July 31, 2015

Making news by making place in two New York parks and beyond

The Untermyer Gardens Conservancy’s Summer Solstice Sunset Soirée.
The Untermyer Gardens Conservancy’s Summer Solstice Sunset Soirée.

Earlier this summer, BKSK gathered with friends and fellow landscape enthusiasts to honor Stephen Byrns, the recipient of this year’s Place Maker Award from the Foundation for Landscape Studies. FLS is dedicated to fostering an active understanding of the importance of place in people’s lives, a notion that BKSK fully embraces.

The award recognizes Stephen’s leadership in restoring Untermyer Gardens, a landscape that was in a previous generation hailed as “America’s Most Spectacular Garden.” Stephen has been working closely with horticultural expert Marco Polo Stufano and head gardener Timothy Tilghman, among others, to restore the Gardens’ legendary splendor and reveal a rich history that was long lost. Through the Untermyer Gardens Conservancy, which he founded in 2010, Stephen has brought together a new cross section of placemaking advocates, many of who attended one of the Conservancy’s annual events, shown above.

The Park House at Washington Square Park.

The impact that Stephen has made at Untermyer Gardens exemplifies the commitment that BKSK makes in each design project, perhaps especially in regards to structures that honor the history and support the use of our city’s outdoor spaces. Like Untermyer Gardens, Washington Square Park’s allure is as much its history as it is the natural respite it offers. Its two major architectural features are the central fountain and the iconic Washington arch, which are aligned in a formal axial configuration. The park’s most recent architectural addition, a BKSK-designed park house, is intentionally reverential to these features. Its siting along a meandering path on the southern periphery of the park, the adherence of its curvilinear form to this path, and its pavilion-inspired architecture, dominated by a colonnaded trellis, each help harmonize this thoroughly modern building with the existing built and the natural elements of Washington Square.


“When the tourist steps into an old city
he feels he has moved back in time.
The natural landscape has a far longer
past than anything man-made.”
– Yi-Fu Tuan, philosopher and author


Since opening in the summer of 2014, the park house has been very well received. Recent recognition for the project includes a Citation for Design from the AIA New York State chapter as well as a Palladio Award for New Design. Awards aside, the true measure of the park house’s success—or any building in a public park, perhaps—is the degree to which it enhances an appreciation of that park’s inherent natural qualities. To quote philosopher Yi-Fu Tuan, “the natural landscape has a far longer past than anything man-made.” For the park house, the value of the building’s architecture is part and parcel of its careful integration into the historic park setting.

Three projects in Flushing Meadows that enhance the natural qualities of place.
Three projects in Flushing Meadows that enhance the natural qualities of place.

Our teams have had the opportunity to bring a variety of projects to life that are similarly sensitive to place, and to their natural settings. The Queens Botanical Garden Visitor & Administration Center offers visitors a habitable green roof, which serves as a garden overlook as well as a teaching laboratory. The Preschool Garden at the nearby New York Hall of Science offers similar lessons to its young visitors, intentionally enriching their connection with the landscape. The ongoing renovation and expansion of Olmsted Center, the former administrative headquarters of the 1964/65 World’s Fair and currently home of the NYC Parks Department’s Capital Projects Division, will conserve the site’s legacy and bolster existing connections between the outdoors and the stewards of our city’s parks. And a place for outdoor play will soon root itself, more resiliently than ever before, to a stunning public waterfront in lower Manhattan. On every project, our teams commit to enhancing the social, ecological, and historical qualities inherent to each site.