Urban Omnibus, a project of the Architectural League of New York, interviewed the landscape architects, architects and urban planners behind the NYC Department of City Planning and Economic Development Corporation-funded Queens Plaza Bicycle and Pedestrian Landscape Improvement Project. The Improvement Project aims to “transform the tangle of urban infrastructure cutting through Long Island City from a harsh, disorienting industrial maze into a lush, navigable landscape, a gateway to Long Island City that organizes various flows and scales while providing a refuge for residents, workers and the road-weary.” Urban Omnibus says the new urban and landscape design “unites the surrounding neighborhoods and restores the connection between the city and the river.” The project covers 1.3 miles, “revitalizes JFK Park,” and connects it to the “dramatic water’s edge below the Queensboro Bridge.”
The Improvement Project design team included landscape architect Margie Ruddick, ASLA, WRT Design, Marpillero Pollak Architects, an architecture and urban designer firm, and the artist Michael Singer. The project follows New York City’s High-Performance Infrastructure Guidelines.
From the Urban Omnibus interview:
“Urban Omnibus: What are some of the ways in which you thought about sustainability when approaching this project?
Margie Ruddick: The idea that something hard, urban and harsh can operate ecologically – that’s something that isn’t yet in the everyday language of landscape architecture. This kind of approach to landscape is slowly but surely becoming much more prevalent. Particularly in Oregon and Washington State, where the flow of water is much more visible: you can really see how the plants are thriving due to sub-surface drainage and downspouts being let out into park spaces. The whole cycle of water is much more visible.”
Urban Omnibus: It changes our perception of what an urban park can be? How so?
Margie Ruddick: In formal terms, rather than using a harsh, urban language, we tried to find a language through which lushness and beauty could coexist with the hard edge of infrastructure. The linear landscape of medians and streetscape meet in JFK Park, and this convergence, for me, challenges the notion of an urban park because its surroundings are so inhospitable. This juxtaposition would have seemed inappropriate several years ago. But these days it’s becoming more prevalent.
We tried to find a language through which lushness and beauty could coexist with the hard edge of infrastructure. Five or seven years ago, architects and everybody who saw our plans for Queens Plaza thought it was incongruous to have such a lush landscape on that kind of site. But now images from Queens Plaza are being used as a powerful precedent for an expressive language in a complex infrastructural context.
And beyond the material dimension, it alters our common perception of an urban park because it is not bounded; rather, it takes place in these skinny slivers. Even something like the High Line is bounded – even though it’s linear, it has a boundary. The Queens Plaza project is part of a street network but will operate as a park.
Another aspect of the design that really distinguishes this park is the ways we deal with stormwater. All site stormwater is filtered through subsurface wetlands and median plantings. The artist Michael Singer worked with Linda, Sandro and ourselves to create a system of interlocking, permeable pavers that can manage and filter stormwater through various kinds of plantings, or serve as hard walking surfaces.
Michael also designed these beautiful edge pavers with a little curve on the side. When you put two of them together there’s a little peephole where the water flows from the paver down into the planting. It’s a really beautiful detail, just a little notch that allows the water to flow down.”
Also, check out NYC Department of Transportation’s free cycling maps
Image credit: Queens Plaza North. Urban Omnibus /Image courtesy of Margie Ruddick Landscape and Marpillero Pollak Architects