Ken Smith, Landscape Architect

Last night I attended a Powerpoint presentation given by the estimable Ken Smith, a well known landscape architect whose offices are located in New York City.  I went there with my design studio class from Columbia Uiversity and luckily it was held on campus.  That is him in photo above (courtesy New York Times)...Howard Roark*, anyone?

Ken Smith has a new book, published by Monacelli Press, and he was giving this talk in conjunction with selling and signing his wonderful book. I required my class to attend this presentation because he is the 'designer du jour' here in NYC and his ideas 'push the envelope' and are perfectly suited to the 21st century urban milieu...

(uh oh! I am letting some designer jargon creep in here....note to me: watch those french words and cliche descriptors)

He spoke about his widely publicized, award winning NY City school, PS 19:

This was Smith's 2003 pro bono project for the Robin Hood Foundation that builds libraries in some of New York City's neediest neighborhoods. This project sought to create a colorful and functional outdoor learning environment for an elementary school that had very little outdoor space.

All planting and installation for the project were done by volunteers. It was hailed as  "a simple, inventive solution with high impact for low dollars. . . Impressive application of exterior graphics."

See below for the model and plan view:

Smith also spoke about his famous Museum of Modern Art Roof Garden:

no soil, no weight, no plants, no people

the photos below are from archlandscapes: 

Smith accomplished the goal of creating lightweight faux garden at MOMA..plastic rocks, styrofoam edging, phony boxwood...

185 crushed recycled rocks + 7 tons crushed glass + 4 tons rubber mulch + 560 artificial boxwoods.
It is visible only to people who live above the Museum of Modern Art - no visitors allowed

He told us he based the garden layout on a camouflage pattern - he likened modern landscape architects to 'camofleurs' (uh oh, French word, again...). He said many times we are asked to screen this, hide true.

As you can imagine, this 'ersatz' approach has engendered its own critics (now I am lapsing into German words - stop it, now!) 

 Here is what Mason White wrote in archinet in 'Faking It For Real':

"Smith's pop garden perched atop the venerable MoMA offers itself as a mirage or oasis of artificiality. Unwavering in its denial of seasonal change, and uninterested in the fact that it presents itself as hyper-real. This landscape is the perfect manicured zen lawn. ..."
Oh Yeah! Finally the no-watering solution! (No carbon dioxide/oxygen exchange, either, but who needs fresh air?)

I was disappointed he didn't share his residential gardens which are stunning - like my favorite, the urban viewing garden at 40 Central Park South:

crushed white marble, recycled black rubber, and blue marbles which are under-lit for nighttime viewing

A series of tall aluminum stained wood screens are planted with climbing hydrangea vines.

go to the great website, dexigner ,for more on this

Isamu Noguchi's cast steel torso, Man Aviator, can be seen in the photo above.

I had to add this garden because I want my students to see Smith's residential work..why he didn't showcase this last night,  I don't know...
By the way,  *Howard Roark, architect, was the empire building, main character in Ayn Rand's 'The Fountainhead'.


  1. Why he could put in tons of glass and no green roof plants in inexplicable to me. I think the MOMA project is a travesty. Who wants fake anything, especially in a museum (or atop it?)

  2. I agree with you! Travesty is the right word...the entrance to MOMA is like entering a subway station...

  3. great design, i do love this because of the tree images and green types of environment was included specifically the growth of veins garden design.
    printing hervey bay

  4. I heard for a fact that he had to use artificial materials, because the museum was EXTREMELY concerned with him using any living material. This is because they were nervous that of even the slightest chance of leakage. I also heard he was inspired by Andy Warhol's camouflage paintings. So perfect for a Museum of Modern Art - so in that way the work is extremely successful.

  5. really this design was so natural and environment also so good.architect was designed so beautiful


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