In September I went to Chicago, the city by the lake, which I found to be a place of modern architecture and monumentally engaging public art.
The reason for the visit was because it was the location for the annual meeting of the American Society of Landscape Architects. This year’s focus for the ASLA was sustainability and regeneration in the landscape. Chicago has numerous examples of both of these concepts, yet interestingly, I learned almost as much about New York while there.
Streetscapes improve mood and quality of life
In several tours around the city, whether looking at architecture, urban planning or landscape architecture, the emphasis on an improved streetscape made a strong first impression on me. During the conference, my colleagues and I visited several private gardens in upscale neighborhoods.
One of the biggest differences we saw were the inviting streetscapes for residential properties. Unlike the Hamptons, there is no hedging for privacy, but instead there is an invitation to enjoy the view of the area’s beautiful homes and surrounding landscapes.
One modern glass home was built in a way which allowed the landscape to flow out into the street. A seasonally changing garden at the entrance was open and bronze fencing—made of slats turned in a way to allow views into the garden but not into the house—followed the sidewalk along the rest of the property.
The area between the street and the sidewalk contained raised bronze planters as an extension of the interior garden. This well-designed garden, instead of being hidden away by privet, became part of the streetscape. As a result, the garden flowed out from the house, and then through the fence out into the street, creating a neighborhood attraction while maintaining privacy for a home with glass walls.
At this particular house, the space between the road and the sidewalk also took the place of the foundation planting. The view (through geometric bronze fencing past a birch grove to a colorful garden) took the eye back alongside another new home. This design created a greater sense of neighborhood wherein the property owners are using fencing that creates a physical, but not a visual, barrier.
The effect was that one’s gaze was invited in while keeping one’s feet out of the gardens. Such an elegant and inviting entrance is obviously a visual asset to the street.
At another garden, the owners of a newly restored Victorian did not want anything obscuring the view from the street of their recently restored home and how it sits in the garden. The homeowners, proud of their home and garden, said they wanted to maintain a visual openness to the street as they do not like the idea of being closed or walled off. Simply, they said that they enjoy being a part of the neighborhood.
At another remodeled Victorian, a reading ring was created at the end of a colorfully planted formal entrance garden creating a space to read, to relax and to enjoy the garden while watching the passersby. The flamboyant plant palette chosen to complement the architecture was eye-catching from the sidewalk. Only a 3-foot wrought iron “lace” fence suggested a boundary line.
Even Chicago’s downtown skyscrapers had the concept of the streetscape built into them. The small sidewalk strip planters and large, raised planters within entry courtyards extended the open space at street level and matched the plantings in the park across the street.
Bringing it closer to home, examples of street parks as part of a new development can be seen in Manhattan too. The new Goldman Sachs building, planned for West Street, will have a linear tree-lined park full of perennials. The streetscape was designed by Piet Oudolf for Ken Smith’s overall landscape plan, which includes a corner park as well. Common public areas will also soften the visual impact of the building at street level.
And here in Southampton, we have many examples of this type of street display. Residentially speaking, curved hedge allows neighbors a peek-a-boo view of a garden on a quiet street in the village that changes constantly from spring to fall.
Commercially, an alleyway from Main Street to the Rogers Museum on Meeting House Lane (which was recently redone by the village), is another example of an improved and inviting streetscape. Although Sant Ambroeus uses this space as a night café during the summer season, it is open to public passage. Betsey Yastrzemski was contracted to plant the alleyway with flowers and foliage that complements the other pots by the restaurant’s Main Street entrance creating an elegant, lively and inviting passageway that enhances the village’s appearance.
Underground parking a wise use of space
In Chicago, the roof of the parking garage adjacent to the award-winning Millennium Park and world-renowned architect Renzo Piano’s modern addition to the Art Institute of Chicago is now the award-winning Lurie Garden. This large park space, with paths through a mixture of perennials and grasses reminiscent of the prairies, boasts a nighttime symphony of crickets and a daytime marauder in the form of a rabbit. The wondrous garden connects two of the areas of the city most visited by tourists.