April 29, 2008
by Lisa Delgado

Event: Earth Day symposium: Park Design for the 21st Century
Location: Center for Architecture, 04.22.08
Speakers: Deborah Marton — Executive Director, Design Trust for Public Space; Hillary Brown, FAIA — Principal, New Civic Works; Charles McKinney, Affil. ASLA — Chief of Design, NYC Department of Parks & Recreation; Laurie Kerr — Senior Policy Advisor, Mayor’s Office of Long-term Planning and Sustainability; Denise Hoffman-Brandt, ASLA — Professor of Landscape Architecture, City College of New York School of Architecture, Urban Design and Landscape Architecture; Alex Felson — Director of Ecological Design, EDAW; Joan Krevlin, AIA — Partner, BKSK Architects; Signe Nielsen, FASLA — Principal, Mathews Nielsen; Susannah Drake, ASLA, Assoc. AIA — Principal, dLandstudio; Tim White — Project Manager, eDesign Dynamics; Marcha Johnson, ASLA — Landscape Architect, NYC Department of Parks & Recreation; Margie Ruddick, ASLA — Principal, WRT Design
Moderators: Rob Crauderueff — Sustainable Alternatives Coordinator, Sustainable South Bronx; Steven Caputo — Fellow, Park Design for the 21st Century Design Trust
Sponsor: Design Trust for Public Space

Queens Botanical Garden

The Queens Botanical Garden, designed by BKSK Architects.

©Jeff Goldberg/Esto

As NYC gets ever denser, its parks and green spaces will play a crucial role in keeping the city livable, pleasant, and ecologically sound. Aptly held on Earth Day — the anniversary of the first announcement of PlaNYC — this symposium peeked at some ideas that will inform a new publication devoted to promoting sustainable landscape design in NYC, the High Performance Landscape Guidelines by the Design Trust for Public Space and NYC’s Parks Department with a peer review by NYC Department of Design and Construction (DDC), due out next year.

Hillary Brown, FAIA, coauthor of the DDC and Design Trust’s High Performance Infrastructure Guidelines (2005), called for a reframing of the discourse surrounding sustainability. “A vision for the next generation of buildings, infrastructure, and, of course, parks must be one of not only just replenishing the health of natural systems but, I believe, placing them deliberately in our midst,” with roof gardens, vegetative roadways, and plentiful parks. “In this way, sustainability isn’t about austerity but, to the contrary, offers a richer living vocabulary — in the end it is the re-energizing of man’s symbiotic relationship to nature,” she said.

Like the guidelines themselves, the panels included a mix of ideas and case studies. One highlight was a talk on urban carbon sinks by Denise Hoffman-Brandt, ASLA, professor of landscape architecture at the City College of New York School of Architecture, Urban Design and Landscape Architecture, who revealed the complexity of long-term ecological strategies. PlaNYC’s initiative to plant a million trees holds the potential to reduce carbon levels, because vegetation and soil help to absorb and store it — on the other hand, if the trees die from lack of proper maintenance, the dead wood stands to release even more carbon into the atmosphere, she explained. Alex Felson, director of ecological design at EDAW, discussed the necessity of collaborations between ecologists and designers, which require bridging very different vocabularies and methodologies.

Joan Krevlin, AIA, presented the case of the Queens Botanical Garden designed by BKSK Architects. It includes solar panels, a geothermal heating and cooling system, and other green features, and is on target to receive a LEED Platinum rating, she said. The project is designed not only to function sustainably, but also to educate the community about ecological systems. A Visitor & Administration Center’s green roof becomes an extension of the garden, and water is used as a unifying element between the architecture and the surrounding landscape. Likewise, NYC Department of Parks & Recreation landscape architect Marcha Johnson, ASLA, discussed how a playground without pavement in Pugsley Creek Park provides inspiration for a city where built and natural landscapes can coexist in a harmonious balance.

Lisa Delgado is a freelance journalist who has written for The Architect’s Newspaper, Blueprint, and Wired, among others.