The landscape architect on Brooklyn Bridge Park, which underwent 20 years of planning and advocacy before it started construction in 2007, is Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, a 20-year-old, Brooklyn-based firm with more 350 projects from Texas to Korea to their name. Brooklyn Bridge Park, when completed in 2012, will offer more than landscaped lawns and boardwalks as it is meant to bring the visitor closer to the water. The design incorporates floating walkways, tidal marshes, reconstruction of Piers 1-6 – each one about the size of Bryant Park – as well as children’s playgrounds, sport fields, including three sand volleyball courts, a hockey rink and a season skating rink, fishing piers, and a 10-acre “safewater zone” for kayaking.
A major factor in the park’s design is a resurgent trend, particularly in the desert-flat New York City, to bring a more natural landscape back into the city, via elevations in topography. This year, Skanska, the construction manager on the project, imported 60,000 cu yrds of fill and soil (enough to fill two Boro Halls, as the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy points out) to Pier one, in order to create grading that includes a 25-ft hill.
The physical design for Brooklyn Bridge Park has, as its guiding principle, the idea of “range,” which the company immediately credits to Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted: the idea that a park has to serve the varied needs of different people, and all people.
It’s possible that Central Park will soon be overshadowed, at least in size, by the redevelopment of the world’s largest landfill into a 2,200-acre park – three times the size of central park. Fresh Kills park in Staten Island, to be built out over the next 30 years, will include wetlands, waterways, hills with vistas of New York City, a World Trade Center memorial and extensive recreational space for everything from mountain biking to horseback riding and canoeing. James Corner, the principal of the High Line designer, Field Operations is designing the park.
But good landscape architecture is not just city-driven. Developers tasked with providing public space and seeing the benefit of a project that is genuinely well designed and cost efficient are jumping on board as well. The Related Cos. were selected in May to redevelop the city’s 26-acre Hudson Yards site between 10th and 12th avenues and 30th and 33rd streets, with two-thirds of the new development to go above rail yards. Of those 26, 10 acres will be designated as open space, for which Related brought on Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates – and were surprised by what they got for their money.
“Some of the ideas they came up with are pretty fascinating,” says Related’s Samuelian. “They created a series of artificial hills so it feels more natural, a lot like Central Park – the views change as you walk up a path. We don’t anticipate a significant added cost because we’re already working on the platform.”