Search results for "adventure playground"

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Central Park’s Adventure Playground, designed by Richard Dattner, reopens after yearlong renovation
The Richard Dattner–designed Adventure Playground, one of New York City's most beloved recreational spaces, recently reopened after a yearlong renovation by the Central Park Conservancy. A companion Dattner park, Ancient Playground, underwent extensive renovations in 2009. Despite Ancient's ostensible claim to primacy, Adventure Playground opened in May 1967. Though the playground, at Central Park's well-trafficked West 67th Street entrance, has been popular since its unveiling, adventure playgrounds are an old idea. First conceived by modernist landscape architect C.Th. Sørensen, adventure playgrounds are quirky spaces that engender curiosity and encourages a range of passive and active recreation. In sharp contrast to mass-manufactured playsets, the playgrounds feature tree forts, mounds, tunnels, raw dirt, and water. Adventure playgrounds encourage prosocial behavior like cooperation and planning: children are given tools and materials for contributing to, and reshaping, the space. Emphasis is on calculated risk in a loosely controlled environment. The Land, Europe's newest adventure playground, permits children to use sharp tools and start fires under the watchful eyes of trained play facilitators. In Europe, adventure playgrounds incorporate more natural and found elements, while their U.S. counterparts are more designed. For his playground, Dattner was inspired by Isamu Noguchi's landforms, as well as the work of M. Paul Friedberg, one of the first architects to put the idea of "linked play" into practice. Dattner looked to Noguchi's 1933 proposal for Play Mountain, a block-long sculptural installation that could be used for sunbathing, lounging, and sledding in the wintertime. (Over 40 years later, Noguchi did get to build a playground, of a different design and scale, for Piedmont Park in Atlanta.) As part of a plaza design at the Jacob Riis Houses in the East Village, Friedberg conceived of the playground as an immersive environment, creating mounds, pyramids, and treehouses that would intrigue and engage children. In the 1960s, Central Park was a small forum for the larger fight against encroaching decay that occupied much of the city. Activists and parents, dissatisfied with the quality of the park's play spaces, agitated for the rebuilding of nine of Central Park's 18 playgrounds. With help from a Lauder Foundation grant, Dattner designed five of these. Adventure playgrounds fell out of favor as a growing culture of litigiousness prioritized safety over the risk inherent in the adventure playground's design. Consequently, the renovations align with contemporary standards of safety and accessibility, while restoring features lost over time. The renovation of Adventure Playground is part of the Central Park Conservancy's comprehensive plan to renovate or rebuild all 21 of the park's playgrounds. The grade of the maze will be changed, and railings modified or added. Tunnels that were closed in the 1970s on the conical climber will be reopened, and a new wood climber that aligns closely with the original design will be installed. The water feature will be rebuild, based on its original design. New fences are lower, integrating the playgrounds with the surrounding park. Adventure playground enthusiasts can visit the park's four other adventure playgrounds, as well as the one uptown, in Highbridge Park.
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Playground of My Mind

The unknown story of New York City’s brutalist playgrounds, as told by artist Julia Jacquette
The idea of concrete being the dominant material for a children's play area seems bizarre today. What about the grazed elbows and knees and scratched palms? What if, God forbid, someone hits their head?! In 1970s New York, however, it worked: Artist Julia Jacquette recalls the concrete playscapes built during one of the city's most socially turbulent eras in her new book, Playground of My Mind. A combination of personal memoir, playground design guide, graphic novel, and story of New York's modernist architectural scene, laced with snippets of feminist ambition, Playground of My Mind is narrated retrospectively by Jacquette, who illustrated the book with her own distinctive graphic style. It starts by plunging you into the depths of Columbus Park Towers, a confusingly named, singular high-rise apartment block on West 94th Street. It's here, in the tower block's basement, where Jacquette's interested in playgrounds started. Described as a "city within a city," Jacquette uses the now-demolished play area, designed by landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg, as a springboard to illustrate the egalitarian principles found in modernist architecture and recount how such design influenced her. Another example is the Adventure Playground, found in Central Park and designed by architect Richard Dattner. Emphatically, Jacquette states: "Much of the Adventure Playground was made with poured concrete aggregate: CONCRETE WITH PEBBLES IN IT." Jacquette touches on more design details as she chronicles her experiences, which include playgrounds by Aldo van Eyck in Amsterdam, where her childhood is also rooted. She portrays these play areas as a reaction to the out-dated, one-dimensional curated fun prescribed by former NYC Parks Commissioner and Chairman, Robert Moses. In Moses's parks, objects encouraged limited means of interaction, and were, as critic Phineas Harper described, "modeled on Victorian notions of character-building gymnastic exertion." Swings were for swinging in, see-saws were essentially the same (just more wooden in every sense of the word), and you slid down slides. Jacquette's account of these play areas may be useful today as Harper described contemporary playgrounds as "totally prescriptive," citing researcher David Ball who found that the commonly deployed rubber "safety surfacing" has a negligible impact on children's' safety. Instead, Jacquette prefers playgrounds that encourage inventive ways of using and navigating them; places where fun is free to be had and above all interpretive: A hollowed, spiraling mound could be a mountain, volcano, castle or river, while at the same time referencing ancient architecture such as Roman amphitheaters and Egyptian pyramids. The author's illustrations complement this personal narrative, playing with scale in a similar fashion to the featured playgrounds. This is supplemented by text design and layout consultant, Cathleen Owens's meandering arrangement of text that weaves through the book, working its way around the axonometric, plan and graphic drawings that fill every page. Her father an architect and mother a stylish librarian, Jacquette ascribes the unified aesthetic vocabulary that played a big part in her childhood to her making today, drawing on memories such as: the clothing worn by her mother who confidently strode around gritty New York; Manhattan movie theaters; playgrounds in the Netherlands and parks designed by her father. Today, Columbus Park Tower sits atop a cleaners, cafe, boutique, cobblers, bar and two restaurants and is engulfed by residential high-rises lining Columbus avenue. It's cream colored (originally white) balconies which Jacquette mentions protrude out and contrast against its aged (but not damaged) brickwork. They amplify the linear orderliness of the facade—an aesthetic retained today. Look north and there are newer, modern, high-end apartments. The area is a far cry from the rough-and-tumble neighborhood that Jacquette grew up in, but the bold spirit of the place evidently lives on in her work. Playground of My Mind was published by Prestel in conjunction with the Wellin Museum of Art, where a mid-survey exhibition of Jacquette is currently on show, located on the campus of Hamilton College. Julia Jacquette: Unrequited and Acts of Play looks at the theme of identity through the nostalgic lens used in Playground of My Mind. The exhibition is on view through July 2, 2017, and an abridged version of the show will travel to the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey in Summit, New Jersey, where it will be on view from September 24, 2017, through January 14, 2018. Playground of My Mind Prestel, $49.95
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Playscapes

