Newtown Creek Nature Walk

NYC Public Design Commission Excellence in Design Award

Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce Building Brooklyn Award, with George Trakas and Ennead Architects

Quennell Rothschild & Partners has provided landscape architectural services for over 13 years for the multi-billion dollar upgrade of this water treatment plant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Starting with master planning for the entire site we went on to develop detailed landscape designs for each phase of construction, including two major Percent for Art projects, for each of which we worked closely with the site artists – Vito Acconci on a street front project and George Trakas on a waterfront park -collaboratively translating their visions into feasible designs and preparing fully detailed contract documents. Both of these projects allow community access to parts of the plant perimeter and provide neighborhood green spaces with landscaping to soften the edges of the facility, integrating the site with the neighborhood.

The first of these projects involved a collaboration with site artist George Trakas on the design of the nature walk – a linear waterfront walkway and an entry garden at the street access point. The first phase of the Nature Walk, completed in 2007 for NYC DEP, is a linear park and entrance garden that provides public waterfront access to Newtown creek and Whale Creek Canal, and will soon be extended to provide a continuous link around the edge of the water treatment plant.

The landscape elements are designed to enhance the characteristics of the site, using natural and marine related materials, such as wood, stone, unpainted metal, and native plant materials adapted to the tough environmental realities of the site. The site is designed to infiltrate storm water into the creek, and due to the low elevation of the Nature walk, the site materials and plant species were selected to withstand periods in inundation. The landscaped areas begin at the sidewalk, bringing the themes and elements of the waterfront walkway outside the site boundaries and into the neighborhood

The walkway and creek edge design provides a variety of close range water experiences with small pockets of stepped-down seating cut into the bulkhead edge, and an expanse of broad granite steps descending to the water where visitors can take in views city skyline and the boats and waterfowl in the creek. An informal pathway of crushed stone meanders along the creek edge, interspersed with native plantings, boulders and massive stone seating elements.

Many birds and butterflies have made a home here and provide a stark contrast to the surrounding industrial landscape. The Nature Walk provides a greener view of the treatment plant and allows visitors access to the Newtown Creek shoreline. The water quality has significantly improved in recent years, and fishing and kayaking in the creek have become popular around the site.

The Nature Walk also fulfills an educational role, and George Trakas designed signage to become part of the experience. Names of plants, animal and fish species are etched into rocks and boulders, as well as geological eras and Native American place names. Many of the plant species are identified by stainless steel plaques that also provide information on the wildlife and medicinal value of the plants.

Quennell Rothschild & Partners is currently continuing its work with environmental artist George Trakas to design an extension of the park all the way around the site. The walk will extend the park over the water via a series of vessels connected by steel ramps, affording intimate encounters with the water. Connecting the vessel walk to a footbridge spanning Whale Creek is an open-topped turret equipped with a curved bench. Once over the bridge, visitors will arrive in a lush garden bisected by a channel of blue granite. This “swale trail,” suggesting the streams that once flowed through the area, will collect stormwater and channel it to a rain garden. Throughout the park, designed with a vocabulary of marine forms, are poetic references to the local river-based history: a picnic table engraved with a drawing of the ironclad USS Monitor; boat-shaped shade structures, glass topped cylinders engraved with names of stars used for navigation.

As in the completed section of the park, materials have been selected for endurance and for congruence with the gritty industrial site. Wood, stone, unpainted metal, and a wide variety of native plants that would naturally occur along the upper banks of a Brooklyn creek are adapted to the tough environmental realities of Newtown Creek.

The work requires environmental mitigation, and complex permitting and coordination with multiple agencies including NYC City Planning, the NYS DEC, the DEP, the Army Corps of Engineers and Coast Guard, as well as liaison with the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee, who see the park as a source of neighborhood pride.

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