High of the Rock | Panorama Structure Journal


Terrain-NYC turns a bedrock cliff within the Bronx right into a backyard for all seasons.

By Zach Mortice

The entry courtyard creates an elevated terrace that allows residents to look out over the surrounding neighborhood. Courtesy Terrain-NYC Landscape Architecture PC
The entry courtyard creates an elevated terrace that enables residents to look out over the encompassing neighborhood. Courtesy Terrain-NYC Panorama Structure PC.

Confronted with the necessity for a meditative and richly planted panorama for an reasonably priced and supportive housing challenge within the Bronx on high of uncovered bedrock, Brian Inexperienced, a panorama architect at Terrain-NYC, seemed to the opposite geologic formations in Manhattan, significantly in Central Park, and within the Bronx. What he seen most have been the ferns that grew in these locations. Usually thought of too delicate to take root in rock, they have been surprisingly persistent. “They’ll discover their manner, someway, into these little crevices,” he says.

Reassured by this discovery, Inexperienced planted Christmas ferns in addition to a various array of hardier species on the uncovered bedrock that defines the location of St. Augustine Terrace, a 12-story housing tower designed by Magnusson Structure and Planning. His confidence was rewarded: Inside a yr, extra volunteer ferns sprouted from the rock. Situated within the Morrisania neighborhood of the Bronx on the previous web site of a church, St. Augustine Terrace’s panorama is a grasp class in plant choice and refined tectonic framing, utilized in a spot the place folks seldom have entry to high quality landscapes. From the 11-foot-high iridescent plateaus of quartz schist grows a multitextural panorama that adjustments with the seasons and provides residents what Inexperienced calls “somewhat backyard by their entrance door.”

The landscape design consists of overlook platforms, native plant gardens, and nooks for gathering. Courtesy Terrain-NYC Landscape Architecture PC
The panorama design consists of overlook platforms, native plant gardens, and nooks for gathering. Courtesy Terrain-NYC Panorama Structure PC.

Accomplished in 2018, the housing challenge was developed by Catholic Charities and its Beacon of Hope housing providers subsidiary. It consists of 112 items, 35 of which supply supportive providers for folks with power psychological well being challenges, a lot of whom have been unhoused. The location was previously dwelling to one of many space’s oldest Black Catholic church buildings, demolished a number of years prior. The bedrock was largely obscured when the church was nonetheless intact, and Catholic Charities stored it for just a few causes. “A part of it’s the uniqueness,” says Susan Albrecht, a senior director of the Affiliation of New York Catholic Houses, “and a part of it’s the price.” This dollar-saving act of preservation is echoed by different artifacts left over from the location’s former life: A church bell and the church’s 1894 cornerstone grace the entry plaza, and some items of the unique basis stay in a shady courtyard flanking the principle entrance.

St. Augustine Terrace’s planting design provides year-round seasonal interest. Courtesy Terrain-NYC Landscape Architecture PC
St. Augustine Terrace’s planting design offers year-round seasonal curiosity. Courtesy Terrain-NYC Panorama Structure PC.

The quartz schist formation that’s Inexperienced’s planting canvas dates from the Center Ordovician to Decrease Cambrian intervals, fashioned greater than 500 million years in the past, certainly one of a number of geologic formations that converge within the space. The housing tower is sited again from the road; stairs and a ramp deliver residents and guests up and over the 1.2-acre web site, atop the bedrock, and onto an asymmetrical concrete plaza. A steel-grate overlook cantilevers from one aspect of the plaza, providing views of the panorama, however even with out the plantings, the bedrock places on a present, exhibiting shades of grey, black, white, and oxidized oranges and reds, all highlighted by quartz that sizzles within the solar. The geologic strata of compressed layers of rock are simple to learn, particularly the place implacable junipers creep into the seams.


There was loads of refined choreography concerned in creating the 4 terraced ranges that align with sure stairs as they descend the bedrock from the plaza to the road degree. Inexperienced says he wished the panorama to be “as gentle as doable on the bottom. It’s about not imposing our will on this geology, however working with it, exploring it, and utilizing it the most effective we are able to to create the expertise.”


Entry walkways and stairs weave through existing bedrock to create a welcoming entrance. Courtesy Terrain-NYC Landscape Architecture PC
Entry walkways and stairs weave by way of current bedrock to create a welcoming entrance. Courtesy Terrain-NYC Panorama Structure PC.

The terrace ranges are created by lengthy precast-concrete beams that stretch like arms from both aspect of the steps at every of 4 ranges. Their places on the location have been plotted with string tied to waypoint markers. The trail of every string was then spray-painted vibrant blue alongside the rock. Horizontal metal dowels tie every beam collectively, and vertical dowels safe the beams to the bedrock. A lot of the plaza space is infilled with soil, and the terrace ranges create shallow tubs of soil on the bedrock. Horizontal weepholes have been drilled by way of the eight-inch-wide beams each foot or so to help drainage, and the beams are largely obscured by the plantings.

