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Union Square Park: Designed by Michael van Valkenburgh Associates

Qi Zhang: Z5036416

Assignment 3: Landscape Projects and Designers

LAND 2121: Introduction to Landscape Architecture

Lecturer: A/Prof Linda Corkery

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Main Spatial organisation

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Main Planting design elements

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The Union Square is around 130 years and among the oldest buildings in the New York. It is historical having hosted several protest including the Union Square is a center of gathering for commercial activities, a source of entertainment, labor workers meetings and protests, and for political purposes. It also serves as a recreational site (Waymark 2005). It is situated at the meeting point of two great Roads within New York City the Fourth Avenue road, formerly the Bowery Road, and the Bloomingdale Road, currently the Broadway Road. The Park has undergone transformation to include the fifth street which now marks its extent (Map West, 2016). The Park is located at the 14th Street on the Southern side and bound on the western side the 17th street after the extensions. The Eastern side is marked by the dominant by Zeckendorf Towers, Consolidated Edison Building S. Klein. The Park was designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh and Associates whose key role was for the northern of Union Square. The associates of the company assigned the contract were Christopher Gates, Rachael Gleeson and H. Nyunny Kim as the main designers. This essay would illustrate the professional development of the Union Park as proposed by Van Valkenburgh. The essay also gives a brief description of Valkenburgh work as an agenda that drove them (Waymark 2005).

About Valkenburgh

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Michael Van Valkenburgh was born in 1951 and was raised in Lexington, New York together with his family. He graduated from Cornell University with a Bachelor of Science and later in Boston where he studied Fine Arts. His architectural skills were learnt in University of Illinois at Urbana-Champion from which he graduated with a Master of Landscape Architecture. He worked until 1982 when he founded his own firm, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. His interest in design started during his early upbringing in which then agricultural setting and his education (Waymark 2005). He realized his ability to integrate new learnt methods into practical aspects that could be achieved and manipulated into real structures. He and the associates of the MVVA, Mathew Urbanski, Paul Seck, Laura Solano and Gulliver Shepard, have worked and successfully completed a number of projects.

by (Name) 6Photo:Union Square Park North Playground Expansion (Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates 2006)

The clients

The great features of the Northern Union Park are attributed to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. The then commissioner contracted Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates to design the expansion on the Northern part of the Union Square Park.

Perception of the Project

Landscape as a Habitat

Valkenburgh ability to fully implement the theory of Landscape as habit is evident in his work for incorporation of the man’s natural set up into the Park thus making it naturally possible and comfortable to accommodate different kinds of mankind in the park (Treib 1993). It is expansive thus its ability to permit human interactions with room for business people to operate including the incorporation of the transport department. Valkenburgh created new restrooms at the Park, a playground as well as more offices. Union Square Park is among the cherished playground in the Ney York. It is a center for commerce homing varied business activities including hawkers and established shopping malls.

by (Name) 7Photo: Shopping at the Union Greenmarket

This is in addition to the Greenmarket with high activities as it operates four days in a week throughput the year. The market is able to serve around 250, 000 customers per week during its Monday, Wednesday, Fridays and Saturdays weekly operations from 8AM to 6PM. The Park also serves as a center for Trade unionists together with the political assembly. It is therefore used by the people for exercising their free speech (Harwood 1971). Valkenburgh was also able to implement a plan that created newer pavements within the Park that in turn created newer space to accommodate the farmers market, expanded the playground and made it more accessible.

Landscape as a Horticultural Element

Valkenburgh achieved this objective of the landscape by designing this project in a way that incorporated small flowering trees, trees and that complement the design theme is creating a natural environment.

Landscape as a system

Valkenburgh succeeded in this aspect through creation of natural trees and small flowering in the Northern zone of the Park. Creation of system of system was made possible by the elevation of the plaza to sidewalk level with additional new hexagonal block paving and curbing. The artistic hex-block design involves the use of contrasting tones to generate a great scale of geometric pattern on the plaza (Poogyeon and Kailath 1994). He incorporated trees with protective bollards that were set up along the wing of the 17th street and the West of the Union Square. This system also created an electric supply that could fed the newly designed Greenmarket as a move to protect the environment from the hazardous gas emission that would be associated with the generators if they could have been included in the Park as source of electric supply.

