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Ur-garden
Ken Smith / MoMA Roof Garden


This post is decorated with photos of Ken Smith's roof garden for MoMA. It is, however, about another roof garden in Midtown Manhattan, a student project by Martha Schwartz.

Because images of the latter are nowhere to be found on the web but those of the former now readily available after the publication last week of the ASLA 2009 Professional Awards, unlike before when such hi-res photos seem to have been all niggardly veiled behind a pay-per-view firewall, accessible only to a privileged few just like the real thing; and because both gardens are similar in type and context; and because Schwartz had also built her own synthetic garden a decade or so before Smith, we thought such appropriation would at least seem reasonable.

Ken Smith / MoMA Roof Garden


Schwartz's roof garden was in the very first slide lecture in our very first day as landscape architecture students. Because that was also the last time we saw it, our description below may not be accurate. In fact, not a single detail may be true, including Schwartz's authorship.

As stated above, this roof garden is sited on a skyscraper somewhere in Midtown Manhattan. The building is of medium height, because the primary audience are those in the upper floors of nearby towers, presumably the headquarters of hedge funds, investment banks and Fortune 500s. The framed views out through the corner office windows of CEOs and money managers towards the garden are thus a Picturesque construction of wealth and power.

Carpeting this sky garden in a sea of glass, a hortus conclusus many-times walled off from the chaotic hordes teeming on the spit-drenched pavement below, are perennials with different flowering time. They are arranged in a very specific composition, so that when April comes, for instance, the blooms spell out a word in bold colors: GREED.

When the flowers start to die, so will the word start to fade. But later in the year, when it's time for the other plants to flower, the same privileged few will then be privy to yet another botanical graffiti: MONEY.

Ken Smith / MoMA Roof Garden


A couple of things:

1) It's such a delicious thing imagining taking this speculative guerrilla garden for the capitalist 80s and actualizing it a year or two before The 2008 Great Conflagration of Financial Manhattan. In this Eden, amidst a future ruin, lies our collective demise.

2) Instead of broadcasting in real-time what you're doing or thinking or what's your current mood or revealing your ideological stance with a 140-character drive-by opinion piece on Zaha Hadid's flaming opera house before it becomes stale news 24 hours later, when past this mysterious deadline it's considered rather démodé and gauche to mention it in the digitized company of your uber-wired milieu, you stencil your thoughts into the soil with seedlings. Of course, most will not be able to read it when the words become legible, so they will have to wait until others photograph it and upload the image to Flickr or blog about it or make a YouTube video of it or tweet it. There's the so-called Slow Food. This is Slow Twitter. It's good for you.

But in any case, the ultimate purpose of this post is to ask someone to verify our memory of Schwartz's unrealized rooftop garden, perhaps even to provide us with some images.

Is there such a student project by her? What in our description is completely wrong? What key details do we not know? Have we embellished it too much over the years, augmenting it with our own ideas, even our own personalities?

For us, this is an important project. We may have only encountered it once, but it became a sort of ambient manifesto that passively guided us as budding spatialists. Our early design outputs, it could be said, were but variations of some aspects of this ur-garden. On several occasions, we outright imitated its attitude, the same tone that colors so many posts in this blog. Of course, there were other gardens and other landscapes that had equal influence during our formative years. We could refer to anyone of them as our ur-landscape, the one from which all others sprang, but Schwartz's was the first of firsts.

Let us know if you have some information.
5 COMMENTS —
  • Georgia
  • May 14, 2009 at 8:43:00 PM CDT
  • Are you referring to the Bagel Garden?


  • Georgia
  • May 14, 2009 at 8:48:00 PM CDT
  • If the Bagel Garden, second image via this URL http://tinyurl.com/qekey5.


  • Alexander Trevi
  • May 14, 2009 at 9:06:00 PM CDT
  • Georgia, I'm sure it isn't that, which is well documented in various monographs on Schwartz. As far as I know, this rooftop(?) garden isn't. And I clearly remember there being some typography.


  • Addictive Picasso
  • May 31, 2009 at 11:24:00 AM CDT
  • Forgive me for being so trite tabloid but weren't Schwartz/Smith married/partners for some time? i.e. "appropriation" is a rite of loving spring, rather than a place strewn with eggshells that u need to cross so carefully?


  • Alexander Trevi
  • May 31, 2009 at 11:50:00 AM CDT
  • Schwartz was married to Peter Walker, another landscape architect of renown. Smith worked for the two before setting up his own office. What sort of cross pollinations happened between the trio around this time I can only imagine.


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