Cycling uptown to a lecture at the Arsenal with Kristin Jones, an artist friend, I mentioned I had interviewed Ken Smith and was writing about this highly sought-after New York City landscape architect. When she told me he was a friend of hers, I asked her how she knew him. “He’s in the art world,” she said with a matter-of-fact tone.
What makes Ken Smith the go-to landscape architect of the powerful New York City trend makers like the Museum of Modern Art and Goldman Sachs? As Kristin said, “He’s in the art world.”
Raised on a farm in Iowa, Mr. Smith says he always knew he wanted to move to New York. On his way to Gotham, he earned a landscape architecture degree from Iowa State and then a Master’s from the Harvard Graduate School of Design.
Mr. Smith explained that in traditional landscape architecture classes, the rational design process is taught. It is a deductive process where the designer begins with the requirements of the whole project and then designs down to the details. Mr. Smith told me he often uses the complete opposite approach, an inductive process, when designing.
An example of his inductive design process is the rooftop where we met. This recently installed Ken Smith Workshop-designed rooftop is located on the 16th floor of a posh Park Avenue penthouse with views from one side down Park Avenue and views from the other side across the scope of Central Park.
A contemporary interpretation of a Chinese scholar’s garden, this rooftop design perfectly suits the client who is in academia and just happens to have his own personal collection of scholar’s rocks, something Ken Smith did not know until he proposed this garden concept.
Because of the building’s window washing equipment requirements, everything in this roof garden needs to be movable, and it is. All the “scholar’s rocks” are on hidden wheels. One of the “rocks” is fitted with a simple water feature and the outdoor carpet was custom woven for this client based on Ken Smith’s design. Even the light fixture was created to complete the look of this modern American interpretation of a Chinese scholar’s garden, with the distinctive, witty Ken Smith design, high in the sky above Park Avenue.
There will be more on my fascinating interview with Ken Smith. I’ve been working on an article for submission about this cutting edge urban landscape architect and will keep you posted on how that goes so you can learn more about the many innovative rooftops he has designed for New York City. He may even make you rethink what you consider a rooftop; apparently, you don’t always have to LOOK UP to find a rooftop!