Editor's Choice

Willow Street Garden

designed by /

Location: New York / USA / Type: Atriums / Gardens / Built: 2011 /
Published on June 25, 2024

Behind a five-story rowhouse in a residential Brooklyn neighborhood, MVVA created an escape within the city that evokes the feeling of wandering through nature. The existing space lacked privacy and was enclosed by a historic 12-foot brick wall. Moving away from the traditional notion of a backyard as an area for recreation or outdoor cooking and dining, the design produced a peaceful, meditative space. Reflecting sunlight back into the garden, bands of sparkling mica schist paving scatter, densify, and change in scale to create a forced perspective enlarging the sense of space towards the back of the garden. Adding to this visual effect, layers of dense planting amplify the depth and texture of the surroundings.

The tree canopy provides privacy, creates habitat for birds, and cools the garden (and house) in the summer. The garden’s protected urban microclimate is warmer than the surrounding city in winter and supports plants like camellias and crape myrtles, which are typically not hardy enough for New York winters.

The garden aspires to create a sensual landscape experience, its path and plants composed to create the sense of wandering through a larger landscape.

In a dense, residential Brooklyn neighborhood, a tiny backyard has been transformed into a soothing, contemplative garden.

The view of the garden from the upper terraces and windows provides the feeling of living in nature, creating calm even within the house. Climbing ivy dematerializes the surrounding walls, making the space feel larger and less constricted.

MVVA discovered a large 19th-century rain cistern during construction and reactivated it to reroute garden and rooftop stormwater runoff so that it will gradually seep into the water table.

The arrangement of the paving is inspired by the disordered but rhythmic way that logs flow down a river. The loose, irregular pattern cultivates a sense of calm and encourages quiet contemplation.

Project Data

Landscape Architecture: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

LOCATION Brooklyn, New York

YEAR 2011

SIZE 1,200 SF

CLIENT Private Residence


2015 ASLA Residential Design Honor Award

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