Member Spotlight: Tyler Silvestro
Tyler Silvestro is a landscape architect working for W Architecture & Landscape Architecture in Brooklyn. Among other responsibilities, he has worked on various projects that focus on post-Sandy design and reconstruction, including a competition to reconsider ways in which vulnerable geographies can be more resilient through multi-disciplinary collaboration called Rebuild by Design. Tyler has written for numerous architectural publications and has co-taught design studios at Columbia University GSAPP and CUNY City College of New York in Manhattan.
Tyler is the co-founder and editor of Corridor, an annual journal that investigates the built environment of small cities tied together by the Northeast Corridor (Boston to Washington, DC). Each issue will focus specifically on one city and will pull resources from people who live and/or work there or have a perspective on an issue that affects that particular place. The first issue is Bridgeport Connecticut. It was printed in November 2017 and will be distributed widely along the eastern seaboard in order to attract the attention of cities and stakeholders, artists and community members, designers and activists, who call the corridor their home and are curious about their urban surroundings as they relate to the region. Visit www.corridoroffice.com for more information.
When did you realize you wanted to become a landscape architect?
As a draftsman and a field technician for an environmental engineering firm in Connecticut, I was exposed to the two worlds landscape architects; the site, where conditions can be analyzed and measured, and the drafting room, where a projection of that site is drawn in plan and section. My interest in becoming a landscape architect took root in that world where design and environment collide.
To further my understanding of environmental design I enrolled in the summer program of the Landscape Architecture Department of the Rhode Island School of Design. The four week course was called Design Foundations / Field Ecology, and was pioneered by Professor Colgate Searle. The course challenged students to search their environments for meaning and to understand ecological systems while pushing students to draw, build, collaborate, evaluate, and design. I was also introduced to a wide canon of literature on landscape architecture and ecology, including D.W. Meinig’s The Beholding Eye; Ten Versions of the Same Scene, which I often return to reread. I was encouraged by Colgate and my peers to apply to the full time graduate program at the culmination of that program, and it was that summer at RISD that I realized that I would continue studying landscape architecture.
What has been your career path since then?
I was fortunate to intern with the Architect’s Newspaper while in grad school in New York City. The opportunity to work with Bill Menking and Diana Darling enabled me to think about the role of landscape architecture in an urban context, and to witness the growing attention given to predominantly landscape/public realm projects. Landscape architects and their work have certainly received more attention in the architectural news outlets in recent years, and I was able to see the tide really start to change first hand. The experience allowed me to cover a handful of excellent projects in their conceptual or master-plan phases that I have followed ever since, such as Rail Park in Philadelphia, Waller Creek in Austin, the Naval Cemetery Memorial Landscape at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and the East River Blueway courtesy of WXY Studio.
At WXY I was exposed to Rebuild by Design, an international competition sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation that challenged architects to come up with design solutions for coastal communities in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The purpose was for diverse and collaborative design teams, led by architects and landscape architects, to come up with ideas that could be implemented locally and applied regionally in an effort to rethink the typical response to catastrophic coastal storm events and to consider the future of our urbanized coastlines. This experience has been instrumental in my approach to thinking about resilience and regionalism with respect to design.
Today I work for W Architecture & Landscape Architecture whose bulk of constructed projects is on waterfronts throughout the country and we are currently developing plans for public projects of varying scales throughout New York City and elsewhere. Check out the new website to see what we have been up to; www.w-architecture.com.
What unique or standout work have you participated in?
I believe that every element of work I have participated in, including the summer I spent working with a surveyor, has been valuable in terms of where I stand today. Surveying gave me a deep understanding of site elements such as topography, geography, hydrology, and forestry, as well as an awareness of cultural history and property law. Civil and environmental engineering reinforced these topics and created a deeper awareness of the built environment and the interface between the natural and the constructed landscapes. I regularly return to these themes to generate design concepts, and I rely on my understanding of engineering and biology to inform my design ideas. This backdrop, on top of my more recent engagement with the resiliency work of the Rockefeller Foundation (Rebuild by Design, Rockefeller Academies), has set the stage for the ideation of the journal, Corridor. The first issue was printed and made available in November.
Corridor is a journal that will investigate the architecture and landscapes of secondary cities tied together along the Northeast Corridor (as defined by Amtrak, Boston to DC). As landscape architects in New York City, we often are looking at other cities around the country who are investing in their public spaces, and it is incredible to see all of these places building world-class parks as a strategy to attract more people; Cleveland, Detroit, Raleigh, Los Angeles, Chattanooga, Vancouver, Austin, Pittsburgh, St Petersburg FL (yeah, W!). Corridor is a labor of love between my brother James, an architect in Chicago, and myself. We have been musing about this project for the better part of 3 years and are on the cusp of printing the first issue which will highlight Bridgeport, Connecticut.
