The Naval Cemetery Landscape is the first new public open space to be developed by the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative along the 26-mile Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway. Historically an unmarked burial ground associated with the Brooklyn Naval Hospital, this project revitalizes an abandoned parcel of the Brooklyn Navy Yard into a culturally and ecologically significant public space.

The landscape architect developed a meaningful program rooted in site history and ecology while responding to the open space needs of the neighborhood and that of the broader community. Operating within intense site constraints, the landscape architects focused on authenticity, function, and simplicity in every aspect of design, from form to material, to create a grounded experience that gently aligns the senses to seasonal flows.

Visitors pass through the gate of the Naval Cemetery Landscape and are immediately transported to a quiet and peaceful place removed from the surrounding urban environment. Within the park, the Memorial Meadow, Amphitheater, and Sacred Grove, all connected by a sinuous black locust boardwalk. The perimeter of the site is lined with native trees and shrub species that screen views of buildings and the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. This immersion in the natural world allows visitors to engage in soft fascination, reflection, and mindfulness

Based on the sensitive nature of the former burial ground, a key component of the site design and construction was a restriction from the State Historic Preservation Office that prohibited disturbance of the soil beyond the upper four inches. Working within these constraints, the design team developed a methodology that utilized a precast diamond pier foundation system to support the boardwalk and entry building.

The design and installation of the wildflower meadow likewise responds to the sensitive site. Plants were selected for their seasonal color, form, and complementary textures as well as for their benefit to pollinators and other wildlife. Containing more than 50 species, the Memorial Meadow focuses on the establishment of much needed native plants for the overlooked pollinators critical to the ecological health of the region and needed for the many community gardens surrounding the site. Monarch butterflies, attracted to the Milkweed on which their larvae feed, have been plentiful among the sprawl of wildflowers, which includes pollinator species such as Bee Balm, Goldenrod, Purple coneflower, Mountain Mint, and Brown-Eyed Susan.

The meandering pathway provides a sense of peace and respite when wandering the site. An intersecting axis of granite blocks pays homage to the industrial past of the Navy Yard, offers a physical marker for those buried on site, and provides an additional opportunity to experience the meadow. The river-like boardwalk meanders above a sea of native grasses of the meadow, it then passes through a grove of native Black Cherry trees that provide a sense of enclosure and natural shelter. A wooden bench contains a small notebook for visitors to the Naval Cemetery Landscape to reflect and record their thoughts. Numerous notebooks have been filled with open messaged of gratitude and healing.

Social scientists are using the site, notes, and recordings to research the positive benefits of access to nature on the mental and physical well-being of the people who visit the site, and the impacts of our urban environment on people. The data from the project and collected notes will contribute to a growing body of research that demonstrates the important role landscape immersion plays in the development of human intelligence, social and emotional capabilities, and the capacity for regeneration and healing.

This understated landscape quietly evokes the histories of settlement and cultivation, life and death, while slowing the heart rate and connecting visitors with the stories of the site. The park naturally builds community as it hosts yoga, meditation, bee-keeping, and ecology classes while providing an opportunity for visitors to engage with the seasonal changes of the meadow. It engages the public in the importance of pollinator habitat in the urban environment, symbolically attracting many forms of life to a place that has historically commemorated death.

Architecture offices involved in the design: Marvel

Project location: 63 Williamsburg Street W, Brooklyn, NY 11249, United States

Design year: 2016

Year Built: 2017


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