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Crack Gardens
The Crack Garden

The ASLA Professional Awards were announced yesterday, and garnering an honor in the Residential Design category is The Crack Garden, by CMG Landscape Architecture.

Inspired by the tenacious plants that pioneer the tiny cracks of urban landscapes, a backyard is transformed through hostile takeover of an existing concrete slab by imposing a series of "cracks". The rows of this garden contain a lushly planted mix of herbs, vegetables, flowers, and rogue weeds retained for their aesthetic value.

Looking out of place among projects whose budgets seem crass in an age of credit crunch and foreclosure, an impostor in a cabal of slick hyper-modernity and conspicuous designery, The Crack Garden is a refreshing sight.

The Crack Garden

The Crack Garden

The Crack Garden

Quoting the project statement at length:

The Crack Garden is an exploration of the identity of site and the clarity of intervention. Pre-existing places have an inherent identity that is based on their history, materiality, and activities. The design is conceived as an intervention that functions as a lens, altering perception of a place rather than completely remaking it. The intervention can reveal the physical and material qualities of the place, and/or become a catalyst to incite new program activities. In the case of The Crack Garden, completely remaking the garden was highly unlikely because of the tiny budget. By fully embracing a strategy of design as intervention, the garden relies on its previous identity as much as it does on the changes that were imposed.

“The conceptual basis of The Crack Garden is to reveal the potential for beauty that underlies the concrete and asphalt that is the predominant ground plane material of the urban landscape. The interventions into the site of The Crack Garden were primarily actions of removal rather than the addition of new layers and material. By eliminating portions of the existing concrete and exposing the soil beneath, potential is released, and new opportunities for the garden arise.”

The Crack Garden

Perhaps inspired by the garden, a crack team of guerrilla gardeners will undertake tactical missions to etch similar tectonic fissures in the parking lots of failed suburban malls and abandoned inner neighborhoods of post-industrial cities. With pneumatic drills or with pick axes and some elbow grease, they'll wound the earth's (un)natural asphalt skin, so that forgotten ecologies may return and hopefully fester.

And if they can afford the grotesquely exorbitant registration fees, our gardeners will then submit their covert operations for next year's ASLA Professional Awards.
  • Anonymous
  • May 8, 2009 at 4:12:00 AM CDT
  • this garden makes me smile. elegant and true to the site. many sites. godspeed to the guerrillas to cultivate the concrete.

  • rob
  • May 8, 2009 at 9:21:00 AM CDT
  • The jury comment is illuminating, as it rather misses the point:

    "A grassroots project on how to take something and make it sustainable without any means"I'm not sure what is 'sustainable' about the project, other than that it was done without any (significant) means. Which isn't to denigrate the project at all -- that it makes so much out of so little is exactly what is wonderful (and timely, as you note) about it. But that statement seems to reveal a mindset where "sustainable=expensive", rather than one that acknowledges that making much out of little is one of if not the most inherently sustainable things possible.

    Is that too harsh? They did award the project, after all... Either way, you're absolutely right about how refreshing this is.

  • Nicola
  • May 8, 2009 at 9:48:00 AM CDT
  • this project renders a romantic image (the green cracking out of the concrete), but at the same time critical gardening like this also looks like a feasible and promising activity for the future.

  • Anonymous
  • May 8, 2009 at 2:26:00 PM CDT
  • Breaking up an impermeable surface and planting plants is sustainable. It helps with water absorption and cools off what must have been a typical hot surface parking area. Look at what was there before. Great example for the public.

  • rob
  • May 8, 2009 at 4:03:00 PM CDT
  • Anon 2:26 --

    Agree that breaking up the concrete and planting a few plants is helpful. Whether you were responding to my comment above or not, I suppose I should clarify (because I don't think I worded my first comment very well) that what I was trying to point out was an unhelpful mindset revealed by the judges' statement. That statement seems to express surprise that a space could be made more 'sustainable' without much material or financial expense, when I'd argue that making much with little would be a much better definition of 'sustainable' than, say, the LEED standards.

  • Georgia
  • May 8, 2009 at 8:02:00 PM CDT
  • On my walk home today I spied an inadvertent "crack garden" in someone's driveway. If it had not been a car park, perhaps the dandelions would have been forage-able.

    Well written --> "Perhaps inspired by the garden, a crack team of guerrilla gardeners will undertake tactical missions to etch similar tectonic fissures in the parking lots of failed suburban malls and abandoned inner neighborhoods of post-industrial cities..."

  • Blinde Schildpad
  • May 9, 2009 at 5:53:00 AM CDT
  • Wish i had a garden, now, though i suppose this could work vertically on walls as well.

