The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum recently finished the last phase of its decade-long renovation by remediating its 7,600-square-foot garden. The museum hired Oakland, California–based landscape architect Walter Hood, who collaborated with Diller Scofidio + Renfro and local RAFT Landscape Architecture to integrate the garden into the museum and enliven underused areas.
Although it is open to the public now, when the garden was first created in 1902, it was the largest private enclosed green space in New York City. To connect the garden to its past, Hood’s team used landscape architect Richard Schermerhorn Jr.’s original 1901 drawings as inspiration. They began with Schermerhorn’s proposed rockery to create a prominent, almost sculptural focal point. “The bedrock, the Manhattan schist, was a starting point. It appears throughout Central Park,” Hood said. “We took the opportunity to make the schist more visible, sourcing bedrock from the gardens.”
Hood also pulled from Luis Barragán’s gardens of El Pedregal outside Mexico City and the Eastern tradition of rock gardens to ground the site in the area’s geological history.
For the plantings, Hood kept things local—just across the street to Central Park. “The Cooper Hewitt is directly adjacent Engineers Gate and the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, and many of the plantings here are different than what you see in the greater park,” Hood said. “These were planted during the City Beautiful era and grow in contrast to [Frederick] Olmsted’s curation of local flora and fauna.”
The team selected plants from the reservoir’s periphery such as Yoshino cherry trees, the red chokeberry, and rhododendrons as well as native herbaceous plants. Benches designed by Yves Béhar and playful Heatherwick Studio Spun Chairs provide ample seating and invite the public to stay and relax.
The museum is already ramping up with events for summer 2016. Cooper Hewitt Director Caroline Baumann told AN: “We are excited to be bringing back our ever-popular Cocktails at Cooper Hewitt series and expanding it to include live performances throughout the summer. We’ve invited some of New York’s most exciting dance companies and music ensembles to participate, transforming the garden’s lush environs into a lively performance space, and I think our visitors will be surprised and delighted by what transpires.”