New exhibition at BSA Space explores playground design
Now on view at BSA Space is an exhibition and accompanying education program that focuses on playgrounds around the world. Dubbed Extraordinary Playscapes, it will run until September 5, 2016 and was curated by Design Museum Boston. On display are drawings, sketches, videos, scale models, and playable installations featuring 40 international playgrounds. Examples of contemporary architect-designed playgrounds in the U.S. abound: in April, the Rockwell Group–designed Imagination Playground (featured in Extraordinary Playscapes) opened in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Similarly, in December the renovated Adventure Playground in Central Park, designed by Richard Dattner, also opened. These two playgrounds provide the opportunity for “unstructured play,” a growing trend in playgrounds. Some of the designs featured in the exhibition include: Wild Walk in Tupper Lake, New York, designed by Chip Reay; PlayForm7 in Singapore, designed by Playworld Inc; Esplanade Playspace in Boston, designed by Halvorson Design Partnership; Takino Rainbow Nest in Takino, Japan, designed by Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam; Maggie Daley Park in Chicago, designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates; and Ambulance Playground at Beit CURE Hospital in Malawi, Africa, designed by Super Local. You can read more about Extraordinary Playscapes here.
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Rockwell Group–designed Imagination Playground opens in Brownsville, Brooklyn
Local students and community members joined NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, City Council Member Darlene Mealy, and David Rockwell, founding principle of Rockwell Group, for the opening of the Imagination Playground at Betsy Head Park in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Although the concept derives from adventure playgrounds and similar philosophies of unstructured play, the Brownsville Imagination Playground is technically the first permanent one of its kind in Brooklyn, and the second worldwide. (The first, also designed by the Rockwell Group, opened in 2010 at the Burling Slip in Manhattan). The $5.05 million project was influenced by tree houses, a foil to the monolithic blocks of high-rise public housing for which Brownsville is best known. A curved ramp wends its way through mature trees, while blue foam blocks, cut into funky shapes, along with water and sand, are tools for children to collaborate, build, or create by themselves. Traditional play elements—slides swing sets, chess tables, and a basketball court—round out the program. A year before the Burling Slip playground opened, Rockwell Group tested the designs in Brownsville with former NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. David Rockwell elaborated on the process: "When we were asked to do a second Imagination Playground, it gave us a chance to do a couple of things from a design perspective: One, these London Plane trees were incredible, they were a landmark that was important to preserve. We were able to create a path that weaves around the trees. Like the lower Manhattan playground, it's a playground you can see from 360 degrees. It's really a community space." https://www.flickr.com/photos/136339520@N03/25924630244/in/dateposted-public/ This reporter dodged zooming children and risked limb (well, ankle—platform sandals were a bad choice for this assignment!) to give you, dear readers, a panoramic view of the park from the bridge. (Look closely at 0:55 in the video above and you can see another local landmark, the Kenneth Frampton–designed Marcus Garvey Village.)
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This 400-foot-high hammock in the Moab Desert is a mid-air playground for climbers in Utah
A hammock suspended 400 feet above ground in Utah's Moab Desert has become an aerial playground for the professional base jumpers and highliners who flock to the canyons every year. https://vimeo.com/114147105 Satirically named the “Mothership Space Net Penthouse,” the approximately 2,000 square foot hammock was wrought by climber Andy Lewis with the help of 50 base jumpers using basic rope weaving techniques. Airspace being so vast, the climbers used to embark on their respective adventures while rarely rubbing elbows. Lewis’ pentagon-shaped net was hence conceived as a high flyer’s executive club, to borrow his sarcasm, and is now a mid-air hub for socializing, rest, and play. Base jumpers leap daily from the man-sized hole in the center of the hammock, while highliners attempt to tightrope-walk across the five legs of the net, some of which span 262 feet. Overhead, paragliders fly by while dropping wing-suit pilots from high above. In 2012, Lewis created a three-sided “Space Thong” (below) with a similar design but comparatively smaller, to bring together climbers who had come from all over the world to partake in the annual GGBY Highline Gathering (an unofficial gathering of slackliners from all over North America) and the Turkey Boogie, a Thanksgiving get-together for base jumpers.
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Adventure Central
Richard Dattner's Ancient Playground was one of two adventure playgrounds recently refurbished by the Central Park Conservancy
Courtesy Central Park Conservancy

