The Brooklyn Children’s Museum is bringing the wilderness to the middle of the city. This weekend, the museum will unveil a space that includes a forest, trails, interactive exhibits and a winged canopy that takes center stage. Future Green Studio designed the rooftop’s landscaping by dividing the 20,000-square-foot terrace into four quadrants catering to different themes – woodland, play, lounge and dining – giving kids in the city the perfect place to learn about and explore the natural world.
Kids will be able to play outdoors in a safe environment in between checking out the kid-centric exhibits throughout the museum. The dynamic space will also be used for cultural events and experiences that compliment the museum’s ongoing mission to educate children in interactive ways. For example, the terrace’s opening on August 5th and 6th will be accompanied by a Senegalese dance festival with choreographer and professional dancer Papa Sy. Papa Sy will tell stories, play Senegalese music and get all ages moving as they welcome this space into the community.
“The inspiration for the roof garden was to create a place that epitomized the heart of Brooklyn where kids could feel immersed in nature and free to explore and roam in an unprescribed way,” said David Seiter, Principal and Design Director of Future Green. As a Brooklyn parent himself, Seiter used his experiences of visiting the museum with his children to create a space flexible enough to host playdates, family get-togethers and cultural events “bridging both old and new Brooklyn and bringing people together.”
A small woodland trail features a walkway made of sustainable black locust hardwood that meanders through groupings of sweet bay magnolia and sassafras trees. Various types of shrubs and perennials, including high bush blueberry, hayscented fern, butterfly weed, mayapple and blue wood aster, are sprinkled in between while ground covers like bristle-leaf sedge and hayscented fern can be found throughout the nature walk. Tree trunk pavers and sculptures that serve as seating are made from black locust and white oak rounds.
Before tackling this project, Seiter and his team visited the Donald & Barbara Zucker Natural Exploration Area in Prospect Park, a children’s play area where trees damaged by storms and other natural materials take the place of swings and slides.
“It was inspiring to hear about the design decisions that go into creating a new type of play space for kids where they might feel more connected to natural elements and have the ability to explore risk and confront fears,” Seiter said. “We tried to achieve a similar sense of wonder and play in our Woodland Walk.”
The open lawn play space is also constructed from black locust lumber, chosen because it’s not sourced from tropical rain forests like most other exterior decking. Because of its greater exposure to the sun, different plantings that can handle those conditions were used: smoke trees, cone flower, ornamental onions and wormwood. All the plants used in the landscaping are native and drought tolerant, and a water-efficient irrigation system was installed to keep the environment lush.
And at the center of it all is a white canopy designed by Toshiko Mori Architect. The 7,300 square-foot open-air pavilion looks like it’s billowing in the wind and about to take flight. It evokes references Eero Saarinen’s TWA Flight Center at JFK International Airport, but much more airy, and while it serves to provide respite from the sun, a lot of light still pours in through the translucent panels. The use of ethylene tetrafluoroethylene cladding allowed for a column-free design, and wooden seats surround the anchor points from which the white steel ribbings arch up and meet overhead.
From the side, the tops of the panels reflects the clouds and seems to blend into the sky. From high above, the pavilion resembles a square sheet of paper that has found its way onto the museum’s roof. And from underneath, the pavilion, with the landscaping surrounding it, feel like a breath of fresh air.
All images by Dorkys Ramos for Inhabitat