The architectural world suffered a great loss last week with the departure of one of its most pioneering eco-visionaries. Diana Balmori, renowned landscape architect and founder of design firm Balmori Associates, passed away last week from lung cancer at the age of 84. The Spanish-born architect was an early advocate for green industrial rooftops at a time when cities weren't as concerned with the environmental cost of rapid growth. Throughout her career, Balmori earned international acclaim for her forward-thinking, environmentally-conscious urban designs. Hopefully, her legacy will live on as communities continue to create strong symbiotic relationships between landscape architecture and man-made structures.
Born in Gijon, Spain, Balmori emigrated to Argentina as a small child, and eventually moved to the US in 1952 with her husband, architect César Pelli. She began Balmori Associates in 1990 and quickly became known for her green rooftop designs. Based in NYC, Balmori, who also taught at the Yale School of Architecture and the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, was the principal designer for countless unique landscape projects locally and internationally.
Throughout her career, Balmori was adamant that landscape architecture should be a collaborative and functional aspect of design, rather than an aesthetic afterthought. “It’s bringing all the pieces together,” she told Guernica Magazine in a 2013 interview describing her concept of landscape architecture. “It’s not just buildings, it’s not just road; it’s also social factors, geological factors, climate factors — a much more complex mix.” The goal, she said, was a blending of “very clear human engineering with ecology and with landscape.”
As we pay our respects to Balmori’s legacy, take a look at some of her amazing works below.
“GrowOnUs” Floating Water Garden on the Gowanus Canal
One of Balmori’s most recent projects was her floating water filtering garden, “GrowOnUs”, on the Gowanus Canal. Placed in one of the most polluted bodies of water in the country, the experimental green island was designed to help filter the canal’s water through phytoremediation and desalination processes. The structure also collected and used rainwater to irrigate the herbs, flowers and other plants growing on the island itself.
Silver Cup Studios Green Roof
Silvercup Studios is a film and television production facility located on Long Island. Thanks to Balmori’s green design, the rooftop is now NYC’s largest monitored green roof. The massive green garden was the first in an ongoing project called “Long Island (Green) City”, a series of green roofs to be implemented in the area in order to absorb pollutants and carbon dioxide, conceived by Balmori herself.
Green-Infused NYC Penthouse
Working with design architect Joel Sanders, Balmori Associates designed this amazing green-infused NYC penthouse in lower Manhattan. The 2,200-square-foot roof is filled with beautiful greenery and an enviable 360-degree view of the Lower East Side.
Perilous Wildlife Crossing
Denver’s I-70 is a beautiful scenic drive that sees a variety of wildlife trying to cross the corridor between Denver and the resort communities of Vail, Aspen and Breckenridge. This area is a major migration path for black bears, cougars, bobcats, deer and other animals, all of which face heavy car traffic in the area, often at their own peril. When the ARC International Wildlife Crossing Design Competition asked designers for eco-friendly designs to improve the safety for local people and wildlife, Balmori Associates came up with a brilliant Modular Crossing System (MCS) wildlife crossing. The system included a freeform timber structure made out of modular parts made from Colorado beetle kill pine.
Smithson Floating Island
Earthworks Artist Robert Smithson developed the concept for a Floating Island in 1970s, but he passed away before he could see his vision become a reality. In 2005, Balmori Associates used his sketches, along with consultations with his widow, artist Nancy Holt, to build the Smithson Floating Island in his honor. According to Holt, Smithson’s project was originally intended as an homage to Central Park, and Balmori followed through on that idea by landscaping the 30 x 90-foot barge with earth, rocks, and native greenery. It was on display in September 2005, towed by a tiny tugboat around the island of Manhattan.
Prairie Waterway Stormwater Park
Farmington, Minnesota was also fortunate to have Balmori design the Prairie Waterway Stormwater Park in a Minneapolis suburb. The massive drainage system was created to provide sufficient water drainage for a community of 500 homes, but it was also designed to be an inviting public space. The 91-acre park is at the heart of the community today thanks to its playing fields, and many bicycle and pedestrian paths.
World Financial Center Winter Garden
After suffering major damage during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Winter Garden in Battery Park City’s World Financial Center underwent a $50 million renovation. As part of the restoration, Balmori Associates planted sixteen gigantic Washingtonia Robusta palms in the glass hall, surrounded by an imported marble floor. Today, the hall serves as a cultural center and popular meeting point in the large complex.
According to the Balmori Associates website, the firm will hold a celebration of Diana Balmori’s life in January 2017.
Images via Balmori Associates