Being a kid—or at least a playground designer—was a lot more fun in the 1970s, before the advent of telephone-book-thick ASTM standards, not to mention things like critical fall heights, head-entrapment guidelines, and the virtual outlawing of sand. “It’s almost like a police state, what you can and cannot do in a playground,” said Paul Friedberg, the landscape architect who created some of New York’s most innovative play spaces. “The freedom that we once had is just completely gone.”


A child plays in a water feature at the Ancient Playground.
 

But vestiges of that freewheeling age can be found in Central Park, where the spirit of adventure thrives thanks to restorations this summer of two pioneering playgrounds. In overhauling these spaces to meet modern safety and accessibility needs, the Central Park Conservancy has shown that safety and rambunctiousness can still coexist.

Designed by Richard Dattner in 1972, Ancient Playground was one of 21 Robert Moses–era playgrounds installed around the park’s perimeter. In the late 1960s, these spaces began to be remade in the style of postwar Europe’s adventure playgrounds, where children molded their environments out of bricks, timber, and tires. Dattner themed his space on the Egyptian collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, just across a transverse road at West 84th Street. “I thought it would be wonderful to teach kids something of ancient construction—the pyramids, obelisks, mastabas, and so forth—and relate in a kids’ scale to what was across the street,” Dattner said.

The central challenge of the renovation—the fourth of Dattner’s playgrounds to be reconstructed in the park—was to create a required clear space around the main playground elements. Among other changes, the conservancy’s designers created a regulation tire swing that mimics the original design, while increasing the size of Dattner’s tunnels for better visibility. Since sand is not considered an accessible surface material, designers used safety surfacing that matched the spirit of the original.

The West 100th Street playground, designed by Ross, Ryan, Jacquette Architects, has also been restored by the conservancy.

The second playground, at West 100th Street, took its adventure-style form in 1972 to designs by Ross, Ryan, Jacquette Architects. The curving bridge, climbing cone, and water-spray feature have been restored, with the addition of complementary new equipment and resilient carpeting. A tree house was built around several mature trees, which were sadly removed after suffering damage during the August 18 storm. (The tree house remains.)

These respectful restorations are the latest sign that, 40 years later, adventure play is back. “In the 1970s, adventure playgrounds pushed the limits of demanding, physical play,” said Christopher Nolan, the conservancy’s vice president for capital projects. “We’ve been able to preserve the innovations that those playgrounds represented.” The two spaces join other playgrounds of this style, like the Rockwell Group’s Imagination Playground in Lower Manhattan, due to open next year, with a kit of loose parts that kids can use under the supervision of “play associates.”

Dattner, who consulted pro bono on his playground’s redesign, regards this latest generation of play spaces with a certain bemusement. “Much of my knowledge of the value of play has really been from the observation of kids playing with junk in the gutter,” he said. “The two major materials are sand and water. The rest is extra.”

A version of this article appeared in AN 18_11.04.2009.

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Industry Parks

2017 Best of Design Awards for Unbuilt – Landscape
2017 Best of Design Award for Unbuilt – Infrastructure: Maker Park Architect: STUDIO V Architecture Location: Brooklyn, New York Maker Park proposes a vision to address Brooklyn’s disappearing industrial waterfront—reimagining what a public park for the 21st century should be. The design pays homage to Williamsburg’s legacy of manufacturing and culture of collaboration. Ten oil tanks are redesigned as community gardens, performance venues, and art installations. Each tank houses groves of trees, reflecting pools, vines, a theater, or an adventure playground. The restored inlet supports wildlife and boating, and a sloped lawn promotes performances while protecting from floods. “So many people would just see this industrial site as an eyesore—if they saw it at all. The designers found the beauty in it. Better still, their scheme helps others see that beauty. Preservation isn’t always about quaint neighborhoods and ornate cornices; it’s about former manufacturing sites and old oil tanks too. It’s all part of our shared heritage.” —Morris Adjmi, principal, Morris Adjmi Architects (juror) Landscape Architect: Ken Smith Workshop Cofounders of Maker Park: Stacey Anderson Zac Waldman Karen Zabarsky   Honorable Mention  Project: The Statue of Liberty Museum Architect: FXFOWLE Location: Liberty Island, New York The Statue of Liberty Museum is an extension of Liberty Park, which merges architecture with landscape. Monumental steps activate the large circular plaza by providing sitting, climbing, and viewing spaces for more than four million annual visitors. The 26,000-square-foot museum will include visitor services, a theater, and support spaces, and will feature Lady Liberty’s original torch. Honorable Mention Project: Pier 55 Architect: Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects Location: New York  Within the cancelled Pier 55 project is a story that never received its due: the landscape. Elevations 40 to 60 feet above the water treat the visitor to views which encompass the grandeur of the river and focus the eye on the delicate plants at one’s feet. Microclimates mitigate winter winds, buffer highway noise, and allow sunlight to reach marine life. Structural, Civil, & MEP Engineering, Events: Arup Designer: Heatherwick Studio Executive Architect: Standard Architects
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Bye Bye?

