The new Naval Cemetery Landscape is a place for retreat and remembrance, honoring a richly layered history muted by time and isolation. The 1.7 acre site, an unmarked burial ground from the late-19th and early-20th centuries, associated with the Brooklyn Navy Yard Hospital, has been transformed after decades of neglect. Through consultation with community stakeholders, the Landscape Architect achieved a design that harmonizes the desired program with its former use. The landscape offers an enchanting horticultural experience as the first open-space node of the Brooklyn Greenway, a 14-mile pedestrian and bicycle trail along the East River. Striking in its simplicity, the landscape provides a place of peace, refuge, and remembrance – an ecologically rich oasis in an otherwise densely urban environment.
The landscape’s architectural entrance gate is a threshold to the Memorial Meadow, Amphitheater, and Sacred Grove, all connected by a sinuous black locust boardwalk. Major disturbance of the soil was prohibited due to the site’s history as burial ground. The Landscape Architect worked within these constraints, and in collaboration with the Architect, to develop a precast diamond pier foundation to support the boardwalk framework limiting ground disturbance to 4″ below finished grade. The design and implementation of the wildflower meadow was similarly sensitive. Containing more than 50 species, Memorial Meadow focuses on the establishment of important native perennials as forage for the pollinators critical to the ecological health of the region. Originally installed in strict geometric patterns, plantings will eventually drift across the site, creating new forms and generating a self-sustaining, open-ended design with help from the pollinators who are drawn to the landscape.
An intersecting axis of granite blocks pays homage to the industrial past of the Navy Yard, while offering a physical remembrance for those buried on site. The boardwalk meanders the perimeter of the Memorial Meadow and passes through a sheltering grove of black cherry trees. Native tree and shrub species line the edge of the site, providing a sense of enclosure by screening the surrounding city.
The landscape now hosts community yoga, meditation, and ecology classes; and provides an opportunity for visitors to immerse themselves in the seasonal changes of the meadow. It engages the public in the importance of pollinator habitat in an urban environment, symbolically attracting many forms of life to a place that has historically memorialized death.
Entrant office name: Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects
Other design firms involved: Marvel Architects, Larry Weaner Landscape Associates
Project location: Brooklyn, New York, USA
Design year: 2010 – 2015
Year Built: 2016