Public Art in Outdoor Spaces, Part II

I’ve encountered a variety of interesting art pieces in landscape settings ranging from urban to natural. Some are in parks and nature preserves, others are along city streets and alleys, and a few are in small town centers. Some integrate visually and thematically with their surroundings, and others stand alone. Below are a few favorites.

1 - Art on the High Line 1
Cut-outs in a small panel (viewed through a scope) on New York City’s High Line transform this view of buildings into abstract shapes.

2 - Art on the High Line 2
More art on the High Line: A modernistic wire structure with houses and seed/fruit trays for birds and insects seems to represent the intersection of city and nature, as does much of the High Line. A similar structure faces the opposite direction on the other side of the walkway.

3 - Garden in the Woods
These transparent facial profiles at Garden in the Woods in Framingham, Massachusetts, appear to symbolize the connection between people and nature.

4 - MSU art museum
Juxtaposition of “natural” and built forms – Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University in East Lansing

5 - Felice Varini - New Haven
Painted optical illusion in New Haven, Connecticut, by Felice Varini – this shape is only visible when one stands at a specific point. As one progresses further down the alley, it no longer appears as four circles within a square.

6 - Cambridge granite sculpture
Sculpture composed of various types of stone in Cambridge, Massachusetts

7 - Sculpture in Eastport ME
Granite sculpture in Eastport, Maine – a town whose principal industry is commercial fishing

8 - CityGarden bas-relief
Bas-relief piece in CityGarden – a sculpture park in St. Louis, Missouri

9 - Sculpture in Montreal
A deep discussion taking place in Montreal, Quebec

10 - Belfast ME bench
Colorful bench in Belfast, Maine

11 - SLCH healing garden
Whimsical piece in the Olson Family Garden at St. Louis Children’s Hospital

See also Public Art in Outdoor Spaces (Part 1)

Photos by Alice Webb

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Mid-Century Playgrounds – Imaginative Fun

Starting in the 1950s and extending into the ‘70s, playground design took a creative turn, away from the galvanized steel structures of yore. Instead of specifying manufactured pieces, designers began to customize entire play areas. Concrete, brick, and other hard materials were used extensively. Several playgrounds built in this style can be found in Central Park, New York City, (photos below). Some of these have been upgraded, maintaining the integrity of the original designs, while complying with today’s safety standards. I like the sculptural qualities and connectivity of the climbers and other features, in addition to the water play areas incorporated in several of the playgrounds. However, I found the spaces to be rather cold and drab in appearance. In my opinion, interspersing some low- and mid-sized plant materials throughout these playgrounds, (not just along the perimeters), would turn them into more inviting spaces and add play value to the sites.

1 - Ancient Playground A
Ancient Playground in Central Park, NYC, next to the Metropolitan Museum of Art

2 - Ancient Playground B
Ancient Playground in Central Park, NYC, next to the Metropolitan Museum of Art

3 - Adventure Playground A
Adventure Playground in Central Park, NYC

4 - Adventure Playground B
Water play in the Adventure Playground

5 - Adventure Playground C
Water play in the Adventure Playground

6 - Heckscher Playground A
Hecksher Playground in Central Park, NYC

7 - Heckscher Playground B
Hecksher Playground in Central Park (water play section)

Photos by Alice Webb

Columbus Circle – An Urban Oasis

Columbus Circle 1

The central islands of most traffic circles in the U.S. are just planted areas, at best, with no consideration for public use. To be fair, the majority are either too small or in areas with too little pedestrian activity to work well as park spaces. Columbus Circle in New York City, however, has neither of these limitations. It also has the benefit of traffic signals at its three crosswalks/entrances. This century-old site underwent a major transformation in 2005, when a barren traffic island with a tall monument to Christopher Columbus was reshaped and expanded into a much larger circular park. It’s truly an oasis in the city, where traffic noise is muffled by the sound of the fountains that border the pedestrian space, and groups of trees along the perimeter provide some visual separation from the surroundings.

Columbus Circle 2
View toward Columbus Circle’s central monument

Columbus Circle 3
Long, wide benches arc around the perimeter of the central plaza.

Columbus Circle 4
Terraced plant beds form the circle’s boundary.

Columbus Circle 5
One of three entrances into the circle

Photos by Alice Webb

Since I was only able to photograph the space from the ground and in daylight hours during a brief visit to the city, here are links to two sites with impressive photos from above, showing the entire circle during the day and also at night:

Columbus Circle in daylight
Columbus Circle at night

On the Ground – Creative Pavements in Montreal

While visiting Montreal recently, I came across a number of public spaces with attractively-patterned pavement, many combining various types of stone. My favorite was Place d’Armes, which was renovated in recent years, but other fine examples are shown below as well.

Montreal plazas 1
Place d’Armes, in Old Montreal, includes smooth granite pavers in various shades of gray, interspersed with stripes of pinkish cobles. The custom-designed tree gates coordinate well with the coble patterns.

