Martin Barry: Urban Dynamo Lecture

Martin Barry: Making public spaces more livable.

“He adored New York City. He romanticized it all out of proportion. Yes. To him, no matter what the season was, this was still a town that existed in black and white and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwin” (“Manhattan script,” 2005). These are the opening lines of the Woody Allen film Manhattan, but they also describe Martin Barry’s love affair with New York City. The city of eight million people, 13,270 taxis, and 5,500 skyscrapers all densely crammed into 301 square miles is the source of inspiration for the landscape architect (“NYC statistics,” 2012). “The jeux position of the toughness and romanticism (in cities like New York) still serves as my main inspiration,” Barry said.

Barry was the keynote speaker at SUNY ESF’s George F. Earl Memorial Lecture on Saturday night. He spoke for 55 minutes and presented 113 PowerPoint slides to an estimated seventy people in the Marshall Auditorium. Barry graduated from SUNY ESF in 2006 with a Master’s degree in Landscape Architecture and now works for the W. Architecture firm.

Barry organized the lecture into three parts. The first part was dedicated to his professional work for W. Architecture. The second was about his Fulbright Fellowship in Prague and the development of the NGO reSite. The third and final section was about his travel experiences and how they have influenced his work and outlook on landscape design.

He began the lecture with a quick introduction about landscape architecture. Barry described landscape architects as “landscape choreographers”. He said his goal with every project was to shape landscapes in a way that makes people more sensitive to their environment. He said, “Sculpting landscapes influences where people interact and how they interact.”

For W. Architecture Barry has worked in places from Edmonton, Canada to Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Most the projects revitalized parks or waterfront properties into more livable and eco-friendly landscapes. W. Architecture earns a large portion of its work through international competitions. Cities and companies create these competitions and accept design strategies from various architecture firms. The designs are then reviewed and whichever one is the most liked by the city or company is given the bid.

One of the more interesting projects Barry discussed was the public works project in Dubai. W. Architecture won an international competition beating over sixty other entries to earn the right to design the project. The company was commissioned to build a bridge over the Dubai Creek connecting two parts of the city. Barry and the other landscape architects designed an island in the middle of the creek. This island would be created out of the existing sand from the banks of the creek and would be the first ecological park in Dubai. On the banks of the creek they planted various types of wetland grass to make the creek more aesthetically pleasing and mitigate urban forces from destroying the natural environment. Barry said, “The design of the project was to make a natural environment in the middle of the city and break up the urban buildup.”

The second part of the lecture was about Barry’s experience starting an NGO. In 2012, He founded reSITE, an NGO that promotes more livable and eco-friendly urban cities.

Barry was inspired to start the NGO during his Fulbright Fellowship in Prague. He lived in Prague for four months and taught landscape architecture at the local technical institute. In Prague there were very few urban landscapes. Urban landscapes are spaces in cities that promote the natural environment with plant life and break the monotony of urban construction. The most common urban landscapes are parks or public gardens.

Barry discussed the process of setting up the organization. He talked about how in the first months of creating the organization they did not have an office, so his team would meet in various cafes around Prague. Barry also explained how he has gained over thirty corporate sponsors to help fund reSITE.

One of the more interesting topics he discussed was the organization’s challenge to gain funding from various government organizations. Barry said almost all people want cities to invest in public space and infrastructure, but the fact that reSITE wants cities to alter the way they plan urban development has some negative effects. The fact that the organization wants to promote change in the way local governments act has gained some opposition from city planning officials and famous urban designers in Prague.

To cope with this opposition, Barry organized the reSITE festival to raise public awareness and support. The inaugural festival ran from the 21th to the 27th of May 2012 in Prague. reSITE sponsored various activities such as film screenings, build your own bench classes, bike rides around the city and guest lectures. Some of the notable speakers included Janette Sadik-Khan (the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation) and Jan Gehl (a world renowned architect and urban designer) (“Participants,” 2012).

Barry’s goal of the festival was to appeal to the average person. He said he wanted to expose the average person to progressive urban design. The events such as bike tours and build your own bench workshops attempted to show regular people who are not necessarily interested in urban landscape design, that redeveloping public spaces not only makes a city more atheistically pleasing it can it more livable and eco-friendly.

The third portion of the lecture discussed Barry’s relationship with travel. Barry showed a world map with dots indicating the places he traveled to by the end of his graduate work. The map was heavily covered with dots on the east coast of the United States. There was also one dot in California and one in Dublin, Ireland. Then Barry showed a second map with dots indicating the places he has visited working with W. Architecture. The entire map was covered. There were dots in places ranging from the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico to Hong Kong. Barry has visited over five continents in the last seven years. He said in every city he visits he walks the streets by himself.

He tries to understand the daily routine of the average citizen. He samples the street food and tries to engulf himself in the culture during his visit. Designing urban landscapes is more than just attempting to make a public space aesthetically pleasing or eco-friendly. Barry said he tries to design spaces that accent the history and architecture of the specific city. He wants landscapes to be liked by the residents. Barry said wants his designs to fit in in with the existing environment and add to residents overall experience of living in a modern city.

Barry ended the lecture with a quick talk about the future. He briefly discussed the idea of bottom up top down policy making. He talked about how one of his main goals with reSITE is to change policymaking. He wants people to realize that investing in urban landscapes does not just benefit the residents of a city. It benefits the businesses, the local government and the policy makers. Urban landscape design is more about being “green” or renovating parks, it is a way to revitalize a city.

The fasting talking, marathon running, landscape architect provided incite to urban designing and planning that I never knew about. His use of images captured public spaces in various urban metropolises in a way that could make the most ignorant landscape design fan (as myself) become greatly interested in the topic. After listening to Barry talk about the balance between nature and cities, I found myself wanting to learn more about landscape architecture. By the end of the lecture I became passionate about a topic I was completely ignorant about fifty-five minutes earlier.

I would give Martin Barry an A. The lecture was extremely interesting and kept my attention for just under an hour. He explained the field in a way that any layman could understand. You could tell he was passionate about the topic and just from listening to him you became passionate as well.


Barry, M. (2013, February). Urban dynamo. George F. Earl Memorial Lecture. From SUNY ESF, Syracuse, NY

Manhattan script. (2005). Retrieved February 16, 2013 from

NYC statistics. (2012). Retrieved February 16, 2013 from

Participants. (2012). Retrieved February 15, 2013 from