Similar to the community gardens founded in the 70's and 80's that “took back” abandoned and blighted land, this garden reclaims a landscape that would otherwise be developed into housing that maximizes profit at the expense of the context of the neighborhood. The location of this garden is, by default, a statement against the excess development of the area during the housing boom. Taking advantage of the current dip in development, stalled projects and ruins created by the lack of financing, the site is reclaimed from a new type of abandonment. It creates a greater diversity of land use in the neighborhood.
Ecological goals for an urban garden:
Identify and remediate contaminants.
Reuse suitable exiting site elements to make landscape features such as retaining walls and rubble to shape constructed landscapes or planting beds.
Keep water on site through means of planting, permeable surfaces and proper drainage. This minimizes the use of the already over-taxed municipal sewer system. Use collected site water for irrigation by collecting and storing it in an underground cistern located on the site.
Water features add tremendous value to a garden. They engage all the senses. In an urban environment, the sound of water becomes an important feature to cover the noise of the city and immediately transport the visitor. Standing water can provide a home for mosquitoes and other pest insects, so moving water is preferred. Waterfalls are an effective way to maximize the impact of water in an urban environment. With a recirculating water, you get motion and sound without standing water.
For cooling purposes, misting systems are highly effective. In the humidity of New York summer, the mist appears cloud-like and provides a mysterious effect. In the courtyard a misting system can be incorporated into the face of the building and provide relief for the few unshaded areas during the hottest summer days.
Without design intent and maintenance, an urban garden is a result of uncontrolled, pre-existing, forces. Airborne seeds or those carried by animals, invasive species, pollutants, litter and storm water reshape the life of the urban site. The process occurs in vacant lots throughout the city.
The size of an urban lot cannot achieve the scale and diversity needed for a self-sustaining ecosystem. The garden must be maintained by its occupants to remain in its desired state. “Nature” is reconstructed in an idealized human form. This is the space for design to enter the landscape of the city.
Taking down some walls, we start finding stamped bricks. Names stamped at the time of their manufacture, denoting their makers- the families, yards and towns of the Hudson River Valley Brick companies. The names are all different, which implies that the portion we are currently demolishing, a previous renovation, was constructed from several different lots of brick. They were being used as interior walls and wouldn’t be visible under layers of plaster. “Back brick,” we call it. The contractor (in 1950?) bought a mixed lot for a better rate. Being from different makers, there would be little consistency in the form and color of the bricks. Some may have already been damaged to a degree. A lesser grade. Didn’t matter. You wouldn’t see them anyway. They were just going to get covered with plaster. The stamps of their makers, placed face down in the hastily applied mortar...
Kristy and I didn’t know anything about graffiti. We invited an artist to come in and talk to us about working on a project. We had a wall adjacent to our property with a large tag on it. Instead of buffing it, we wanted someone to paint over it. Make art on it. Our invited artist tagged subway cars in the early nineties under the mentorship of street art legends. He spoke in a technical language that we didn’t understand- but it was fascinating. He explained to us that the previous work on site was created by toys (amateurs whose work can be tagged over). We were hoping he’d do some throw-ups (quick pieces) on our project, but after buying 200 dollars worth of spray-paint, he had to cancel due to a scheduling conflict.
With the help of Wikipedia, eHow and urbandictionary.com we got the basics down and decided to do some graffiti of our own...
We’re about to tear down this old building. It’s a windowless cold storage facility, a giant drive-in refrigerator. 25 ft wide and nearly as tall. The interior is lit by metal-halide lights that buzz, loudly. The walls are constructed of 6” insulated panels, clad with sheet metal. The reverberations in the room are scary and endless. When you speak to someone 10 feet away from you, the flutter echo drowns out their response, warping words and decreasing conversation to a wavy mess of sound. Sounds stay way longer than they are welcome- a random “whoop” can hang out for minutes before it loses it’s noise and cedes the space to the hum of the lights.
Maxx Katz, walks in, holding a flute...