Future uncertain for rare public landscape by A.E. Bye in Brooklyn

Brooklyn's first park may be getting a new entrance that some say would open up the green space to the neighborhood. But opponents contend that the renovation would erase significant historic fabric, including a rare public commission by the late modern landscape architect Arthur Edwin (A.E.) Bye, Jr.

In light of divided public testimony, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) postponed a vote last week on a Parks Department plan to redesign a main entrance at Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park. The renovation would eliminate one of the few public works by the eminent 20th-century landscape architect, following a trend in New York City park design that opens park edges to the streets. The agency's proposal has been gaining momentum since earlier this year, but those who came to speak at the September 19 hearing cleaved on whether Bye's landscape should be demolished to make way for the new entrance. According to the Parks Department, the proposed changes would align with an unrealized design by McKim, Mead & White.

For those who don't know, Fort Greene Park is a beloved 30-acre expanse in the northern corner of Fort Greene, a gentrified neighborhood near downtown Brooklyn. On a recent late summer day, children jumped around on play fortresses in the Revolutionary War–inspired playground, installed in the 1990s, while joggers cut paths around the hill to the Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument, McKim, Mead & White's towering memorial to the thousands of people who died aboard British ships in New York during the Revolutionary War (the remains are interred in a crypt below the structure). But the firm wasn't the first notable architect to work on the park.

The area, once the site of a military fort from which the neighborhood takes its name, has been in use as a recreation space since 1848. But the state waited around 20 years after its founding to bring on Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux to convert the decommissioned fort into a proper city park. As in Central Park and nearby Prospect Park (which both opened more than two decades after Fort Greene Park), the duo cut closely-planted, wending walkways through a rural landscape, with paths offering views of great grassy lawns. The designers planned a main entrance at the northwest corner that opened onto an open space for public gatherings.

Since then, amid minor tweaks and changes, the park has undergone three partial redesigns by leading landscape architects. Though unmistakably of their eras, all of these redesigns pay homage to Olmsted and Vaux's original design and reveal the layered histories that characterize New York City parks of this vintage.

McKim, Mead & White led the first major revamp in the early 1900s, adding formal and classical elements to the park. The firm re-imagined the lead-up to the crypt with a palatial set of granite stairs cut into the hillside that allowed access to the crypt and the monument, cutting an axis through Olmsted and Vaux's gathering meadow.

More than a century later, Robert Moses's landscape architect, Gilmore D. Clarke, together with his partner Michael Rapuano, applied their experience designing parkways in Westchester County, New York, to the landscape. The pair regraded the terrain, replaced winding paths with straight promenades, and erected a stone wall around the park perimeter while programming more space for recreation. Their 1930s interventions strengthened the McKim, Mead & White axis.

Around 40 years after that, in the early 1970s, A.E. Bye built upon the work of his predecessors with a characteristically spare series of mounds that lead up to the steps of the monument at the top of the park's highest hill. Though it's not as obviously modern as a Dan Kiley or a Lawrence Halprin landscape, Bye's work near Fort Greene Park's northwest edge is undoubtedly modernist in its approach and execution—his design vocabulary of cobblestones, grass, and urban street trees drew on existing plant life and the city's natural systems. It's also the latest work of modern landscape architecture in New York City to be threatened with removal.

Bye's stone and earth mounds may look like leftovers from another project, but they typify the landscape architect’s work, which is often so subtle that it goes unnoticed at first. Obsessed with light and shadow, Bye would watch precipitation slide off the land, move earth around, observe the ground, and move more soil until he could get snowfall to settle in the lees of his hills in accordance with the patterns he wanted. His 1971 Brooklyn work, in the lead-up to McKim, Mead & White's stairs, references the graves of the war prisoners buried in the Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument. Its Brutalist forms are close cousins to children's playscapes of the era, most notably Richard Dattner's adventure playgrounds (Dattner and Bye were Cooper Union colleagues.)

Now, the Parks Department is planning to replace Bye's and part of his predecessors' work with a new, more open entrance as part of Parks Without Borders, the agency's initiative to rethink the edge conditions of New York City greenswards.

The plan started in May 2016 with a $10.5 million grant from Parks Without Borders, with around $7 million of those funds going to the contested entrance redesign. That initiative, spearheaded by Parks Department Commissioner Mitchell Silver, gives grants for improvements to parks selected by area residents. The money goes towards revamping entrances and park-adjacent spaces by taking down fencing that some see as imposing, or adding plantings to visually (and some say, symbolically) open up parks to the public they serve. The Fort Greene Park Conservancy, the nonprofit that stewards the park, successfully applied for a grant to re-do the northwest entrance. The current proposal would eliminate part of Clarke's wall and all of Bye's landscape.

