The Peabody Essex Museum Garden celebrates the spirit of curiosity, discovery of the museum’s origins, and the dynamic works of its collection which span cultures, eras, and genres. Situated at the terminus of the gallery atrium, the garden provides a moment of pause and calm reflection. A fundamental design goal was to create a sense of the unexpected set apart from the museum interior. The garden emphasizes sensorial rather than cognitive experience through the sound of flowing water, the movement and seasonal variation of the plants, and variety in material textures.

Distinct garden rooms – a Native garden, an Asiatic garden, and a Hybrid Convergence garden -speak to diversity between cultures, exchange of knowledge, and interdisciplinary innovation at the heart of the museum’s mission and collection.

The design of the new Garden at the Peabody Essex Museum is inspired by the museum’s maritime history, yet has a contemporary focus. It transports visitors through a three-room journey from North America to Asia. This narrative is thoughtfully expressed through multi-layered mediums, including plants, water, texture, and material.

Drawn from natural and cultural patterns, sinuous hydrological forms are re-imagined as a flat ribbon of stone meandering out from inside the atrium through the garden. Guiding visitors from the museum galleries to the garden, the stone ribbon invites one to explore three distinct garden rooms: a Native garden, an Asiatic garden, and a Hybrid Convergence garden. Each garden room speaks to the history, mission, and collection of the Peabody Essex Museum, manifesting in the garden’s design the Museum’s dedication to the convergence of ideas and transformational art across cultures.

Two fountains activate the space and celebrate the visual and aural qualities of water, as well as its symbolic link to the museum’s collections. As the museum’s roots are in the East India Marine Society, an organization of Salem captains and supercargoes who had sailed beyond either the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn, an inset slab of Massachusetts granite in the building’s façade harkens to the turbulent waters at the Cape of Good Hope. A thin stream of water shatters and flows over this 11-feet-tall, six-feet-wide piece of Chelmsford Granite over contours that recall oceanic current patterns.

The Poetry Fountain references an ancient Chinese garden water feature where two lovers would communicate by floating a message down a runnel of water to their partner at the other end. Water flows from source basins at either end and pools together into a single convergence basin, celebrating the juncture of a major garden path where integrated seating allows visitors to enjoy the visual and acoustic effect.

The new Garden furthers the mission of the museum and serves to broaden visitors’ perspectives, attitudes, and knowledge of themselves and the wider world.

Location: 161 Essex St., Salem MA 01970, USA

Design year: 2016

Year Completed: 2019


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