March 4, 2009

Landscape Architecture on my NYC visit


On my recent trip to New York, I stayed with a friend in Tribeca who lives across the street from Federal Plaza. Going to the rooftop of Libby’s apartment, I was surprised to look down and findthis amazingly designed park, Jacob Javits Convention Center Plaza, pictured above via my iPhone. It seems the curving benches not only make for engaging conversations and different settings for interaction (small nooks, big communal circles), but also serve to really beautify the area with amazing design that people can appreciate. 

In my eye, it was refreshing to look down from the 21st floor and see a work of art below me. And it is encouraging to see the landscape catch your eye as opposed to all the ads, billboards, and even other types of public art and design. Here’s a bigger image:


After some research, I found this space was designed by Martha Schwartz Partners, and their website had some interesting things to say about the plaza:


The seating for the site is provided on twisting strands of New York City park benches. The double strands of back-to-back benches loop back and forth and allow for a variety of seating – intimate circles for groups and outside curves for those who wish to lunch alone. With their complex forms and bright green color, these benches energize the flat plane of the plaza in the same way that the French used the parterres embroideries which were punctuated by topiary forms and whose edges were defined by trees and buildings. The bright green color of the benches was selected because its reflectivity helps to enliven a plaza, which for the most part, is in shade.

At Jacob Javits Plaza, the benches swirl around the “topiary” or 6 foot tall grassy hemispheres that exude mist on hot days. Familiar lunchtime elements are provided such as blue enameled drinking fountains, orange wire-mesh trash cans, and Central Park lighting standards. While all of these elements are drawn from the Olmstedean tradition which maintains its hold in New York City, each element is tweaked slightly from its historic predecessor. These elements offer a critique of the art of landscape in New York City, where the ghost of Frederick Law Olmsted is too great a force for even New York to exorcise. The design itself offers a wry commentary on the fact that while New York remains a cultural mecca for most art forms, exploration in landscape architecture receives little support.


Next time you’re in NYC and you happen to be near the federal building, swing by and give it a glance.


Rusty Ralston is a writer and photographer based in Nashville, TN. His photography can be viewed here: http://rustyralston.com

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