The Parks Without Borders project area is almost four acres, and plans call for replacing the mounds with flat paving flanked by an allée to soften the space. In the schematic drawing, the entrance facing the monument is 45 feet wide, as opposed to the original concept drawings, which depicted a 75-foot-wide entrance. A circular paved space in the park would be updated with a water feature surrounded by plantings and benches. The redesign would add two ten-foot-wide ADA-compliant ramps on St. Edwards Street and Myrtle Avenue—illustrated by a Drake meme in the renderings.

Bye is best known for his minimal, sculptural landscapes, found mostly on the gated estates of the East Coast elite and suburban corporate campuses. He designed gardens for George Soros' homes in New York and Connecticut, as well as for Leonard and Evelyn Lauder. Bye didn’t do as much urban work, but in New York, his early work could be seen at the Water Street POPS, a privately-owned but publicly accessible plaza at 77 Water Street with stylized geometric stream wending towards the East River. 

Archival plans for Bye’s designs are co-credited to Berman, Roberts & Scofidio, Ricardo Scofidio's firm before he and Elizabeth Diller founded what is now DS+R.

“Ed wasn’t much of a drawer,” Scofidio said, referring to Bye by his nickname. He didn't design in plan. Instead, Bye used self-designed stamps of trees to create planting schemes, or he worked on-site, moving earth to realize his designs. This hands-on approach didn’t mesh with the city bureaucracy, Scofidio said, so his firm at the time did drawings for city approval that showed how Bye would remove concrete paving, add 16 trees to the plaza, and install a lawn surrounded by earthen mounds. Pictures from the 1970s show the mounds edged by concrete and wood benches that faced outward from their anchors. 

Scofidio noted that his other partners were more involved in Fort Greene Park than he was. Attempts to contact John Roberts, the firm's other surviving member, were unsuccessful. It's likely, though, that Bye's mounds in Fort Greene were developed under a Parks Department program championed by former mayor John Lindsay that hired noted landscape architects to inject new life into aging city parks. 

To learn more about Bye and his public work, The Architect's Newspaper (AN) reached out to Thaisa Way, an urban landscape historian at the University of Washington, Seattle and the author of a forthcoming book on Bye.

“Normally the work he does in natural materials like soil is done here in stone,” Way said.

She strongly disputed the Parks Department’s assertion that Bye’s mounds are incongruous with Fort Greene Park's overall appearance—his practice was tied too closely to architecture to ignore the work of designers who came before him.

Though Bye was offered teaching positions at prestigious landscape architecture schools, he preferred to teach architects. Way pointed out that for almost a decade, Bye taught at Cooper Union under then-Dean John Hejduk, whose design of Wall House 2 (also known as the A.E. Bye House) bears Bye's influence, since it was the only design by the paper architect that featured a site. From 1951 through the mid-1960s, pretty much every architect-in-training at Cooper—including Scofidio, a former student and later colleague—took a course with Bye, and for years afterward Bye co-taught site-planning courses for architects at the school. Moreover, before he started teaching, Bye worked briefly for Clarke and Rapuano, a relationship that suggests he was familiar with the firm's approach to public projects. 

To Way, Bye’s considered, subtle approach to topography and materials offered a spatial richness that knit together urban spaces in a way that few designers can or could. Bye's role at Cooper bridged a gap between architecture and landscape, a gap that still dogs the profession today. "In our design education, architects are educated on one side of the building and landscape architects are on the other," said Way. "We end up with cities where there might be a beautiful building, but it's set awkwardly in the site, or we have a beautiful landscape, like the High Line, with buildings that just want to grab a view. We don't do a very good job of integration: How do you make the urban landscape inclusive of the buildings, the parks, sidewalks, the streets in a way that adds delight and pleasure and efficiency? How do you see spatially, and not just scenographically?”

On any nice day at Fort Greene Park, there are people lounging on Bye's mounds, stretching after a run up the steps, or lying down, staring up at the trees. The mini-landscape is a raised stage for dance performances, a subtle modern lead-up to McKim, Mead & White's rigidly formal classical monument.

In spite of this, the Parks Department wants to remove all of Bye’s work, citing accessibility concerns. The mounds are lined with uneven cobblestones, and their grade is too steep for wheelchair users and others with mobility impairments to access. The agency’s preliminary renderings show a grand entry at the corner of Myrtle Avenue and St. Edwards Street that replaces the mounds with a flat plaza, pictured above. The project's website states that the design phase is 30 percent complete,  and construction is expected to begin between spring and fall of 2019. (The rebuild will be done in phases to keep the Myrtle Avenue entrance open throughout construction.) In July, at a meeting of Brooklyn Community Board 2 (CB2), residents came out in force against the proposed changes, but at a meeting two weeks ago, Brooklyn Paper reported that CB2 voted unanimously in favor of the Parks Department plan, with one abstention and one recusal.

In order to advance, the redo needs a green light from the community board and Landmarks (the park was designated as part of the Fort Greene Historic District in 1978). Curiously, the designation report doesn't mention any design updates past the early 20th century, so Clarke's substantial work goes unmentioned. Bye's work, completed seven years before designation, isn't mentioned at all.

Now that the landscape is over 40 years old, a decade past the lower cutoff for landmarks consideration, there is growing concern that modernist landscape design is disappearing from New York City parks and public spaces. What is the motivation, then, for dramatically altering a park that some say is working just fine?

