Located on the industrial edge of NYC in Red Hook, Brooklyn, Future Green Studio is an innovative landscape design firm that's bringing striking moments of natural beauty and beneficial sustainability to underutilized spaces in urban landscapes.
Some of their most notable projects have included Nowadays (pictured above), which is a transformed industrial, multi-use park space in Queens; a sunken garden at The Met; an award-winning landscape intervention research project called SPONTANEOUSURBANPLANTS.ORG; and their recent book titled Spontaneous Urban Plants: Weeds in NYC. They've proven to be a powerhouse in developing sustainable landscape design that's both aesthetically pleasing and socio-environmentally responsible. We talked to Principal and Design Director David Seiter about Future Green's philosophy and some of their recent projects.
"We see our roofs, walls, and streets as opportunities to weave green into our cities in unique ways."
Future Green specializes in green infrastructural interventions, such as green roofs, vertical vine walls, and bioswales. These additions range from intimate landscaping that's integrated into residential buildings to large-scale projects created for urban nonprofits and retail spaces. Collectively, these interventions "form a patchwork ecology that benefits our cities on a regional scale."
The team at Future Green is particularly interested in exploring the urban flora that's native to urban landscapes, including the weeds that pop up through sidewalk cracks. They refer to this flora as "spontaneous urban plants" and look for ways to incorporate these native plants into projects. They used this strategy in a recent project (pictured below) for Empire Stores in Brooklyn, in which a long-abandoned industrial warehouse complex was transformed into a 7,000-square-foot public park and streetscape with planters, a courtyard, and a 28,000-square-foot green roof to accompany the revitalized retail and restaurant space. These types of dynamic landscapes add sustainable beauty and tangible ecological benefits, such as mitigating the urban heat island effect and helping manage stormwater.
A recent example of Future Green's residential work is 41 Bond, which includes window boxes and loggia, a planted marquee, balconies, a green roof, and garden.
"We believe that landscape and architecture can be deeply integrated."
The intimate balcony gardens were designed as a collaboration with building designers DDG to work in harmony with the building's architecture, rather than as separate entities. The planters are designed to be responsive to the seasons and are striking enough to work as a visual statement from the street, but soft enough to add subtle beauty when viewed from the interior of an individual unit.
Future Green's rooftop gardens, such as the expansive garden atop 41 Bond, serve to beautify the building's facade and as David Seiter notes, they're also "productive and performative landscapes: contributing—through the water they filter, the air they clean, and the species they shelter—to the sustainability, resiliency, and livability of homes, communities, and the planet."
Part of Future Green's mission includes a social component, as the firm strives to add green spaces where previously none existed, such as the recent collaboration with Toshiko Mori Architect and ARUP to revitalize the Brooklyn Children's Museum. This project included designing a native woodland garden that incorporates fallen trees and tree trunk pavers to allow city kids an opportunity to access raw materials found in nature.
The museum's new rooftop space is loosely divided into three sections that allow for extended time spent exploring and engaging with the natural habitat. The sections include the Native Woodland, a learning and exploration environment; The Green, a space to play; and The Lounge, which offers a cafe, dining, and meeting area.
David Seiter operates under the philosophy that a robust urban landscape goes far beyond beautifying a city, as "diverse types of green public spaces have immeasurable benefits for urban dwellers." He continues, "In addition to the obvious qualitative benefits of beautification, a field of biophilia has emerged that substantiates the psychological and physiological benefits that access to greenery in our homes and daily lives can have on our health and well-being."
Some larger takeaways from the work of Future Green include empowering messages for all of us living in urban centers: there are many ways to increase our exposure to green space and plant life; spontaneous plants in our urban environments should be viewed as opportunities rather than dismissed as "weeds;" and and even small doses of green space and flora will go a long way in purifying our air, our homes, and our cities.
"An interesting collection of house plants on an apartment windowsill or fire escape, a street plant outside your office window, or a small pocket park you walk by on your commute or that you can eat your lunch in are all viable green interventions."
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