Wednesday, November 3, 2010

New York Botanical Garden Landscape Design Portfolio 2010 Features West 8:Lead Designers for NYC’s Governor Island Park

November 1st launched the new month – and autumn in New York.  After what had been an extended Indian Summer, Monday was as crisp as a just-picked fall apple. 

The evening’s New York Botanical Garden lecture was the third in the series.
One more to go.
And I was meeting my horticulture and garden friends there.  Afterwards we planned on dinner at Daniel Boulud’s sexy new db Bistro Moderne restaurant, located across the street.

But first, there was the city’s sexy new park to learn about!

Jamie Maslyn Larson from West 8, was the featured speaker.  
Billed as (new speaker) there was that “uh, oh – understudy moment.” 
But not to worry.  Larson was a happy and proud guest lecturer, keen to share the work of the Dutch-based firm she represents.

She even told a cute anecdote about interviewing with the firm's principal in 2008 and after she got the job he sent a drawing with the words “Kiss me scale girl!” scribbled on the top.  What does he mean? she shrieked to herself.  After some back and forth, he explained he was trying to say  “mermaid.”
It is a water project, after all….

She declared she is Dutch.  Her cats are named are aptly named.  
I am Dutch too.  My mother’s maiden name is Van Voorhees. 
It was a nice lay up to talk about how the Dutch had originally settled New Amsterdam – now New York.  Not to mention their savvy real estate acumen, scooping up the island for a mere $24 that has got to make Donald Trump scratch his furry do-lap of a hair do!
We just marked the Quadra centennial of the Dutch “discovering” New York and Breukelen, New Jersey and the Hudson River. 
I loved all the “going Dutch synergy!
And then I remembered that the first speaker in the series, Bridget Baines, from GROSS MAX talked about the firm’s Dutch connections, revealing the name of the firm was inspired by the ship containers in Rotterdam seaport, stamped Gross Maximum on the side of the containers, explaining it stood for “maximum content.”

After the lecture I leaned over to ask Susan Cohen, Coordinator of the NYBG Landscape Design Program and organizer of the series, if she had a Dutch theme in mind for this year, as I saw a Netherlands thread running throughout.  I wondered if it was purposeful.  She said that GROSS MAX is based in Edinburgh, but chuckled at the unconscious connection.

The speaker, Jamie Larson is the project manager for West 8 in America’s work on Governors Island.
She dutifully took the audience through a few of the firm’s noteworthy projects – from waterfront landscapes in Holland to Lincoln Park in Miami Beach.
Larson described the parasol-like structures planted with bougainvillea there at the Gehry-designed structure.
I couldn’t help think they look all too much like the parasol-bougainvillea structures at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles designed by landscaper architect Robert Irwin.  The bougainvillea arbors at the Getty hug the plaza in the rear of the Richard Meier-designed museum.  Loved them there (wrote about them too) and guess I’ll love them in Miami. But too close in design style for my aesthetic…

Larson took the audience through the winning landscape design for New York City’s Governors Island landscape design look.
I am able to ferry past Governors Island twice a week on my way to and from Manhattan and the Garden State. And no matter how many countless times I’ve made the trip, it’s a rare one that I don’t gaze with adoring love at the nearby Statue of Liberty and the charming jewel that is Governors Island.  Like the remnants of the military at Sandy Hook near us in the Garden State, Governors Island has a rich and well-known history.
Therefore, I was surprised – but delighted – to learn that much of Governors Island was made from landfill brought in from the construction of the Lexington Avenue subway line!
I read about public events in the Sunday New York Times that appear both aristocratic (polo and croquet) and plebeian (concerts and well – everything else.) 
The city also encourages artists to use the island to create for which I think they deserve a round of applause for. 

Larson merrily demonstrated the research and the designs that garnered West 8 in America the job.
She pointed out the shared history of New York and the Dutch of course. She also showed how the Dutch landscape architects are imbued with the sense of water and light and sustainability, because of the challenges and opportunities of their native landscape.  27% of their land is under sea level; the relationship of the horizon to the land. All those Ruebens and Rembrandts and the poetic lighting filtering the senses is no accident is the take-away.
Larson points out that while she is here managing the collaboration with other firms and city agencies in New York, the global strength of West 8 is always there as they communicate constantly via Skype and other digital devices so in effect, Governors Island has the talent of the entire team on the job.
West 8 not only channeled the Dutch masters but also the exuberance of another American of Dutch heritage, Teddy Roosevelt and his work on majestic National Parks, along with his cousin, FDR and the WPA work on parks and landscapes.  The firm also studied the brilliance of Olmstead and Calvert Vaux who designed Central Park and Prospect Park.  In both these masterful designs, they brought order and designed space to a wilderness. 
I know, I know, most people think the parks are the native areas that have been left alone and everything else has been built.  But no, the parks are built places too.
Larson explained how their designed parks offer a natural character within the structure of the town, and allow for change.
They are changing Governors Island from a military installation set up more or less as a college campus to a multi-level, multi access park filled with native plants, comfort and safety areas, lots of promenades to exercise on and to view the incredible waterfronts of NYC and Hoboken and Jersey City and Bayonne and Staten Island beyond.

