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Columbia University Digital Knowledge Ventures The Architecture and Development of New York City with Andrew S. Dolkart
image The Public Realm Central Park
Park Structures
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Central Park
Park Structures
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There are a series of built structures in the park, mostly designed either by Calvert Vaux or by his assistant, Jacob Wrey Mould, another English immigrant architect. And these built elements were designed to blend in with the landscape. They were picturesque buildings within a picturesque landscape; they were designed to be part of the whole environment. And they are painted in natural colors, earth-toned colors—greens and browns and yellows and golds were used. They're almost never white, which was not considered an appropriate style for landscape buildings.

This particular building is the Dairy, a building where mothers could come and buy fresh milk, and was designed using stone that appears to grow out of the landscape and beautiful wooden elements, recently restored. And the other major built elements are bridges and tunnels through the park. One of the most brilliant aspects of the Central Park design is the series of different pathways. There are four transportation systems in the park. There's a series of carriage drives, which are now automobile drives. And these carriage drives undulate all throughout the park. And there are pedestrian paths that meander through the park. There is a series of bridle paths for horses, and a series of what are known as transverse roads that run through the park.

These systems often parallel one another, but they never crossed each other at grade. They always went over and under each other on bridges and tunnels, and the idea was that you would never have to cross a road. If you were a pedestrian you would never have to worry about the carriage; if you were a carriage driver you'd never have to worry about running into a pedestrian. So anytime today when you have to cross a road as a pedestrian, it means that something has been altered in the original Olmsted and Vaux plan.

The bridges and tunnels were also designed to blend in with the landscape, to be one with the landscape, so that they appear as a kind of natural growth through the landscape.

The most brilliant aspect of Olmsted and Vaux's design were the transverse roads. The one thing that the city required of all the designers who submitted to the competition was that four roads run across the park to connect the East Side and the West Side. Although these neighborhoods had not yet been developed, the city understood that they would be developed, and there needed to be a way of getting across the city. So at Sixty-sixth Street, Seventy-ninth Street, Eighty-sixth Street and Ninety-sixth Street the city required that roads go across the park.

All the other designs placed the transverse roads at grade level, which means that the park would be divided into five separate units, and that you would have to cross one of these east-west roads as you moved through the park. But what Olmsted and Vaux did that was so brilliant, that seems so obvious today but was such an innovative idea, was that they sunk the roads below the level of the park, put bridges across them and then landscaped them very, very heavily, so that you wouldn't actually see the transverse roads, and you wouldn't know that they were there, so the park would be one continuous environment, and you would be moved through the entire park and never know that there were these crossroads.

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