  • Anonymous
  • May 12, 2009 at 12:39:00 AM CDT
  • something in the same vein:


    short video linked through the site:

  • Anonymous
  • May 12, 2009 at 11:46:00 AM CDT
  • I really like this. It's nice double meaning and also a beautiful look at something unbeautiful. paradox. i like.

  • Lucas Gray
  • May 23, 2009 at 5:32:00 AM CDT
  • A fantastically creative design idea. I hope this idea takes root in cities throughout the world (bad pun intended, sorry).

    -Lucas Gray

  • Anonymous
  • May 30, 2009 at 8:36:00 PM CDT
  • Brilliant. Thinking Gordon Matta-Clark, only way better and green! Reminds me of line in one of my own poems:

    peeling paint and fallen leaves,
    urban rust, a break-down of trust

    So glad for your reversal

  • Markus
  • June 2, 2009 at 10:46:00 AM CDT
  • Very nice. 2 practical advantages to a hard surface between the rows of plants - no weeds there and all water goes to the rows of plants.


  • ei
  • June 4, 2009 at 4:31:00 PM CDT
  • I Want one! My front yard, really 'our'front yard, is typically covered with detritus & young people. It could perorm the miracle, it needs!!! E

  • ryan
  • June 6, 2009 at 8:07:00 PM CDT
  • It's pretty cool, I'm all in favor of increasing permeability and planted space in our cities, but I feel like I see projects like this all the time. It's very common to break concrete and reset it as flagstone. It takes more labor than just cutting lines, but it's better for water infiltration and it avoids the intrusive linearity of this planting. I guess it's more philosophically pure to leave the slab intact? (I have no affiliation) is an entire organization devoted to replacing concrete with permeable surfaces and plants. I feel like they are a lot more deserving of an award. Sorry if that sounds cranky.

  • Anonymous
  • June 10, 2009 at 3:17:00 PM CDT
  • nice images..the write up is a little much to stomach though

  • Anne
  • June 19, 2009 at 11:29:00 PM CDT
  • Great project, and refreshing to see it amongst a cadre of winners portraying a vastly different image of 'landscape architecture'.

    The jury comment pointed out by Rob above is a little disturbing though.

  • swtchbckr
  • July 1, 2009 at 2:59:00 PM CDT
  • love this, but, i notice there's 'sealed' cracks already in the concrete. why not follow their lines instead of creating a linear parallel structured feature. by following the 'natural' crack lines the garden would appear far more organic and 'of nature'...

    also, following the concrete's own cracks, would make the hammerdrilling a lot easier too.

    or, is it that you're wanting to maintain the structural integrity of the concrete by not following its own cracks?

    or is it

    (please excuse all the ' ' )

  • Statii Beton
  • August 21, 2009 at 7:10:00 AM CDT
  • As a form of art this may be a cool thing. As flower and grass place they need to have a high maintenance rate in order to survive.

  • Anonymous
  • September 18, 2009 at 2:46:00 PM CDT
  • This is great in that it incorporates the green you want with the concrete you have, so that you aren't ripping all that concrete up and dumping it on another site.

  • October 5, 2009 at 9:40:00 PM CDT
  • The cracks are at least as interesting, if not more so, without the plants.

  • Vestal
  • April 15, 2010 at 12:03:00 PM CDT
  • I like the idea, because it shows the evolution of man and his identity with this space.

    Often on old building sites there are cracks along the perimeter where an amazing variety of vegetation finds root and sprouts. I have often thought about purposefully planting these naturally occuring cracks, but I have never thought of creating the cracks on purpose.

  • Anonymous
  • December 18, 2012 at 9:04:00 PM CST
  • Why has no one mentioned the RAIN WATER ABSORPTION! Instead of sheets of rainwater flowing into storm drains, these crack gardens absorb rainwater. In fact, they act like traps, collecting larger amounts of rainwater falling on adjacent concrete areas. This means the plants receive much more water than they would otherwise.

  • Alexander Trevi
  • December 18, 2012 at 9:48:00 PM CST
  • Anonymous:

    Quite true. Soil infiltration is a key concept and function of the garden, though for my part, the overriding interest of this post was to point out the one-of-these-is-not-like-the-others aspect of that year's Residential Design category.

    Nevertheless, I added the tag #stormwater to this post, so when reading this:

    "By eliminating portions of the existing concrete and exposing the soil beneath, potential is released, and new opportunities for the garden arise.”

    -- one might have an idea what sort of "potential(s)" and "opportunities" (e.g. soil infiltration) the crack gardeners were thinking about.

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