Brooklyn Bridge Park, 2003–08

Michael van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts | New York, New York
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Landscape architects work on many different scales, from garden design and institutional landscapes to public parks. Each firm possesses a unique design philosophy: some combine the manmade and the natural, leaving the imprint of the designer on the land; others remediate industrial sites, removing the traces of man’s presence. Michael Van Valkenburgh and his firm deftly draw from their extensive knowledge of plants and flowers to leave the parklands and gardens they design looking as natural as if they had grown that way over time.

Teardrop Park, completed in 2004 in Manhattan’s Battery Park City, is a small jewel of a park which, through the firm’s choreography of rustic materials, thoughtfully and assertively represents nature in an urban setting. Drawing inspiration and material from the dramatic tectonic geology of the Hudson River Valley, Van Valkenburgh, in collaboration with artists Ann Hamilton and Michael Mercil, crafted over 3,000 tons of bluestone into craggy walls and outcroppings that serve as a backdrop for a delicate and complex planting inspired by upstate New York’s woodland ecology. In summer, water runs off the massive, layered stone wall at the heart of the park which, in winter, becomes a rugged wall of ice.

The master plan for Brooklyn Bridge Park, due to begin construction in 2008, is one of the firm’s largest and most ambitious projects to date. Over the eighty-acre site facing Manhattan from across the East River, a variety of uses and materials is woven together to combine the visceral memory of the site’s industrial and maritime history with an in-vitro verdant landscape to create a third park condition which syncopates the site’s history with cultivated lawns and new pieces of “wildscape.” Playgrounds, promenades, floating walkways, a marina, and recreation areas such as a ten-acre safe-water zone for kayaking will bring new life to Brooklyn’s waterfront and no doubt become a magnet for residents of all of New York’s boroughs.

At Wellesley College’s Alumnae Valley, Van Valkenburgh restored a parking lot into a fiveacre wetland firmly connected to the past, present, and future life of the college. Situated in a low-lying valley that was once part of Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.’s original vision for the campus, the site combines generous open areas and intimate spaces linked by a network of pedestrian paths.