Landscape Arch Students at Work in St. Nicholas Park

Designers across the world are looking at discarded materials and waste streams as a source for building future cities more responsibly, while consuming less energy, raw materials, and reducing carbon in the atmosphere. We had the opportunity to join professors Marcha Johnson and Len Hopper for a site visit on February 23, 2022, as part of a sustainable materials design-build exercise. This inaugural design-build effort between CCNY’s Spitzer School and St. Nicholas Park will be sited at the 134th and St. Nicholas Terrace entry. Visitors will be encouraged to see new possibilities in the waste that surrounds us, produced by our own choices. The intent is for all of us to become more aware of the fragility of the world and to take action to repair and care for the environment in which we live.

The exercise is part of the course, Sustainable Soil and Water, which explores new advances, design approaches, and practical applications related to sustainably managing soil and water and will have a thematic focus on carbon storage and soil development on steep slopes. The course responds to current interest in the use of St. Nicholas Park as a study site with a chance for hands-on activities,  environmental justice, and the opportunities offered by the pandemic to reconsider NYC’s approach to the use of space, especially locations in the floodplain subject to sea level rise.

As part of the assignment, teams will be formed in conjunction with Len Hopper’s Landscape Technology class, to research, strategize, design, and build prototypes for installations in St. Nicholas Park. The prototypes will be made of recycled or repurposed waste materials, durable and safe in a public outdoor space. Each will address the conservation of natural features and life in this landscape, rebuild damaged soil and /or promote water conservation/cleansing, and provide an educational entry experience. Plants native to the site may be included. Explore socially and environmentally responsible means of production and product design, and how waste such as wind-thrown trees can be used for helpful and surprisingly beautiful purposes. Collectively, the joint classes will make colorful, inviting, beautiful temporary additions to the park entry that demonstrate sustainable practices. Plan for the installations to last 6 months with no maintenance.

Each group of students will prepare a work plan for the 2-week concept development. This will include everything from assigning tasks, researching construction materials, and carrying out site analysis. A presentation of every proposal will be shared with St. Nicholas Park Administration and Friends and will include a description of how your proposal will demonstrate sustainable practices, protect or build up healthy soil, allow infiltration of stormwater and/or filter/cleanse runoff from pavements.

Installations will be taking place later this semester. Groups are required to bring all needed equipment and materials for a weekend work session to complete the installation and choose projects which can be constructed/set up in the park during the course of an afternoon.

We are excited to follow their progress and see their ideas come to life later this spring.