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Teardrop Park

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The day after seeing Four Freedoms Park, I walked along the Hudson River from Battery Park up to the High Line. There are a number of interesting bits of stonework along that stretch of Manhattan including the fort walls at Castle Clinton, the anachronistic Irish Hunger Memorial, and the carefully detailed 911 memorial. I also walked the High Line but its famous plantings were cut back and leafless. It’s a nice site, though, and I enjoyed it even if there was nothing of horticultural interest to see. But my favorite spot along the river front was Teardrop Park, a small park with a stone wall about eighteen feet high. Technically the wall is veneer, but it’s built with oversized blocks that make it much cooler than any typical veneer.

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To my surprise, the posted park rules didn’t say anything about prohibiting climbing, so I went up it a few times. It would be too easy with climbing shoes, but in street shoes it was pretty fun.

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The park won an ASLA award a few years ago. The project description called the stone Alcove blue stone; in the Bay Area, the stone’s trade name is Cabernet.

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The diagonal courses of stone are meant to recall geological striations.

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Other areas of the park use the striated stone as well.

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I would have loved this park as a kid, and I heard several different kids cry when they were told it was time to leave. A big slide with rocks to climb to reach the top, can’t get much better than that. A great little park.

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Louis Kahn’s Four Freedoms Park

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In April we went to New York for a few days. While we were there I checked out Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, architect Louis Kahn’s final project. It was shelved after his death forty years ago and then recently brought to completion. Basically it’s a 3-walled room made of giant granite blocks at the southern tip of Roosevelt Island in the East River. There’s also a giant staircase that goes up to a lawn that then slopes back down to the 3-walled room. Some of it feels a little silly, but the site has a good view of Manhattan and a nice position at the tip of the island, and the detailing is very perfect and precise.

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Kahn referred to the allees of trees and the raised central lawn as a garden. Not really my idea of a garden, but the goosefoot layout of the paths is borrowed from Versailles, so I guess he’s got a different thing in mind when he says garden.

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The Roosevelt aspect of the space is a quote carved on one of the blocks of granite and a large floating head that reminded me of Oz the great and powerful.

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The detailing inside the 3-sided room is very tight and the joints in the paving match perfectly with the giant blocks of granite. I’m guessing the buildings wouldn’t have been visible above the granite at the time Kahn was working on the design.

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For some reason the joints are ungrouted. Up close you could see through the open joint between the wall blocks, an interesting detail that probably has some significance that I’m missing.

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In a lot of ways it feels like a memorial to Louis Kahn as much as FDR, and I think it helps if you go into the space already revering Kahn. The New York Times loved it, calling it a ‘monumental triumph for New York and for everyone who cares about architecture and public space.’ (Over to you, Skywalker.) Personally, I’m more impressed with the execution of the design, rather than the design itself, but it’s a nice enough place to go for a view of Manhattan. There’s a video of the park on the Dirt.

Lawn to Veggies, Flagstone, and Path Fines

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Unsurprisingly, we’re doing a lot of lawn-to-garden projects this year. We usually do a couple per year, but we’ve already done two so far, with several others scheduled. Most of them are primarily plant focused, but this one was more hardscape oriented. The clients actively used their lawn, unlike so many people who only walk on their lawn to mow it, so we had to replace it with something the kids could walk and play on.

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It was a little strange how the grass made a lip over the edge of the front walk. Alameda’s soil is basically beach sand, so I have a feeling that the soil had drifted onto the walkway like a sand dune and then the crabgrass crept out to stabilize it. It was pretty tired-looking by the time we took it out.

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The grass on this side of the entry was more of a path than a lawn, so we could use more plants. The wooden edging is unfortunately necessary to keep the dogs from kicking the mulch onto the pathway, but we should be able to take it out after the grass has been suppressed and the plants grow in. I like doing veggie beds; I leave behind an empty new bed and then come back later to find it filled with edibles and flowers.

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Natives, Mosaics, and a New Sitting Area

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I recently did a couple of small projects in an established native garden, a pleasant space with a laid-back, informal feel. Oaks, Bay Laurels, and annual grasses are visible outside the deer fencing. Gravel paths weave around berms overflowing with natives, some of the usual plants like Manzanita, Iris, and Buckwheat, but also some of the less common plants you only see at plant sales.

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My primary project was to create a little sitting area with blue path fines. We also cleaned the existing concrete patio next to the new sitting area and we redid the joints with blue path fines. I’ve done that a few times for this kind of old patio; a few bags of path fines and some scrubbing and the concrete looks pretty much as good as new.

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When I finished, I was thinking that with some furniture, a little mulch, and maybe some Snowberry in the narrow space against the fence, this would be a nice little sitting area. This past week I saw the finished result, cheerful and inviting.

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I edged the path fines with scrap pieces of basalt from the fabrication projects at the stoneyard. It’s inexpensive and easy to install; the hardest part is sorting through the scrap pile figuring out which pieces to use.

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The garden has some other interesting elements, including a variety of mosaics made by the client. The wall piece is quite nice.

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My mom recently made one of these mosaic balls, so it was interesting to see that someone else had made one too. I guess I’ve seen them before, but I didn’t realize they were an established thing.

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There’s a cone shaped one at the base of this dogwood. I like the look of the limbed-up dogwood; the trunk is almost like a manzanita.

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The client’s father had been a stone lithographer. The press is now an element in the garden along with several of the old stones.

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I was glad I got to see the garden this week, because a number of plants were in bloom, including Neviusia cliftonii, Shasta Snow Wreath, a rare deciduous shrub that was only discovered in the 90’s. I’d seen it at plant sales, but never established in a garden. It’s not the showiest plant I’ve ever seen — it’s easy to understand how it went unnoticed for such a long time, especially if it tends to grow intermixed with poison oak — but fun to see in a garden.

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I was also glad to see the California Snowdrop, Syrax oficinalis, in full bloom. These take patience to establish, but have such an elegant flower and fragrance.

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Buckwheats, Foothills Penstemon, and California Poppies were also blooming, with other plants like Coyote Mint getting ready to follow. And photographs of course don’t show the bird calls and all of the bird activity around the natives. A lovely little garden.

Marble Quarrying

Beautiful footage of marble quarrying in Italy, a trailer for the film, Il Capo, by Yuri Ancarani. The filmaker spent a year visiting the quarries of Carrara Italy and decided to focus on the delicate choreography between the foreman, the machinery, and the monolithic blocks of stone. I would love to see the full length movie in person on a big screen.

Wurrungwuri Sculpture

The Making of Wurrungwuri – Short Documentary from Brain in Hand Productions on Vimeo.

Two posts ago, I said Andy Goldsworthy (to his credit) might be over-represented in the stonework videos I find on the web and sometimes re-post here on this blog. So here’s a video of another artist who works with stone, Chris Booth from New Zealand. A lot of his work involves stone supported by a steel armature. I sometimes struggle to fully appreciate stone that is used that way — I’m more inclined towards things like his dry-stacked homage to New Zealand’s sea stacks — but I always find it intriguing. I’d need to see this sculpture, Wurrungwuri, in person to really judge it, but a great deal of intent and technical skill obviously went into its creation. There’s info about the design and the construction at the website for the project.

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