As a secondary city, Bridgeport has everything we find integral to a great city. Bridgeport has a stock of Romanesque civic buildings from the 19th Century, scores of industrial relics with uncertain futures, and two Olmstedian / Vauxian parks (including their largest maritime public commission, Seaside Park). It is also a major transportation hub for the state, serving as a multi-modal interchange sending commuters and its diverse communities from New York to Boston or Hartford, or vice versa via trains, buses, and ferries. In many ways, Bridgeport represents the challenges of a de-industrialized coastal city that we find fascinating, and Corridor will focus five issues on this topic. The first issue was recently released and we will be highlighting Providence RI in the second issue.
Separate from Corridor, I also had the opportunity to work directly with both Mierle Ukeles and Agnes Denes, on two distinct projects that were both located on properties of the NYC Department of Sanitation; Fresh Kills Park in Staten Island and Edgemere Landfill in Queens, respectively. It was an incredible experience to work with both of these iconic artists and to peek at the world through their perspectives. Merle’s project, The Overlook, which is a cantilevered walkway in the southern portion of Fresh Kills, was presented at her retrospective of the Queens Museum in 2016 and will be constructed in the coming years. Agnes’ project is a geometrical forest, designed in concentric ovals for the 119+ acre Edgemere peninsula which juts out into Jamaica Bay. I hope it is realized one day, as the city is certain to love and cherish it.
What is the most challenging part of the work?
Early on there was this nebulousness about Corridor and its particular content focus. We originally wanted to focus specifically on the train stations of various cities and their design and impact on the immediate surroundings of their site. However, by expanding the scope of each issue to the built environment of the city at large, and allowing flexibility in the focus of each place, there has been a much wider interest in community members to engage in our request for submissions. It has also become far more relatable to other cities along the corridor and we have been contacted about creating an issue in more cities that are interested in this type of investigation. There is so much potential in these places, both hidden and in plain view that Corridor will work to convey.
How will it affect your other work going forward?
As a landscape architect, I am constantly observing my surroundings and considering the potential to make our daily lives better through design. In many ways, cities are competing with one another to attract people and businesses. Landscape architecture and the design of the public realm are tools that cities can use to make an impact on the physical environment in an effort to accomplish these goals. Corridor frees me up to think about this collaboratively with other professionals in a variety of fields who also believe in the potential of these places. Ideally, Corridor will help cities identify opportunities for their built environments. My brother and I have always been fascinated and inspired by the work of the Yale Building Project (Charles Moore) and the Rural Studio (Samuel Mockbee), and their students, where there is equal measure of civic engagement and community input that coalesces to realize a built project. We highlight one of the Yale Building Projects in Corridor’s first issue.
Where do you go for the creative inspiration for projects or the work that you do?
I started running with regularity while in college, and have done it ever since. While in grad school I realized how impactful running can be on the creative process, especially when wrestling with a problem or a project for a while. Something about running has a tendency to unlock fresh ideas. To take it a step further, I will run in environments that are somehow related to the challenges that projects present, and let my mind wander on those places. Our office is on Fulton Street near Borough Hall in Brooklyn, so I might take a midday run to marvel at the engineering / horticultural feat which is Brooklyn Bridge Park. On weekends I’ll take my daughter to Prospect Park, Brooklyn Botanical Garden, Pratt or the Naval Cemetery Landscape in the Navy Yard to observe the variety of landscapes in the neighborhood and watch how they change throughout the seasons. The callicarpa in BBG is doing some funky stuff right now.
Cities, in general, inspire me. Wherever you go in them there is a limitless fountain of culture and ideas to drink in.
What landscape architects that are currently active do you admire and why?
I am not sure if all of these firms are landscape architecture firms in the traditional sense, but here are a few that I admire. Gehl Studio and their approach to projects through consistent and focused research of the built environment and its impact on society is one that I think is admirable and very important. I have been to a handful of Hargreaves’ projects throughout the country and have enjoyed the spatial perspectives unique to their landforms and sculptural earthen topographies. It is like land art meets ADA requirements and you don’t have to travel to the desert to get there. I also appreciate the research-based and experimental mentality of groups like SCAPE, Port Urbanism, the Center for Urban Pedagogy, Hester Street Collaborative, Interboro Partners, Range, and Waggonner & Ball. I also admire groups who seem to do exactly what interests them like Family New York and PLAYLAB, INC. (+Pool), and my friends at Terremoto in LA.
What is your favorite landscape or place and why?
Grand Army Plaza at the confluence of Flatbush and Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. I used to live near it and would make a daily pilgrimage to its fountain no matter the time of year. There is something specifically beautiful about it that I cannot quite define which may be the reason I continue to go. I would often take very late cab rides home from a former job and would ask the driver to do a loop around it prior to going to my apartment, and even in a taxi at 2 am it is mesmerizing. I think the key to its success is its scale, and its mix of grandiosity and simple materials that does it for me. But I’ll keep going and try to figure it out.