Robert Royston

01 October 2008

Robert RoystonRobert N. Royston, a professor of landscape architecture, died in his sleep at his home in Mill Valley on Friday, Sept. 19. He was 90.

As a practicing landscape architect, Royston was known for designs that focused on space and its use by people in private gardens, planned communities, urban plazas, and children’s outdoor-play areas. His award-winning designs included projects in the United States, Canada, Latin America, and Asia.

Born April 25, 1918, in San Francisco, Royston grew up on a farm in the Santa Clara Valley. In the late 1930s he was a student in Berkeley’s landscape-architecture program, during which time he began working weekends with pioneering Bay Area landscape architect Thomas Church. He continued in that job for two years after his graduation in 1940.

When Pearl Harbor was bombed, Royston enlisted in the U.S. Navy and spent time in the Pacific theater. In a 1998 interview he said the war gave him time to think, and that the time he spent in his shipboard cabin designing jewelry, houses, and gardens “kept me sane.”

After leaving the service in 1945, Royston opened a landscape-architecture firm with Edward Williams and Garrett Eckbo. (The latter, another recent Berkeley graduate, later became, like Royston, a professor of landscape architecture here.) Royston’s first major commission, in 1949, was a recreation facility for Standard Oil refinery workers near Point Richmond.

Royston taught at Berkeley as an assistant professor from 1947 to 1951, leaving the campus after refusing to sign an anti-communist loyalty oath. He went on to teach at some 25 colleges and universities across the country, maintaining close ties with Berkeley over the years by visiting the campus to lecture and critique student work.

The College of Environmental Design Archives, one of the nation’s most extensive resources on architecture and possibly the best in the world on landscape design, contain a rich collection of Royston’s records, including drawings and photographs. The Royston materials, dating from 1941 to 1990, formed the basis for a 2006 monograph, “Modern Public Gardens: Robert Royston and the Suburban Park,” by Bay Area landscape architect J.C. Miller and University of Virginia Professor of Landscape Architecture Reuben Rainey. Royston indeed saw parks as “public gardens” for a wide variety of users. Among some of his more important designs were those for Pixie Place in the Marin County community of Ross, Mitchell Park in Palo Alto, and Cuesta Park in Mountain View.

Royston designed the landscaping for redevelopment projects in San Francisco’s Western Addition, Hunters Point, and Diamond Heights neighborhoods, for Portsmouth Square on the edge of San Francisco’s Chinatown, and for St. Mary’s Square on Nob Hill. He also produced landscape designs for BART’s Ashby station in Berkeley and a linear park under the BART tracks in Albany. In addition, Royston developed master landscape plans for the campuses of Lawrence Livermore, Sandia, and Los Alamos national laboratories.

Over the years, his landscape-design firms have earned more than 70 design awards, among them American Institute of Architects (AIA) awards for the T. Jack Foster home in Orinda (1953) and Hillsdale High School in San Mateo (1956). His firm also received American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) merit awards for designs for the Quarry Theater at UC Santa Cruz and Sunriver, a 5,500-acre planned community in Oregon.

Among Royston’s honors and awards were the AIA Medal in 1978 and, five years earlier, the ASLA Medal, the highest award given by that organization. In 2000, he was named a distinguished alumnus of Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design.

He is survived by his wife, Hannelore Gothe Royston of Mill Valley; daughters Michel Ann Royston of Hat Creek, Calif., and Tonia Lee Royston of Oakland; son Curtis Robert Royston of New York City; stepdaughters Danielle Machotka of San Anselmo and Julia Anne Machotka of San Francisco; sister Doreen Royston Jones of Oakland; and three grandchildren.

A memorial service is being planned. In lieu of flowers, Royston’s family suggests contributions to the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, P.O. Box 809, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956, or the San Domenico School Virtuoso Program, 1500 Butterfield Rd., San Anselmo, CA 94960.