Martha Schwartz

Early Work

Ms. Schwartz used opportunities to experiment in landscape design in spite the budget available for her projects. Early on she demonstrated a sense of playfulness and attraction to serial images and unusual materials.

Bagel Garden

The Bagel Garden was installed in the front yard of the house where Martha lived with her husband, landscape architect, Peter Walker. They were not fond of the existing garden and debated what should replace it. They didn't have much money to devote to materials and needed a low maintenance garden. When her husband was called out of town, Martha seized her opportunity. She collected the materials and installed the garden before he returned.

The editor of Landscape Architecture Magazine heard of the new garden and asked for a photograph. To Martha's surprise the photograph appeared on the next issue of the magazine, inspiring an outpouring of amused praise and fierce criticism. Some landscape architects claimed that she was undermining and ridiculing the profession.




The Splice Garden

Designed in 1986, the garden sits atop the roof deck off the 9th floor faculty lounge of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. There are no living plants, but everything is so green that one feels illusion of garden reality. The Splice Garden is, in fact, two gardens- each amputated at a random place. One side is a Japanese Zen Garden. Green aquarium gravel is raked in familiar sand patterns. The other side is a French Garden with steel hedges covered in astro turf. The client appreciated the irony that the company engaged in gene splicing research.

Access to the Splice Garden is available only to the institute faculty, although the space is visible from picture windows of the classroom.

The Japanese side of the splice is visible through a classroom window. Schwartz chose aggressive shades of green so that the garden would be a fun place to be but not necessarily a passively pleasant place.

" Scientists are problem solvers and I wanted to give them a mystery, something to ponder. But at the same time, I wanted them to have fun. It's a fine line, like the splice line in the garden. "

--Martha Schwartz


Stella Schwatz Garden

This is a garden which Martha designed early in her career for her mother Stella. Stella was a lover of modern art but was not a gardener. Martha's solution is whimsical and inexpensive.


Martha Schwartz has been referred to as the ‘Andy Warhol’ of Landscape Architecture. Just as Andy Warhol got us to look at ordinary items in our everyday world and ask, “Why can’t they be art, too?”, Martha Schwartz has challenged what we consider ‘gardens’. Do they always have to be green? What’s wrong with using gaudy pink flamingos?

 Major Philosophies include:

  • Using iconic items in order to reflect our ‘consumerism’ culture and challenge what we view as acceptable in the garden

  • Site specific design: Using physical and cultural references tied to the site specifically.  The bagel garden, her husband at the time (Peter Walker) was Jewish. The Necco Garden was placed across the street from the Necco Factory.

  • Strong Historical design reference: Alleys, parterres, grids, very traditional design ordering systems found throughout history and re-interpreted to include iconic objects of the present

  • The landscape should not be subservient to the building. Ex. Turf parterre garden, Jacob Javitz Plaza

Turf Parterre Garden

The classic grid is again set on edge and overpowers the rather dull building it is connected to. Another temporary installment.  Notice the 'cut-outs' in the lawn below. Otherwise, the astroturf on the side of the building would have no frame of reference. It's almost as if the ground has 'taken ownership' of the building. (For a month.)


Jacob Javitz Plaza

This 1997 project was the replace for the controversial Richard Serra monolithic steel sculpture that the building employees insisted should be removed.  

Classic paisley patterns are used in a new way to order seating and focal points with absolutely no reference to the dull building it is connected to. (Some Landscape Architects criticize Schwartz for creating such high maintenance grassy knoll focal points, which had to be made out of Styrofoam with a special soil stuck to it because the form was too hard to create with earth. As a result, cutting the grass on these knolls is somewhat challenging. Probably no more challenging than maintaining the French topiary from which it was inspired!)

Notice below that although this garden is entirely contemporary, the curves and 'topiary balls' are clearly references to French Renaissance.



Miami International Airport Sound Wall Schwartz is also successful in adding an element of humor in all of her work. It is most often by taking things we take for granted and using them as part of her design. This is a simple sound wall that we've seen many times, but with colored glass inserted.


Necco Garden

Notice the classic grid set on edge. This garden would have no meaning if it didn't reference the nearby Necco factory.