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11.14.2007
Blooms Amid the Concrete
Long Island University's downtown Brooklyn campus transformed
Courtesy LIU

Looking at the corner of Flatbush and Dekalb avenues in Brooklyn, it would be hard to tell that the area was once an agricultural center, but a new garden at Long Island University’s (LIU) downtown campus is serving as a reminder that many things can grow in Brooklyn.

The New York–based firm Alec Klee Galli Architects was commissioned last year to transform part of LIU’s urban campus into something more pastoral. “The space was so grim before, all concrete,” said Joanna Marx, an archivist at LIU. “Now, it has a fanciful quality, like Alice in Wonderland going down the rabbit hole and re-emerging into a new world.” This foray into landscape architecture was a first for principal Alex Galli, who came on board after his friend Stuart Fishelson, a professor of photography at the school, recommended him to provost Gale Steven Haynes.

“Everyone was longing for lawns,” remarked Galli, “so I wanted to get in as much green space as possible while emphasizing principles of geometry.” Straight and rounded paths are metaphoric representations of the disciplines taught at the school, and create beds of dogwoods and purple lilacs around three fountains. Galli worked closely with the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in locating over 1,000 native plants to create a space that acts as homage to old New York’s landscape.

Another area full of berry bushes, azaleas, and plum trees is known as the Garden of Eden and was inspired by early accounts Galli read about Brooklyn in the 1600s. “I thought it would be neat to have actual fruit-bearing plants on a campus in downtown Brooklyn,” says Galli. Along the streets, there are beds of wildflowers, dandelions, clovers, and mosses designed to resemble country meadows.

The garden is attracting more applicants to the university, according to public relations director Peg Byron, and has fostered a communal sentiment among LIU students, many of whom have not experienced the “traditional campus feel” enjoyed by students attending college in non-urban areas.

The project is still only half done. Another section between the Health Sciences Center and the Pharmacy School, on hold until spring, will feature medicinal plants. When complete, the Brooklyn campus will have 30,750 square feet of green space. “Gale’s dream is to make this a downtown oasis,” said Galli.

Rodney Deavault