Steel dowels affix concrete beams to the bedrock. Courtesy Terrain-NYC Landscape Architecture PC
Metal dowels affix concrete beams to the bedrock. Courtesy Terrain-NYC Panorama Structure PC.

The soil and plantings skinny out the farther one strikes from the constructing. The location’s perimeter is surrounded by low mesh fencing that doesn’t obscure the visible affect of the bedrock face. The planting standards for this seemingly inhospitable place referred to as for pollinator-attracting natives that have been drought-resistant and steadfast within the face of full solar. (The Terrain group modeled the constructing and panorama to find out photo voltaic publicity ranges.) And the crops needed to do properly in shallow soil. On the bedrock part, the grime was solely 18 inches at its deepest, and sometimes just some inches deep. However inside these constraints, Inexperienced and the Terrain group managed to conjure a variety of textures and colours on the rock: purple catmint flowers, wispy ferns, and woody sumac.

The dedication of the location’s junipers stands out instantly; they attain their fingers into corners and crevices, rising in simply six inches of soil. Shining sumac, which may attain as much as 5 toes excessive, provides verticality and form close to the highest of the bedrock. Thorny roses close to the constructing’s entrance preserve children from scrambling onto the rocks. All through, the group eliminated little or no rock. A tall birch tree alongside the constructing’s aspect door necessitated the excavation of some toes of rock, however that was largely all.

The frontage creates an inviting and unexpected landscape experience. © David Sundberg/ESTO
The frontage creates an inviting and surprising panorama expertise. Photograph © David Sundberg/ESTO.

The panorama is designed to present folks a purpose to return again throughout all 4 seasons. The flowering catmint will preserve its blooms all through the summer season. Staghorn sumac’s pyramidal clusters of fuzzy pink berries are persistent by way of a lot of fall, and juniper and japanese white pine will keep regal all through the winter. Reaching as much as eight toes, these pines, in addition to serviceberry shrubs (popping with fruit in late June), isolate a aspect courtyard the place the unique church’s masonry foundations lie, in robust distinction to the uncovered rock on the entrance of the constructing.

At the high point of the bedrock, an overlook offers views of the neighborhood and the New York City skyline. Courtesy Terrain-NYC Landscape Architecture PC
On the excessive level of the bedrock, an overlook provides views of the neighborhood and the New York Metropolis skyline. Courtesy Terrain-NYC Panorama Structure PC.

Farther out on the sheer rock face, past patches of intentional soil and flora, the crops are sparser however maybe much more spectacular. Purple-flowered volunteer clover and delicate ferns (normally extra at dwelling in wetlands than on a sun-bleached rock within the Bronx) are essentially the most daring, springing from rock like magical set items in a fairy story. They’re small however maybe essentially the most eye-catching crops on-site, particularly for passersby who can attain out and contact the bedrock from the sidewalk. These small bits of flora exist in relative isolation in comparison with the native meadows the place cycles of spontaneous growth are celebrated, however like native meadows, they blur the boundary between “weed” and “planting.” And the residents pay shut consideration to those cycles, says Lakesha Baker of Wavecrest Administration, the constructing’s supervisor. If something seems to be to be ailing, they need to understand how quickly the panorama crew can have a look. They inform her, “‘It might probably’t wait three months,’” she says. “The residents take quite a lot of satisfaction in the truth that they haven’t simply tree pits.” 

Jacqueline Rosario-Perez, the assistant director of resident providers for Beacon of Hope Catholic Charities, says entry to this panorama is nothing in need of therapeutic. “The fantastic thing about the panorama itself is simply so invigorating from a psychological well being standpoint,” she says. “It actually helps folks to have the ability to take pleasure in nature and have the ability to have the flexibility to step outdoors and luxuriate in one thing that’s lovely and welcoming. Lots of our purchasers have come from actually difficult backgrounds, [with] histories of homelessness. To have [this] panorama, when it comes to hierarchies of wants, fulfills one thing lovely for them.” 

Ferns and junipers cling to life on the bedrock. Courtesy Zach Mortice
Ferns and junipers cling to life on the bedrock. Photograph by Zach Mortice.

That’s been Graviel Pagan’s expertise. He’s lived at St. Augustine Terrace because it opened, and sometimes spends time within the panorama a number of instances a day. When he feels depressed or anxious, he goes outdoors to alleviate stress. “It’s a pleasant ambiance,” Pagan says. He’s fascinated by the bedrock formation it sits on. These rocky outcroppings have been one thing he loved photographing even earlier than he moved into St. Augustine. He likes to sketch footage of the flowers and birds on the bedrock. No matter he attracts, it needs to be spontaneous. Just like the crops that weren’t deliberate right here however assist to outline this little cliff of tenacious life, he says, “It has to return within the second.”

Zach Mortice is a Chicago-based design journalist who focuses on structure and panorama structure.


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