New Public Spaces at Peabody Essex Museum Designed by Renowned firm of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates
Released July 01, 2003
The Garden Walkway and Armory Park, two new public spaces at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) designed by the distinguished landscape architects Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, are part of the Museum’s recent expansion and renovation initiative that transformed the 204-year-old institution, providing more than 250,000 square feet of new and renovated facilities while creating a striking new wing and adding an important historic house from China to its world-renowned collection of architecture. The new garden walkway and park serve to unify the museum’s extensive campus of 24 historic properties as well as connect the museum to Salem’s historic waterfront. The new museum opened to the public in June 2003.
Dan Monroe, PEM Executive Director and CEO, said, “Michael Van Vallkenberg faced an extremely complex set of urban and landscape design issues in developing the new Armory Park. This beautiful park references traditional New England commons, while also serving as commemorative space for veterans, a point of arrival to Salem, a connector in the Museum campus, and a relaxing and enjoyable park for citizens. Mr. Van Valkenberg, and Ms. Laura Solano of his office, have developed a deceptively simple and elegant solution to a complex set of challenges.” Among Michael Van Valkenburgh’s distinguished achievements during his career is his 1994 restoration of Harvard Yard, which received an Honor Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. More recently, he is redesigning Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House with anticipated completion before the 2005 inaugural event.
Michael Van Valkenburgh notes, “In our work, we were trying to fulfill the Museum’s desire to create a series of livable and inventive public spaces around the new building. There was a long space alongside the new wing, now called the Garden Walkway, as well as another space across the street, which is now Armory Park.
Van Valkenburgh continues, “Our greatest challenge was how to thread these pieces of land together. The Garden Walkway, formerly a parking lot and derelict building, moves people between the Museum and Salem’s historic waterfront. Armory Park takes its clues from the tradition of greens and commons in New England and offers people a park in which to gather as well as a series of crisscrossing paths that connect people with their destinations. The plant palette for both spaces is almost entirely plants used in the American landscape that are also native to Asia. The most evocative gesture in this regard is the almost-mature grove of ginkgoes planted last year that form the essence of Armory Park and then continue down the Garden Walkway. In addition to the gingkoes are scholar trees, Japanese maples, and several species of Bamboo and Goldenraintree that Jefferson introduced from China in the late 1700s.”
Armory Park occupies the former site of the Second Corps Cadet Armory building and is named in its honor. The design is a contemporary composition honoring the historic setting of Salem, the military heritage of the Armory site, and the Peabody Essex Museum’s dedication to fine art and craftsmanship. Drawing from the notions of a New England green, the design of Armory Park uses familiar compositional elements that are organized to engender a newfound understanding of past, present, and future uses. The diagonal walks through the site are made from indigenous materials set in non-traditional patterns and scales.
In creating the new public spaces, traditional materials common to Salem’s architectural heritage, such as brick, bluestone, limestone, and granite, are combined to create a setting that is familiar and inviting. The limestone arch replicates the doorway to the former Armory building and symbolizes connectivity between the site’s past and future histories. Other features of Armory Park include a replica of an 1801 Paul Revere bell from the Museum‘s collection and a granite time line carved with historic dates of the volunteer militia, and an Essex Country honor roll.
Currently the Charles Eliot Professor of landscape architecture at Harvard University and principal of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates with offices in Cambridge and New York City, Van Valkenburgh has received commissions and awards for such projects as Mill Race Park in Columbus, Indiana, the Harvard Yard landscape master plan, the redesign of Marion Square, the oldest open space in Charleston, South Carolina, and, in collaboration with artist Ann Hamilton, a mile-long riverfront park in Pittsburgh, as well as numerous private gardens. In 1998, he completed work on a new master plan for Wellesley College designed to re-align their landscapes with those found in the original plan created by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.