The pavilion design would enhance its access from the basement level. It creates a room for future expansion of the system in case of the need for the adjustments. A newer system of lightning was introduced that would provide a glowing lighting to the park at night with the creation of the beacons that could facilitate this (Day 1939). This design system is suited with its ability to surround the kids with a green natural environment. The playgrounds are such that are expansive with their ability to host new lot of swings and sandbox. The playground system is designed such that t is located within two slides with various play equipment together with a spray shower that sums up in a climax with a big tunnel together with a climbing and a sliding dome on the east ern side. This system also creates accessibility to the north plaza and from the south plaza via the stairs or via ramps at the southwest corner of the playground (Harwood 1971).

The landscape as an artifact

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Valkenburgh brought out the element of artifact in the northern wing of the Park through the inclusion of the existing Lincoln stature to in his design of the play fields (Harwood, H. H., 1971). The northern part of the playfield is marked by the Lincoln stature that is the point of origin of the stairs and to the southern extent by the ramp. This incorporates the need for a mark of man in all the designs with the man being at the center of the existence. The nature then provides a sense of a stage and the ability to minimize the presence of pristine nature but the man at the center of it all. This permits playing in a controlled atmosphere with man visualization as would be with the artifacts (Nelson 1975).

Landscape as ideology

In the view of accommodating the hawkers and having a centralized business center within the Park, to improve the Park’s quality and have quality playground space as well as the need to renovate the deteriorating bandshell structure (Day 1939). There was also a need to improve the conditions of the working employees of the Park as well as a need to have a watch on the street with the availing of a restaurant at the center of the Park. This were the driving forces that resulted into the design and the implementation by Valkenburgh and the partner company that worked alongside each other in implementation of the expansive idea at the northern side of the Park.

The duo companies thus drove the need for actualization and realization of the idea. These are in conformation to the ideals of creating a perception through the façade of the evident characters and foresee the process of the intended operation (Harwood 1971). This therefore incorporates the need of cultural observance, the need to comply with the governing ideals as well as the defining philosophies. In this regard, the ability to transform an idea and a philosophy as well as the imaginations into a tangible evident structure is the defining key (Miranda and Szklarski 2005). Valkenburgh was able to adhere to this principle with the actual creation of the intended extension of the Northern side with the creation of a pavilion, the playground and a Greenmarket together with the restrooms. He summarized the above with the incorporation of the Lincoln border as an extent in creation of the human aspect within the playgrounds.


The Union Square Park is an historic ground hosting the statues of the America’s great men including George Washington at the center of the Park and the Lincoln’s towards the Northern side. The Park is a center for various activities including theaters, arts. It is also a renowned ground for political protest and the unionists’ movements. The Northern Union Park expansion design was an objective from the early 1980s with the need to have better playgrounds and creation a business center that would meet the need of the nosiness people and the hawkers. Another objective of the ideas was create a pavilion and rest rooms together with the need to have bigger playgrounds. This promoted the need of having a designer who could execute the plan to its full realizations with the observance to the ideologies, philosophies and the cultural practices. Valkenburgh realized the objective by expanding the playground field, setting up the new Greenmarket that could serve and meet the interests of the increasing customers in the market. Valkenburgh is a skilled designer owing to his education levels and the experience he has gathered from his previous works.


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Miranda, L., Szklarski, S. J., Alliance International Pictures, & Brentwood Home Video (Firm), BCI Eclipse (Firm). (2005). Union Square. Newbury Park, CA: Brentwood Home Video.

Nelson, W. R. (1975). Landscaping your home /. doi:10.5962/bhl.title.53120

Poogyeon Park, & Kailath, T. (n.d.). New square-root smoothing algorithms. Proceedings of 1994 33rd IEEE Conference on Decision and Control. doi:10.1109/cdc.1994.411165

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