The Jacob Javits Plaza, located on Wall Street. The Jacob Javits Plaza, located on Wall Street. The Jacob Javits Plaza, located on Wall Street, is one of Martha Schwartz's most iconic projects. (Photo: Martha Schwartz Partners)

Landscape designs we wish were in our backyard

Architect Martha Schwartz has been wowing the world with her work for decades.

While Martha Schwartz may officially be a landscape architect, her approach to design lends itself more to the visual arts.

Over a more-than-30-year career, her influences have ranged from pop art to sculpture, and her willingness to challenge the conventional notion of what landscapes should look like has literally changed the way we see both public and private space.

Martha Schwartz, landscape architect headshotMartha Schwartz, landscape architect headshot. (Photo: Martha Schwartz Partners)

Schwartz, who heads the firm Martha Schwartz Partners, tends to incorporate bright colors into her projects and emphasizes the importance of the natural world, which has included everything from art installations to private gardens and piazzas. Her services are in demand from Indonesia to Israel, but here we whittle down her many commissions to just a few of the most dazzling.


Grand Canal Square, Dublin, Ireland

Martha Schwartz Partners designed the Dublin Docklands, in Dublin, Ireland.The new Dublin Docklands presented a break with traditional design of public spaces in the city (Photo: Martha Schwartz Partners)

Such a unique space for Ireland – it opens onto a large, non-tidal body of water more common in Mediterranean cities such as Venice – was well served by Schwartz's design concepts.

The red color of the path (made from bright red resin-glass pavings that reflect and capture light during the day) was introduced to contrast Dublin‘s other, more monochromatic open spaces and to act as a "red carpet" that leads to the site's main theater. A fountain and other attractions also adorn the space, one that has been such a hit that the area has become one of Dublin's hottest destinations.


Gifu Kitagata Gardens, Kitagata, Japan

Gifu Kitagata Gardens, Kitagata, Japan by Martha Schwartz.Gifu Kitagata Gardens was transformed from a field of rice paddies into this with the help of Martha Schwartz (Photo: Martha Schwartz Partners)

This complex was once the site of rice paddies before housing units were built and Schwartz got ahold of the public area. The sunken garden “rooms” in the foreground of the picture offer a variety of opportunities to surrounding residents, complemented by water features, children’s play areas and public art.

There are several other spaces, among them the Willow Court, a sunken, flooded area with willow trees and wetland vegetation made accessible by a wooden boardwalk. The Four Seasons Garden is a series of four miniature gardens that capture the spirit of each of the seasons and are enclosed by colored glass walls.


TLV Urban Park, Tel Aviv, Israel

TLV Urban Park, as conceived by Martha Scwartz.TLV Urban Park exists on the roof of a new mall at the center of Tel Aviv. (Photo: Martha Schwartz Partners)

Schwartz came up with the initial design for this soon-to-be-completed park in Tel Aviv, which bears the creative hallmarks of her approach.

It sits atop a mall filled with 180 stores now dubbed in the Israeli press as the "invisible mall" because of the way the park envelops it, and deftly weaves function with beauty. The design is based on a division into activity areas defined by elevated flowerbeds and grassy high spots. The site also has a park, a school, a public square, gardens, and a sports center.


HUD Plaza, Washington, D.C.

Martha Schwartz HUD Plaza, in Washington, D.C.Martha Schwartz's HUD Plaza saved the space from a dark two decades of disuse. (Photo: Martha Schwartz Partners)

In 1979, the plaza of Marcel Breuer’s building for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was in such bad shape that the employees there considered it all but unusable. By the 1990s the government had had enough and called on Schwartz to rethink the space.

In keeping with Breuer’s use of geometric designs, the scheme developed for the plaza repeats a circular motif. A series of concrete planters containing grass double as seating areas, and the white lifesaver-shaped canopies rise 14 feet in the air and offer both aesthetic and functional value – in hot summer months, many a pedestrian seeks shade beneath them.


Barclays Headquarters, London, England

Barclay's Bank HQ lobby in London, designed by Martha Schwartz.Martha Schwartz emphasized nature in the 6 atria in Barclays' new HQ. (Photo: Martha Schwartz Partners)

Barclays assigned Schwartz the task of designing all five interior atria within their new headquarters. For the sixth-floor installation, she chose a jungle aesthetic, hanging artificial bamboo rods from the ceiling at varying angles, while below are bamboo plants.

The other atria also incorporated natural beauty into their designs. For example, on the 12th floor, oversized artificial philodendron and Monstera deliciosa leaves hang from the ceiling, creating a tropical, jungle-like canopy. And the 24th floor features large, colorful, hanging transparencies of deciduous trees.


Vanke Center, Shenzhen, China

The Vanke Center, Shenzhen, China, landscape designed by Martha Schwartz.Martha Schwartz had a large amount of space to work with at the Vanke Center. (Photo: Martha Schwartz Partners)

Schwartz had her work cut out for her with this one. Vanke Center, a mixed-use building in Shenzhen, is as long as the Empire State Building is tall. That's a lot of ground to cover.

Fortunately, she had a starting point, as sustainability was the point of departure for the project, particularly because of the development’s LEED Platinum rating. The landscape design was developed by a series of sustainable approaches that incorporated stormwater management and storage, water cleansing floating islands, native planting, habitat creation and locally manufactured and recycled materials. The development even features a state-of-the-art urban farm.

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Landscape designs we wish were in our backyard
The coolest projects by Martha Schwartz, one of the world's leading landscape architects.