A Garden by NBWLA at the Peabody Essex Museum

Thanks to an insightful client and a collaborative architect, a team from Nelson Byrd Woltz has sculpted a jewel box of a garden for the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass.

It works with the history of the museum and the collections within it – including a new wing by Ennead Architects.

“In our interview, we talked about how landscape represents a specific place,” says Thomas Woltz, principal at NBWLA. “It’s a place to reflect about the collections when people leave the museum.”

The PEM team, including its director and curator, chose not to dictate a complex program of wants and needs. Instead, they focused on desired outcomes. “They gave us the emotional response they wanted from the visitor, rather than something prescriptive” he says.

The clients understood the need for a rich space with a narrative connected to the collections in the museum. They wanted a courtyard garden connected to the new wing – even allowing it to enter the building – in a simple way.

“One of the things the former director wanted was to pique the curiosity of the viewer – to be layered and intriguing, with questions the garden might answer,” he says. “The ribbon is on the pavement and goes right out the doors to the garden and connects out there – it brings whimsy to it.”

NBWLA asked Ennead for a niche in the new wing’s granite wall – and got it. The result is an inset slab of Massachusetts stone that mimics the turbulent waters at the Cape of Good Hope, which 19th-century board members must have navigated to serve the museum.

“A thin stream of water shatters and flows over this 11-feet-tall, six-feet-wide piece of granite,” he says.

NBWLA looked at the museum’s history, worked with its designers, and created something unique only to PEM. “There was a commitment to excellence on the part of the client, and a collaborative architect,” he says. “That’s essential – and rare.”

The bottom line: A thoughtful, inspired 5,000 square feet where the meaning of the museum can be teased out.

Friday: The garden’s design, ecology and sustainability.

For more, go here.

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