Montreal plazas 2
The cobbles in the streets surrounding Place d’Armes are repeated in random stripes within the perimeter of the plaza.

Montreal plazas 3
The large, central, open area of the Place d’Armes includes gray granite pavers punctuated by these pink ones sporting fleurs-de-lis.

Montreal plazas 4
The renovated Square Dorchester includes pavers with a range of textures. The smoothest ones shine both during day and evening, giving the walkways a glittery appearance.

Montreal plazas 5
Intermittent crosses in the pavement at Square Dorchester, formed with rough-textured pavers, signify the historic use of this space as a burying ground.

Montreal plazas 6
Stripes of colored concrete pavers in various hues and sizes at Place Ville Marie

Montreal plazas 7
Metal drainage grates serve nicely as linear accents in this park next to Montreal’s convention center.

Montreal plazas 8
An attractive pattern of concrete pavers and tree grates

Montreal plazas 9
Strips of white pavers repeat the linear pattern of water jets in the Place des Festivals.

Photos by Alice Webb

Parc Hydro-Quebec

In Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacles, an interesting little park is tucked between two buildings, designed by renowned landscape architect, Claude Cormier. It features a raised metal grill of varying widths that functions as a pedestrian walkway/court, punctuated with Honeylocust trees and star-shaped benches. Native perennials and ground covers are planted in the low-lying areas along the sides of the park. The walkway, essentially one large tree grate, protects the underlying soil from compaction and allows for rainwater infiltration, promoting healthier trees and sustainable stormwater management. In fact, there are no impervious surfaces in this park that are larger than the benches. Appropriately, the park is situated next to the green-roofed Centre for Sustainable Development.

Parc Hydro-Quebec 1
Parc Hydro-Quebec with the Centre for Sustainable Development in the background

Parc Hydro-Quebec 2

Parc Hydro-Quebec 3
Interesting use of pottery shards instead of gravel beneath the walkway

Parc Hydro-Quebec 4

Photos by Alice Webb

A Riverside Promenade in Quebec

To follow up on my last post about promenades, one fine example that I visited recently is a 2.5-km. greenway along the Saint Lawrence River in Quebec City. The Promenade Samuel de Champlain was completed in 2008 in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the founding of the city. It includes separate pedestrian and bicycle paths, contemporary art, and intersecting gardens/walkways with references to the natural and historical significance of the river. Champlain Boulevard, a major roadway leading into lower Quebec City, was improved and incorporated into the design.

I only had the time to see a couple sections of this extensive waterfront esplanade – below are a few images from my visit.

promenade samuel de champlain 1
Quai des Brumes (Quay of Mists) is one of several walkway/garden areas crossing the promenade. In summer, linear grates emit mist, referencing the occasional riverine conditions. Geometric stone monoliths are juxtaposed with natural boulders at this site.

promenade samuel de champlain 2
The Quai des Brumes garden continues across Champlain Boulevard, perpendicular to the promenade. Other garden areas along the route also cross in a similar manner.

promenade samuel de champlain 3
This is another area with an art installation, in this case mimicking the trees. Bicycle and pedestrian ways are separate throughout most of the promenade’s length.

promenade samuel de champlain 4
Observation tower at the Cageux Pier, marking the west end of the promenade

promenade samuel de champlain 5
Seating area on the pier

promenade samuel de champlain 6
An array of bike stands is situated next to a multipurpose building at the Cageux Pier.

promenade samuel de champlain 7
I like how the vertical lines of this railing transect the shadows of seating/steps that lead down to the river’s edge.

promenade samuel de champlain 8
At the western end of the promenade, the bicycle path separates (to the left) from the pedestrian walkway.

promenade samuel de champlain 9
Nice combination of wood decking, pavers, and concrete along the pedestrian section of the promenade. (The bicycle path diverges to the left at this point.)

promenade samuel de champlain 10
Bicycle section of the promenade – the dandelions on each side of this trail actually look great en masse.

Photos by Alice Webb

Pedestrian Promenades

During my recent travels, I have seen a number of notable walkways along waterfronts, beside city streets, and through urban and suburban parks. Well-designed pedestrian ways have ample width for movement and social interaction, and include visually-unifying elements throughout, such as a continuous paving pattern and repeated furnishings and plantings. These promenades should also be designed to correspond with the character of their surroundings, as well as provide a pleasant and safe experience for pedestrians.

Transit shelter, Portland OR
The transit mall in downtown Portland, Oregon, has wide sidewalks with decorative pavement, beside streets that have traffic lanes reserved for light rail and buses. The walkways include these attractive clear transit shelters.

Streetside boardwalk, Portland OR
A boardwalk runs along NW 10th Avenue in Portland, Oregon for 4 blocks between two parks. It’s unusual to see a wooden walkway along an urban street. This section, which is adjacent to Jameson Square, is wide enough for a double row of trees – a pleasant place to take a stroll.

