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Things You Didn't Know: Naval Cemetery Landscape

Learn about the meditative landscape architecture of the Naval Cemetery Landscape.

Written by
Published on
February 26, 2024
Things You Didn't Know: Bloomberg Connects

Tucked at the east end of the Brooklyn Navy Yard complex lies a quiet green meadow. Nestled among the bustling streets, the Naval Cemetery Landscape by Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects is a place of retreat and introspection. Archtober toured the Naval Cemetery Landscape back in 2017, and it remains an important site of Brooklyn history as the first space opened as part of the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative.

Listen to the dedicated audio clip in the Archtober Guide on Bloomberg Connects, the free arts and culture app, to understand the design process of connecting unsuspecting historic ground to Brooklyn’s contemporary landscape.

The Land as Memorial

The Naval Cemetery Landscape marks the site of the Brooklyn Naval Hospital cemetery. More than 2,000 people, mostly officers and enlisted men of the US Navy and Marine Corps, were buried in the land adjacent to the hospital. Though many were located to National Hills Cypress Cemetery, some burials are still unaccounted for and likely remain at the site. To preserve these burials and the ground, the soil could not be disturbed beneath the upper four inches. A precast diamond pier foundation system supports the walkway and the entry building without disturbing the earth. Originally designed with a geometric pattern, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects opted for a winding plan of pathways and free-form green spaces.

Check out Brooklyn Greenway Initiative's website to learn more about the history of the unmarked burial site, and its benefits for researching how green spaces affect local health and wellbeing.

Site plan for Naval Cemetery Landscape. Image: Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects.

A Chance to Reflect

While meandering through the landscape, the winding path encourages a meditative and reflective walk through the peaceful site. Amongst the plants are physical markers for those buried on the sites, as well as granite stepping stones which speak to the industrial past of the Brooklyn Navy Yard complex. Visitors are eventually met with a solitary bench and a notebook provided by Nature Sacred. They are encouraged to write their experience of the Naval Cemetery Landscape and reflect on the history of the site in its new form that supports sustainability and an open-ended ecology.

A bench provided provided by Nature Sacred includes a small notebook for visitors to share their reflections and experience. Image: Max Touhey.

Ecological Benefits

The meadows surrounding the pathway are more than a beautiful landscape. More than fifty species of flowers and plants were selected for their seasonal colors and their benefits to the local environment. They attract pollinators and wildlife which are critical to local ecology and nearby community gardens. The various species include purple coneflowers, golden rods, and brown-eyed Susans. Visitors have the pleasure of watching monarch butterflies float through the landscape, thanks to the inclusion of milkweed plants.

Close up of a blossomed purple coneflower with a bee on the flower.
The native grasses and flowering plants of the Memorial Meadow provide essential fodder for local pollinator species. Image: Max Touhey.

As spring approaches and we began to stretch our legs outside again, take a walk through the Naval Cemetery Landscape to watch the flowers blossom and witness the return of pollinators for their springtime duties. The landscape provides a unique opportunity to feel immersed in the history of Brooklyn and the quiet beauty of the meadows. Be sure to take advantage of the green spaces the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative has worked to provide for all.

Make sure to keep the Archtober Guide handy on your phone to see more past Building of the Day tours and find new places to visit in the warm weather!