was accompanied by his wife Janis, had a talent for sketching – a talent that likely helped him win over the Rome community and that he applied for the rest of his life as a teacher and designer.
After Rome, Martin became an assistant professor at the University of California-Berkeley, teaching landscape architecture at a time when west coast landscape architects were developing a new regional style that emphasized outdoor living, water, paths and textured concrete. (One of Martin’s colleagues was Lawrence Halprin, who later designed the original Nicollet Mall.)
Martin’s drawings often emphasized space and volume, as can be seen here in his sketch of the pyramid of the magician in the Mayan city of Uxmal. (Photo from the University of Minnesota)
In 1966, Ralph Rapson, celebrated dean of the U School of Architecture, invited Martin to Minnesota to found the landscape architecture department.
“Even though Roger was a landscape architect,” said Thorbeck, “he always talked about design to make connections between buildings and locations. He designed and taught to consider the whole environment and to work with other areas. “
In 1968 Martin, Thorbeck, the graphic designer Peter Seitz and the systems analyst Stephen Kahne founded InterDesign Inc. The innovative, interdisciplinary company became a model for getting designers from many disciplines to collaborate on projects.
Martin also designed and planned many of the first downtown river parks. In addition to the historic Durkee-Atwood facility on Nicollet Island, Martin and his former student and business partner Marjorie Pitz designed riverside hiking trails and a green open amphitheater that is still in operation today. He planned more trails along the SE. Main Street and along the old railroad corridor that separates downtown Minneapolis from the river.
“Roger’s silent influence on converting industrial areas into parks has been amazing,” said Pitz.
Thanks to his endorsement, “The Minneapolis Park Board acquired and developed land for the continuous public use of the riverfront.”
Stepping in early helped save the stone arch bridge as a public walkway, Pitz said.
Martin’s sketch of the rustic pavilion in Honeywood, the land and his family’s cabin on the Apple River. (Photo from the University of Minnesota)
While Martin was a passionate advocate of landscape architecture, he was a teacher at heart who taught students how to design through problem-solving.
Robert Sykes, a student of Martin who later became a colleague, said professors often gathered in studios and classes to criticize the students’ work and Roger said nothing, just listened and sketched softly. After all, he would share his comments through the sketch, not be negative about the students’ work, but rather talk about what it could be. “
Jean Garbarini, now Principal at DF / Damon Farber Landscape Architects, recalls: “Roger told you your design was terrible, but in a nice way. On the spot, he could make a quick sketch to guide you into a new way of thinking. “
Martin taught his students far more than the drawing, environmental, and construction knowledge they would need to become registered landscape architects. He taught them the core values of collaboration, listening and designing not for art but for people.
Hundreds of Martin’s students shaped the partner cities and the profession at home and abroad.
“The landscape architecture work of his students was his greatest satisfaction,” said Pitz. “Roger’s way of changing the world was teaching students who would change the world.”
Frank Edgerton Martin is a landscape architect, monument protection planner and journalist.