Richard “Rich” Haag was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1923. He spent three years in the U.S. Army Air Corps, which took him to Morocco and India during World War II. After the war, he attended the University of Illinois (1946 – 1949), and the University of California at Berkeley (1949 – 1950). Haag then studied at Harvard University where he received his Master in Landscape Architecture in 1952. He then received a Fulbright Fellowship which allowed him to live in Japan from 1953 to 1955. While there, he attended Kyoto University and studied Japanese cultural landscapes and gardens.
Before establishing his own landscape design firm in San Francisco, Haag worked in the offices of Hideo Sasaki (1950), Dan Kiley (1951), and Lawrence Halprin (1956 – 1957). With valuable experience at hand, Haag opened his own firm in San Francisco in 1957, focusing on residential and commercial projects. The designs from this period exhibit many Japanese influences with the use of mounds and interior courtyards.
In 1958, Haag moved to Seattle after he was invited by the University of Washington to establish a School of Landscape Architecture. He opened a Seattle office, hiring graduates from the University of Washington, including Grant Jones, Laurie Olin, and Kenichi Nakano. As his practice grew, he worked on fewer residential projects and became more involved with larger projects. Early recognition came to him with an award-winning submission for the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Competition in 1960 with New York architect Abraham Geller.
Haag’s early Seattle projects included work on the 1962 World’s Fair site. A seminal piece by Haag at the fair was “Sunken Council Ring” with its surrounding circle of locust trees (1963). After the fair, Haag was selected as the Seattle Civic Center planner (1962 – 1964 and 1978). His work from this period included several large truncated pyramidal mounds at the northeast corner of the Center grounds.
Haag was particularly productive during the 1960s and his work was well-recognized during this period. Thirteen of his projects dating from 1964 – 1969 received awards from the American Institute of Architects (AIA), including a Merit Award from the local chapter for his design of the Seattle Battelle Research site in the 1960s.
His most celebrated projects, however, are Gas Works Park in Seattle and the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island. Both have been the subject of numerous publications, articles, awards, and recognition. Gas Works Park was created in the early 1970s, and featured a 60-foot mound and edited retention of historic manufacturing machinery, sheds, and site infrastructure.
The Bloedel Reserve is a 150-acre estate set in a forested, rural environment. Haag’s projects, which dated from 1964, include a reflection pool, a moss garden, and the sand-filled Garden of Planes, all of which are linked in a sequence of outdoor rooms and passages created by mounds, topography, and plantings. The Garden of Planes was removed in 1986, however.
The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) bestowed on both projects its Presidential Award of Excellence, making Haag the only landscape architect to have received two such awards from the organization.
Other noteworthy projects included landscape designs for Jordan Park/Everett Marina Park (1972), the U.S. Embassy Grounds in Lisbon, Portugal, and the Seattle Public Library’s Magnolia Branch.
Rich Haag Associates officially closed on June 20, 2016. Shortly thereafter, Haag and his wife, Cheryl, moved from Seattle to a residence near Pasadena, California. He passed away there on May 9, 2018.
– Michael C Houser