Preview: Prospect Park’s Upcoming Lakeside Center

For many landscape architects, Central Park isn’t Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s masterpiece. It’s Prospect Park, a 585-acre urban park in Brooklyn. Amazingly, Olmsted and Vaux carved a 60-acre lake and created a 90-acre meadow out of a swamp. A forest was planted, making it the only forest existing in Brooklyn today. Given the park receives some 8 million visitors a year, it needs to be continually updated and actively preserved, and all that takes money. In the case of a new project that will restore Olmsted and Vaux’s original vision for a key piece of the park and build out a new esplanade and ice-skating and hockey rink, the Prospect Park Alliance raised some $75 million from the federal, state, and city government, along with board members.

In a tour of the new project at Greater & Greener: Reimagining Parks for 21st Century Cities, a conference, Christian Zimmerman, FASLA, the landscape architect leading the work at the Prospect Park Alliance, said he’s been focused on historic preservation, ecological restoration, and modern design.

Man-made islands had once offered a way to visually wade into the vast 60-acre lake from Olmsted’s main promenade. They had been covered by a huge ice-skating rink plopped right in the middle of one of the most gorgeous vistas around. To undo the damage, Zimmerman’s team removed the crumbling rink and filled in 5 acres of the lake to re-create the original islands (seen above).

Removing the rink, the team found some of the original stone slabs separating the promenade from the lake. Designed by architect Thomas Wisedell (who also created the fountains at Central Park), they were dug out and re-set. New walkways were built with local blue granite.

Given the lack of historical documentation on Olmsted’s planting schemes, a new one was created for the islands and added to the park’s comprehensive planting plan.

Zimmerman’s contemporary addition — an esplanade around the corner from this spot — is respectful of Olmsted’s design. Providing access to the lake, people will use the esplanade to launch kayaks. The granite textures used play well with the setting.

So where will all those ice-skaters now go? According to Prospect Park administrator Emily Llloyd, it will be to a new LEED-Gold Lakeside Center, a few hundred feet over, where a parking lot once was. Tod Williams and Billie Tsien Architects, the team who recently designed the new Barnes Foundation Museum in Philadelphia, are creating a combined hockey and ice-skating rink, which will be topped in green roofs that in some places will connect to the ground through berms. The idea is for spectators to stroll up the low-incline berms to roof decks where they can look down at the players.

In the summer, the smaller ice-skating rinks will become a water play area. The different jets will resemble those in Millennium Park.

In the same way, the larger hockey rink will also transform in warmer temperatures, becoming a rollerskating derby. Lloyd said they had brought in one of the world’s top rollerskaters to design the best course.

The new esplanade by Zimmerman will open in late 2012, with the rinks coming in late 2013.

Image credits: (1-4) Ryan Donahue, (5-6) Prospect Park Lakeside Center / Tod Williams and Billie Tsien Architects

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