The park is a thick dividing line between wealthy and poor Fort Greene. The entrance in question, on Myrtle Avenue, faces a superblock of public housing complexes; its mostly black and Latino residents frequent the park's north side. Although there new luxury apartments popping up around the Myrtle Avenue corridor, that side of the park closes at 9 p.m., while the southern border at DeKalb Avenue, which faces a stately row of brownstones, closes at 1 a.m.

In 2000, there were almost 35,000 black residents of Fort Greene, or 65 percent of the population. The 2010 census found that black people now make up only 47 percent of the population, while the white population spiked from 18 to 36 percent of the neighborhood. The 18 percent decrease in the black population is 4.5 times greater than the borough average, and nine times greater than the city as a whole. 

Despite real estate pressures and divergent opinions over the importance of Bye's design, stakeholders do agree that the park is in need of ADA-compliant upgrades, like handrails and curb cuts, new lighting, enhanced active recreation areas, including a new basketball court, as well as some T.L.C. for cracked walkways and lawns eroded by overuse.

To prepare for the revamp, the Parks Department held a design visioning session in February 2017 at the Ingersoll Houses, one of the public housing complexes across from the park. At that meeting, The Brooklyn Paper reports, the agency presented two plans (one had more trees) and some residents expressed concern that the plans were too similar, leading them to believe the design was "fait accompli." At that same meeting, the paper reported that Parks believed that keeping A.E. Bye's mounds for preservation's sake was ill-advised, as the work doesn't match Olmsted and Vaux's vision. The Parks Department said it didn't know why Bye added his mounds.

At last week's Landmarks meeting, though, the commissioners’ discussion focused on the historic issues that the LPC is supposed to weigh in on and deferred any discussion of more urbanistic concerns, such as whether the proposal included enough green space. In addition to representatives from three nonprofits and one landscape architect who specializes in modern landscape preservation, six community members came out to testify against the plan, and four, including one CB2 member and two individuals from the Fort Greene Park Conservancy came out in support of modifying Bye's work. Opinions on the mounds contrasted sharply.

Testimony from urbanists at the City Club of New York, preservation advocacy groups Historic Districts Council (HDC), and Society for the Architecture of the City implied that Parks had cherry-picked historical examples to support its design vision. Christabel Gough, secretary of the Society for the Architecture of the City, suggested the open, monumental Parks Department renders are “more reminiscent of Mussolini’s Rome than Olmsted," while Patrick Waldo of HDC critiqued the Parks Department plan for gesturing to a never-realized McKim, Mead & White scheme instead of actual history. Waldo argued that returning sites to some halcyon “original” was contrary to the intent of contemporary preservation practice. 

Landscape architect and preservation consultant Michael Gotkin framed Bye’s mounds as a homage to Olmsted that had to be considered in his era to be fully understood. “In the 1970s, this was their approach to preservation,” Gotkin said. Claiming that Olmsted would have wanted visitors to enter on an axis, as the Parks Department did, was a false assumption; on the contrary, Olmsted's entrances were oblique and visitors were encouraged to discover the access. It would be a mistake to return the park to some way it never was. (The Parks Department diagram that illustrates this argument is laid out on page 33 of its plan.)

Echoing Gotkin’s testimony, Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron said entering the park from the corner was “antithetical” to previous design approaches, but Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan didn’t quite agree. The commission "doesn't have to reject something because it wasn’t historically here,” she said.

“This is one of the most interesting and difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make,” said Commissioner Frederick Bland. 

In light of the conflicting testimony, especially around Bye's work, the commission decided to hold off on a vote. An LPC spokesperson said that once the commission receives a revised design from the Parks Department, it will schedule the item for another public hearing.

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The Big Muddy

Studio Gang envisions the future of Memphis’s Mississippi riverfront
Chicago-based Studio Gang Architects has released an extensive outline envisioning the future of Memphis, Tennessee's Mississippi riverfront. Studio Gang’s Memphis Riverfront Concept is a broad framework spanning six miles of the east bank of the river. Divided into five zones—Fourth Bluff, Mud Island, Tom Lee Park, M.L.K. Park, and Greenbelt Park—the Riverfront Concept is designed to re-link the city’s downtown to the underutilized waterfront. The plan calls for changes, large and small, ranging from new park buildings to major ecological remediation. Many of the changes proposed are meant to build on the things people in Memphis already enjoy about the river. Throughout the design process, Studio Gang worked with the public and the Mayor’s Riverfront Task Force to gauge interest and gain insights into the future role of the river in the city. Based on community suggestions, the plan calls for enhancing views across the river, year-round attractions, additional family spaces, and various bike and pedestrian paths. Picturesque sunsets, barbecue, and the blues—just a few of Memphis's favorite pastimes—were all considered in the plan. For example, Tom Lee Park's new adventure playground and waterfront pavilions aim to be catalysts for the generally quiet park. Currently, the park is primarily programmed for a month-long fair each year. Studio Gang hopes that the Riverfront Concept will make it a year-round destination. The namesake of the park, Tom Lee, is a local African-American hero. Along with the Memphis-based National Civil Rights Museum, the plan proposes a “Civil Rights History Loop.” The riverfront has always been of historical significance to the city. Not only was the riverfront the site of the settlement which eventually became the city, trade along the river was the driving economic force for most of the Memphis's history. The Riverfront Concept hopes to reignite interest in the Mississippi River while reflecting back on its past importance. Among other areas that will see major changes is Mud Island—a peninsula in the river—which has been re-imagined as an Eco Hub. Currently, the area is a cultural center in the city and includes portions of the University of Memphis, as well as the Mississippi River Museum and an outdoor amphitheater. The Riverfront Concept includes learning and research areas, as well as ideas about institutional collaboration. Considering the Mississippi River watershed constitutes nearly 40 percent of the United States surface freshwater, Studio Gang argues that Memphis is an ideal location for freshwater studies. The Memphis Riverfront Concept is meant to be a starting point for much larger changes for the city. Over the past 60 years, Memphis's population has moved further and further east, away from the river. The Riverfront Concept aims to re-center the focus of the city on its historic starting point along the bluffs of the river and provide an expansive shared amenity. To do so, Studio Gang developed three design principles: foster, restore, connect. Each of these principals was constructed through discourse with the public and city officials. The "foster" principle focuses on bringing the public together and encouraging civic pride and appreciation for the river. "Restore" focuses on bringing back native ecological conditions and allowing the public to better understand the river system. The "connect" principle sets goals for bridging the divide between the city and the river, physically and culturally. The entire 140-page Memphis Riverfront Concept is available online for the public to view.
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Maker Park