Streetscape, South Boston MA
Eye-catching pavement pattern along a portion of Northern Avenue, adjacent to the Fan Pier Public Green in South Boston, Massachusetts

Fayetteville St, Raleigh NC
Fayetteville Street in Raleigh, North Carolina, was turned into a pedestrian mall in the 1970s, but the street was added back in 2006 along with these wide sidewalks with decorative planters, benches, lights, and other features. This corridor’s revitalization is reported to be a success in terms of bringing in more business.

Church Street Marketplace, Burlington VT
The Church Street Marketplace, in Burlington, Vermont, has been in place since 1981, and is one of the few continuously successful pedestrian malls in the U.S. This lively promenade is full of retail stores and restaurants with outdoor seating areas.

Park in Clayton MO
This park in Clayton, Missouri, includes a linear lawn space extending between two streets, bordered by two walkways. Seating areas and plantings line the edges of the promenade. Not many people were outside on this cold day in late October.

Streetscape, Clayton MO
A simple but attractive pavement design along a street in Clayton, Missouri

Walnut Street Park, Cary NC
This beautifully-patterned brick walkway winds its way through Walnut Street Park in Cary, North Carolina.

Boardwalk & Promenade, Myrtle Beach SC
This curvilinear promenade runs along part of the ocean in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It is surfaced with concrete in contrasting colors and textures.

Waterfront Park, Burlington VT
Waterfront Park in Burlington, Vermont, is bounded by a boardwalk which includes nautical-style lighting, granite bollards, and swinging benches.

Central Park - The Mall, New York City
The Mall in Central Park, New York City, is an example of a historic promenade with lovely old trees.

Photos by Alice Webb

Portland Japanese Garden

In Portland, Oregon, there is a lovely 5.5-acre Japanese garden situated in a hilly area west of the city center, within Washington Park. It is considered one of the most authentic Japanese gardens outside of Japan. I visited this serene setting in May a couple of years ago, and would like to share some of my photos.

Portland Japanese Garden A

 

Portland Japanese Garden B

 

Portland Japanese Garden C

 

Portland Japanese Garden D

 

Portland Japanese Garden E

 

Portland Japanese Garden F

 

Portland Japanese Garden G

 

Portland Japanese Garden H

 

Portland Japanese Garden I

 

Portland Japanese Garden J

 

Portland Japanese Garden K

 

Portland Japanese Garden L

 

Photos by Alice Webb

Plants for all Seasons

After deciduous trees have shed their leaves in cold climates, the landscape need not be a boring and drab scene. There are a number of plants that display ornamental characteristics during the chillier months of the year, sporting colorful and interesting bark, stems, fruits, and seeds. Below are a few examples that should brighten your day!
 

A stunning display of Bloodtwig Dogwoods
 

Crabapple fruit against a backdrop of fallen Ginkgo leaves
 

Hydrangea seed heads add visual interest to the winter landscape.
 

The bark of this River Birch appears to glow in the sun.
 

Although ornamental grasses die back in winter, leaving their flower stems and foliage in place until spring adds color and texture to winter landscapes.
 

Brightly-colored Weeping Willow branches enhance a snowy park scene.
 
Photos by Alice Webb

Citygarden, Saint Louis

Citygarden is a relatively new (2009) sculpture park in downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, which I visited in late October of 2012. It encompasses two city blocks, and features over 20 works of art. The design of this park was inspired by the natural characteristics of the region’s river environments. Along the northern edge of the property, urban terraces represent river bluffs; the central, lower segment loosely depicts a flood plain; and a serpentine seat wall symbolizes a river as it winds along the southern section of the park. In addition, Citygarden has several sustainable features, including six rain gardens and a green roof on the park’s café.


All features at Citygarden are meant to be experienced – there are no “Do not touch” signs to be found at the park. In warmer months, a thin sheet of water runs down the Tilted Disc in front of this sculpture.


A series of steel arcs is one of the first sculptures in view when entering the park from the east. The Limestone Arc Wall, which gently curves across the length of the park, can be seen in the background.


The long, rectangular Split Basin is situated in the northeast quadrant of the park. There are two levels to this basin, with a waterfall in between, where the Limestone Arc Wall intersects it. A modernist café is situated to the right in this photo.


Arc sculptures as seen from above the Split Basin’s waterfall


The lower portion of the Split Basin includes stepping stones.


Park visitors check out the Video Wall.


The granite Meander Wall separates lawn from lush plantings


The Meander Wall continues along the southern section of the park, for 1,100 feet.


“The Door of Return” stands along the park’s central walkway. In summer, the Spray Plaza, behind this sculpture, includes numerous vertical water jets that spray in various patterns, with dancing lights at night.


“Scarecrow” stands guard along a wooded walkway.


“Zenit” adorns the summit of a hill at the park’s northwest corner.


View from the park’s high point, facing southeast


Playful rabbit sculpture at the park’s west end

Photos by Alice Webb