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A Clearing in the Streets


A Clearing in the Streets

by Brian Fichtner
on 17 June 2009

A ten-sided plywood structure surrounding a miniature meadow of indigenous vegetation, "A Clearing in the Streets" is a temporary landscape in downtown Manhattan's Collect Pond Park. The installation, commissioned by the Public Art Fund, reflects artists Julie Farris and Sarah Wayland-Smith interest in creating momentary organic interventions within the urban environment.

Their work arrives at a moment when both public demand and municipal support for greening the city appear to be at an all time high. Still, grand public projects, like the High Line, often take years to come to fruition. Without a doubt, landscape designers such as Farris and Wayland-Smith stand to play an immediate, increasing role in shaping the experience of city living through small-scale installations. Cool Hunting recently had the opportunity to ask the designers a few questions about their practice and their dreams for New York.


One of your interests lies in exploring ways to re-introduce nature into the dense urban environment. As the global populace moves more and more toward urban habitation, do you think we need to broaden our definition of nature itself? After all, isn't the built environment arguably a natural product of humankind?
Yes, I think we would agree that our collective urban vision is at a point where we need to broaden the definition of “nature" in the city. While there may not be many opportunities to build large-scale parks, there is tremendous potential for even very small landscapes or natural environments to have a strong impact on urban residents. Our work explores temporary landscapes, insertions of nature into the urban environment, that have the potential to change the way we think about nature and our relationship to it.

We are also interested in using innate processes in nature to help resolve some of the environmental problems of large cities. For instance, we can use vegetation to absorb rainwater and release it into the air, lowering urban temperatures. In this way, nature can become a construction material. Our meadow is a constructed slice of nature. We carved out a small space in a paved plaza and brought in topsoil and seedlings to create a context for this natural cycle of growth that takes place.


There are few opportunities within New York to introduce large-scale organic landscapes. Apart from haphazard attempts at "greening" the city by plunking down planters, how can the city respond with creativity to our need to stay connected to the "natural" world?

Interview continues with more images after the jump.

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