New park unveiled for controversial Williamsburg waterfront site
The development team behind Maker Park has released new renderings for an inventive green space that grows from industrial relics on the Brooklyn waterfront. With this design, and last week's announcement that the city will buy a critical strip of vacant land to complete a large riverside park, it seems the wheels are finally starting to turn on the waterfront's conversion to parkland, a process that began in response to a 2005 Williamsburg-Greenpoint rezoning that produced more luxury condos than public space. Maker Park—which its creators stress is in its ideas stage—adapts the infrastructure on an isolated slice of the East River into performance venues, gardens, and open space, an adventure playground writ large for longtime residents and visitors alike. The idea, its creators say, honors the neighborhood's creative types through a guiding ethos of exploration influenced by the city's maker scene, a technology-infused offshoot of DIY culture that stresses interdisciplinary collaboration. The park is one vision for a waterfront green space that is more than a decade in the making. Last week the city announced a deal that brings a park—Maker Park, a competing vision, or a blend of stakeholders' ideas—one step closer to completion. City officials say $160 million will be spent to acquire the last remaining parcel in a necklace of city-owned land that runs along Kent Avenue from North 14th to North 9th streets (a seven-acre state park occupies two blocks to the south on the same strip). The Maker Park vision for that 27-acre expanse—which is officially called Bushwick Inlet Park—has precedent in the citizen-led efforts that gave birth to the High Line and now spur parks like the QueensWay. A grassroots team led by three young New Yorkers—Zac Waldman, who works in advertising, Karen Zabarsky, the creative director at Kushner Companies, and Stacey Anderson, director of public programs at the Municipal Arts Society (MAS)—has partnered with a team of architects and designers to reimagine the city-owned site's otherworldly white fuel containers, the remnants of Bayside Fuel Oil Depot, as galleries, stages, reflecting pools, art galleries, and hanging gardens. In collaboration with New York–based firms STUDIO V Architecture and Ken Smith Workshop, the group officially unveiled its vision for the ruins in May. In the renderings, Maker Park would stretch from Bushwick Inlet (at North 14th Street and Kent Avenue) south to North 12th Street, right across the street from present-day Bushwick Inlet Park. "Most of the developments on the Williamsburg-Greenpoint waterfront have made it anonymous," said Jay Valgora, founding principal of STUDIO V. "Much of the waterfront is kind of generic, and that's a shame, because the neighborhood is not. We think the park has to be as special as the community it's going to support." Initial renderings deliver on that promise. In dialogue with the cylindrical oil storage tanks, a curved boardwalk sweeps visitors over the inlet and back to shore in a terraced open lawn. The inlet would be planted with native grasses to create a wetland—and natural flood barrier, and a former Bayside building that fronts North 12th Street could be converted to green-roofed galleries or an events space. Maker Park's do-it-yourself ethos isn't meant to override community input. "These renderings are meant to inspire, not to prescribe," said Zabarsky. "The reason they're so magical and have these different elements is to bring about new ideas." Anderson added that community stakeholders have worked with the city for more than ten years to realize the park and that "this is alternate design vision for one portion of the park" grounded architecturally in adaptive reuse. Though they have detailed renderings and site plans, the team says their ideas are a stake in the ground—it is up to the neighborhood, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, and other agencies to conceive and execute a final plan. To that end, Maker Park is hosting a design exhibition in Greenpoint next week to solicit ideas from neighbors on how to develop the designs moving forward (more information on the event can be found here). The group has drafted ten guiding principles—centered on transparency, public input, and the preservation of open space along the river—to follow in its work. The street-facing green space adheres to the Parks Department's Parks Without Borders, a new initiative that opens up the edge conditions of the city's many gated parks, while a soccer field on the southern edge mirrors an adjacent space in Bushwick Inlet Park. Despite their ambition, the plans should work "within a typical park budget," said Valgora, but it's ultimately up to the city to allocate funds. One component that could cost more is the reuse of the Bayside building, though he said Maker Park is doing a financial feasibility analysis right now to get a clearer idea of those costs. Outside the group, the conservation of the industrial heritage is anathema to the neighborhood's progress and public image. Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park (FBIP), an advocacy group instrumental in the creation of its namesake green space, have been vocal in their distaste for the "glorification of oil tanks." It sees Maker Park as a spiteful gesture to a community that has borne a disproportionate share of environmental hazards over the course of the city's industrial history. Not surprisingly, FBIP supports the city's open space master plan, which does not include plans to preserve the fuel tanks. The Maker Park team is keenly aware of the site's environmental challenges. One guiding principal is the safe remediation of the site's environmental hazards, and the group has recruited landscape experts to develop a mitigation strategy. The contamination on site is not unusual for waterfront development in New York, said Michael Bogin, environmental lawyer and principal at Sive, Paget & Riesel P.C. There are other ways to contain toxins—recovery wells, barrier walls, and clean-fill—besides destroying the infrastructure to ensure that mobile contaminants do not escape from the soil or water. "If you take the tanks down, then put in two feet of clean-fill material, then all you've really done is destroyed the architectural value of those tanks. You haven't created a different remedy." Landscape is crucial to the remediation strategy. Ken Smith, founding principal of Ken Smith Workshop, said that the sculpted topography of the site would be built on two to three feet of clean-fill material. Capping the site, which itself is a hundred-year-old landfill, also raises it out of "high frequency" floodzones, he said. Wetlands, planted with native grasses, would be accessible via the boardwalk and cross-hatched waterside beds, and the great lawn, a counterpoint to the contextual native flora, is encircled by trees and could host large events. Both men signed onto the pro bono project to secure the city's ever-threatened manufacturing legacy. "The East River is the heart of the city, the focal point of 21st-century New York City," Bogin said. He has worked for clients who, in his view, have degraded the historic quality of the waterfront or blocked access to the shore. "We're losing the history of the river. I don't want Brooklyn's waterfront to become Times Square. Let's save something."
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Not OKC
John Johansen

