Teardrop Park

New York, United States

Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates


In Manhattan, hidden between four residential towers, lies a carefully orchestrated piece of the Catskill Mountains.

Fig.1 The Catskill Mountains north of Manhattan is an important holiday destination for the inhabitants of the metropolis. (Image: freeimages.com)
Fig.2 The 1.8 hectare park is like "a piece of the Hudson Valley", through which the Catskill Mountains run. (Image: mvvainc.com)
Fig.3 On the south side of the park is a natural playground for children from the surrounding neighbourhood. The idea was that Nature would offer children "adventure and a sanctuary”. (Image: mvvainc.com)
Fig.4 The stone work of art by Ann Hamilton and Michael Merci refers to a geological formation and is perhaps the most direct reference to the Catskills. (Image: mvvainc.com)

The Catskill Mountains are 160 kilometers north of Manhattan and are familiar territory to many New York residents. The landscape was an inspiration to the painters of the famous Hudson River School and is a popular holiday destination for New Yorkers. The drinking water of the city also comes from the Catskills.

A street was provided for in the urban plan for four residential towers in Manhattan, but the architect decided that a park was better suited. He named the place after the shape of the plot: Teardrop. Landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh - who was allowed to design Teardrop Park - lived as a child on a small farm near the Catskills. He used his memories when designing Teardrop Park, he told The New York Times. In particular, ''the deliberate simplicity of that remembered agrarian landscape”, had a stimulating effect. ( i )

The 1.8-hectare park is like "a piece of the Hudson Valley" that runs through the Catskills. ( ii ) It is accessible from four sides. A gray sandstone wall divides the park into a north and south side. The sunny north side has a lawn, the shaded south side a natural playground for children from the surrounding neighborhood. Nature, the idea was, offers children "adventure and sanctuary". ( iii ) The stone artwork by Ann Hamilton and Michael Merci refers to a geological formation and is perhaps the most direct reference to the Catskills. Sprayers in the wall provide coolness in the summer and long icicles in the winter.

The naturalness of the park has been carefully orchestrated. Research has been done for this and technical aids have been used. The soil consists of several layers, to hold water or to drain it. This is how different microclimates were created. Computer-controlled "heliostats" are placed on the surrounding roofs, a kind of mirrors that reflect the sunlight. An adjacent building has been lowered by centimeters so that the park has longer sunshine. ( iv )

Teardrop Park contains not only references to nature, but also to well-known park elements. The bins, benches and paving are the same as in Central Park, just like the big boulders. ( v ) Central Park is also an illusion of a landscape, and pretends it has always been there. Designer Frederick Law Olmsted designed parts in such a way that they resembled the Catskills, at the time an area unknown to many city dwellers.

According to Michael Van Valkenburgh, there is "a voracious appetite for parks that are vigorous, robust places, that provide the kind of complexity that only nature gives you". ( vi ) The reference to the Catskills is not explicitly mentioned and can evoke a different association for everyone. Some will indeed think of the mountains, for another it may feel like Ireland. What binds seems to be the immobility, the self-evidence, the steadfastness.

( i ) Paula Deitz, ‘Landscapes That Recall Rural Simplicity’ in: The New York Times, November 5, 1987.
( ii ) http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/30/nyregion/a-chip-off-the-old-park.html, consulted October 2017.
( iii ) http://mvvainc.com/, consulted October 2017.
( iv ) http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/30/nyregion/a-chip-off-the-old-park.html, consulted October 2017.
( v ) https://landarchs.com/teardrop-park/, consulted October 2017.
( vi ) NY Times, Anne Raver, The Call of the Primordial, Januari 6, 2005.