Some of the ideas that impressed me as having great merit for the 87 acres whose tips she described as “prows of a ship” are the Free Bikes! Available to explore the island, especially using the to be developed promenades. By the say, she says the bikes float!
I thought there was going to be another Dutch link, by way of the bikes, but I guess she’d connected all those dots by this time in the talk…
She did show a project they did for Toronto’s waterfront.  One of the profound yet whimsical sculptures there is made from the stolen bikes never retrieved.  On a practical note, Toronto’s waterfront is a lesson in citizens and commerce and traffic all coexisting to great success.

On Governors Island the landscape design must embrace not only beautiful spaces for people to enjoy as individuals or families but also to serve as spaces for the hundreds of public programs on both the North and South parts of the island. The South part of the park is comprised of 40 acres of public space and 2.2 miles of what will be a double height promenade to allow for more activity and viewing space of the iconic Lady in the Harbor.
The North side will have historical landscapes and require areas in which to be “concealed” vs. exposed while waiting for the ferry, for example.  And that unmatched view of Manhattan’s glittering, glamorous skyline.

It is hoped the ferry ride itself will allow visitors to literally “leave their cares behind” generating anticipation for the beauty and adventure that lies on the shores of the park.
There is to be enhanced designs for the two areas of arrival and departure: from the Manhattan and Brooklyn sides.
They will provide cafes, amphitheater, play lawns, seated wall areas and a Bryant Park of Governors Island area complete with video features
To prevent skateboarders and homeless from using the benches the firm will recreate a successful design which is to put cast “pebbles” on the seat benches. 
It’s a barrier – and an armrest!

The landscape architects have designed hills in the middle of the island, and altered the topography to allow the two ends of the island to unite also through the planting and topsoil plan. There is the interaction of light and shadow and borrowed landscapes.  Visitors will be able to glimpse the emerging sights from across the river views as they emerge, creating a sense of mystery and excitement.

West 8 is also working on one of my most favorite public gardens: Longwood Gardens.  Larson explained the Garden is working on a Master Plan for the first time.  “We are thrilled to be working with Longwood Gardens on their 40-year Master Plan,” said Larson. “They are a great group of people.”
Indeed they are.    Don’t forget to mark your calendars for Longwood Gardens’ 2011 Rare Plant Auction weekend.  It’s going to be spectacular.

Larson spoke about the genuine love of the Brandywine River Valley where Longwood is located.  She explained the on site research undertaken by the firm (tough assignment but they had to do it!)
The visited the area in order to discover what clues existed about the history and cultural landscape.  They fell in love with the Wyeth’s cultural references—their tone of their art suggested a somber yet striking connection. “There is that power of landscape expression,” emphasized Larson.
Longwood Gardens, former home of the du Pont family, “was cited high on the ridge and positioned strongly there,” Larson explained.  “So we thought, well, if Pierre positioned the estate this way, this is Site DNA!”

The big idea will be to make the Garden more accessible – it needs to be shared with the public but keep it intimate.

After the presentation, my friends and I walked across the street to Daniel Boulud’s db Moderne restaurant.
It is a very pretty space with red walls and BIG red flower wall designs. 

The Db bistro offers French American cuisine in a cozy casual setting.  The service was very friendly and attentive too.
Soon, the NYBG team of Susan Cohen, Jeff Downing, VP of Education at NYBG and the speaker, Jamie Larson were seated at a table nearby.
The presentation of the food was very elegant from the entrée to the sculpted dessert.

It was a perfectly delightful, glamorous evening.  We talked about the lecture, gardens and interior decorating -- as Donna just bought a New York City apartment - complete with a garden!  This will be fun.

Next week’s final lecture in the NYBG Landscape Design Portfolio series features Kate Orff, founder of SCAPE studio and she will talk about Living Cities.


  1. Any pics of the bougainvillea parasols?

  2. I will get you some images of these beauties, Bougainvillea. I'll be back! Thank you for your inquiry.

  3. Bougainvillea:
    You can link to the drop dead gorgeous bougainvillea garden magic I call parasols herehttp://tthegettymuseuminlosangeles/

    Please let me know if you cannot access and I will send the glamorous images- take by a Rick O - to you another way. Enjoy

  4. New Jersey lawn care company
    One of the best ways to evaluate landscape architects is to interview them in person. You can then show them your space and ask them for ideas.

  5. Dear Ranjeet,
    You are so right. thank you for bringing this suggestion to our attention. When I interview with a potential client in person, I can not only show them my portfolio but gauge the chemistry of the relationship. That is very important to consider. Landscape design is a very intimate enterprise -- you are in people's homes, you help interpret and communicate the homeowners garden lifestyle - and dreams! And yes, I do a lot of investing in design ideas. You must be most successful at High Tech Landscapes given you have been in business since 1986! What changes and trends have you experienced over the years? That would be a fascinating perspective...