Whenever I got stuck creatively in making a sculpture, I would give myself certain parameters or constraints. The material itself would dictate the color of the piece, or I would work with only found objects, or I would limit myself in terms of both materials and objects–for example, using only plaster, only white, only existing objects.

In the lecture “biglittleskipthemiddle” by Ken Smith given at Columbia University in late June he spoke about constraints being liberating in garden design because they will not let you create a typical garden.

In the case of the MoMA Roof Garden, which he designed, his constraints were quite daunting: live plants were strongly discouraged, (eliminating the need for water) the height of the landscape itself could not exceed three feet, no significant weight could be added as no provision had been made to support to it, and black and white stones had already been purchased and ideally would be incorporated into the design.  Also, the garden was for viewing only; no one would ever actually walk in it and the budget was next to nothing.

Smith initially submitted a design that was rejected, eventually coming up with three cleanly articulated rooftop designs.  In his design development work for the garden Smith said realized he had an ongoing interest in the dialogue between the natural and the synthetic.

Garden photos by Peter Maus/ESTO

Smith’s roof garden reminds me very much of the work of Isamu Noguchi in its pared-down and modern approach. (Noguchi approached landscape design primarily as a spatial and formal art. For him it was a question of working with form and space.) Much like Noguchi, Smith has maintained a reduced vocabulary of elements, and employed elements that are both defined and controlled.

Garden Elements, Bronze, 1962, Noguchi

The pattern is derived from camouflage.  (A clever double entendre for the garden.) “The design started out most literally as a Xerox copy taken from a pair of skateboarder’s camouflage pants. The pattern was scaled and fitted onto the roof area.”1.  The material palette unapologetically “consists of natural, recycled and synthetic materials including natural crushed stone, recycled glass, recycled rubber mulch, as well as synthetic materials including fiberglass grating, PVC fittings, artificial boxwood plants, foam headers and artificial rocks.” 2. Again, like his carting container planters, there is a playful “reuse” of everyday objects. In this garden one sees the mutation of one form into another.

(For further reading see the article: “Faking It, Ken Smith in Camouflage at MoMA,” Landscape Architecture Magazine, November 2005.)


  1. Quote from the ASLA website, 2009, Professional Awards.
  2. Quote from the ASLA website, 2009, Professional Awards.
MoMA Roof Garden, NYC, NY

Camouflage pants as muse

Original Entries


About christinedarnelldesignstudio

Christine Darnell Design Studio is a landscape and garden design studio in Chester, CT. Imaginative plant combinations characterize the work with an artist’s eye towards texture and color. A strong commitment to environmentally considerate design runs through the practice, the support of local nurseries, and guidance towards the most environmentally sustainable materials and products. Adjunct Professor, Horticulture Dept. of Naugatuck Valley Community College, Waterbury, CT , Wetlands Commissioner for the Town of Chester, Vice President, APLD, Connecticut Chapter.
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