2017 Merit Award

Naval Cemetery Landscape

Category: General Design

Landscape Architect:

Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects


Project Team:

Brooklyn Greenway Initiative

About the Project:

The Naval Cemetery Landscape provides a place for retreat and remembrance while honoring a richly layered history muted by time and isolation. The site, an unmarked burial ground from the late 19th and early 20th centuries and associated with the Brooklyn Navy Yard Hospital, has been transformed into the first open-space node along the fourteen mile Brooklyn Greenway after decades of neglect. A memorial meadow and sacred grove are framed by an undulating boardwalk lifted above the undisturbed ground. The oxbow-like boardwalk, reminiscent of the former site hydrology, float over the sea of dense grasses and forbs.

Project Location: Brooklyn, New York

Special Factors

Striking in its simplicity, the Naval Cemetery Landscape provides an important place of peace, refuge, and quiet – a rich ecological oasis in an otherwise dense, urban environment.

The entrance to the Naval Cemetery Landscape acts as a threshold to the wildflower memorial meadow, amphitheater, and sacred grove – all tied together by a sinuous floating boardwalk of Black Locust lumber.

A precast diamond pier foundation system was utilized to support the boardwalk framework. This system was developed to limit disturbance to no more than 4” below finish grade, a requirement based on the sensitive nature of the burial site. Limited excavation and construction activity created an ideally undisturbed site for the seeding of the native meadow. Planted with more than 50 meadow species, the memorial meadow focuses on establishment of much needed native plant fodder for the many overlooked pollinators critical to ecological health of the region.

Initially planted in a strict geometric pattern and reinforced by frames, the plantings will eventually drift across the site, creating new patterns and establishing a self-sustaining, ‘open-ended’ ecology. A linear band of granite blocks bisects the sacred grove. These blocks pay homage to the industrial past of the Brooklyn Navy Yard while suggesting permanent marker for those buried on site. The small amphitheater was specifically designed as a space for immersing school children in this vibrant ecology, providing direct contact with the natural world.

This understated landscape in Brooklyn quietly engages the site’s history and place for the benefit of its inhabitants. The new park acts as a community builder as host to neighborhood activities like yoga, meditation, and ecology classes. It engages the public in the importance of pollinator habitat in the urban environment, symbolically attracting many forms of life to a place that has historically commemorated death.