If you are a loyal reader of AN’s Southwest edition, you will know that we have reported multiple times on the sad saga of the destruction of John Johansen’s Mummers Theater (also known as the Stage Center theater). We wrote several stories on the efforts to save the building and the last-resort plans to repurpose its cut-up remains into a children’s adventure playground. The 1970 theater building was built in an era when a municipality like Oklahoma City promoted itself to the outside world by commissioning daring architecture (and theaters) from designers like Johansen. Though the theater was Oklahoma City’s most distinguished work of architecture, the city seemed like it was in a rush to destroy it and replace it with corporate towers designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects. We were sent a series of images by architect Alissa Bucher showing a pile of twisted concrete, metal, and steel before the building was carted away to a scrap yard to make way for the towers. But then the office complex was suddenly canceled late last year: a victim of falling oil and gas prices. Now the site—which once had one of this country’s most adventurous buildings—is a vacant, fenced-in lot featuring a large water-catching hole. Have a look and weep.



John Johansen's Mummers Theater in rubble before it was carted off to the landfill.
Alissa Bucher

A year and a half after demolition, the site remains empty, collecting water in a hole.
The Oklahoman
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“Non-artist” collective Assemble wins the 2015 Turner Prize
At a ceremony in Glasgow on Monday, the 18-member, London-based architecture and design collective Assemble was awarded the Turner Prize, for Granby Four Streets, its collaborative, community-engaged renovations of Victorian-era homes in Liverpool. The annual award is Britain's most prestigious honor for contemporary artists under 50. This is the only the second time the Turner Prize has been awarded to more than one artist (Gilbert & George won in 1986). The winner receives a cash prize of £25,000 ($38,000). In a statement, the prize jury praised Assemble's social justice focus: “They draw on long traditions of artistic and collective initiatives that experiment in art, design and architecture. In doing so they offer alternative models to how societies can work.” Assemble doesn't think of itself as a group of artists, per se. Instead, the collective "[works] across the fields of art, architecture and design. Assemble’s working practice seeks to address the typical disconnection between the public and the process by which places are made. Assemble champion a working practice that is interdependent and collaborative, seeking to actively involve the public as both participant and collaborator in the on-going realization of the work." Granby Four Streets builds on the neighborhood's grassroots, but well established preservation work, recruiting and training young people to renovate the homes for resale. Preservation and investment saves the neglected or run-down rowhouses from demolition. At homegoods store Tramway, Assemble sells handmade household items made by Liverpool residents at the Granby Workshop, a parallel project. In addition to their Liverpool projects, the group built the Baltic Street Adventure Playground, in Glasgow, and Yardhouse, a two-story, three-bay workspace with cheap artist's studios for rent. Some in the media questioned whether an art prize could rightfully go to a group of builders who reject the term artist. Others praised the jury's choice as a recognition of the broad definition of art, and the importance of socially responsive projects. Assemble explains their process and their ambivalence around the term "artist" in this video. The three other nominees were Nicole Wermer’s “Infrastruktur,” Janice Kerbel's "DOUG," and Bonnie Camplin's "The Military Industrial Complex." Last year, Duncan Campbell won for "It for Others," a four episode video series that explores the value of art through Marxism, anthropomorphic ketchup dispensers, and the IRA. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PDFVAE0q7g