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Unseen by our naked eye, microscopic organisms called diatoms drift in the East River. These pavers show the gorgeous architecture of the diatoms and embellish the park with an ecological ornament of microorganisms.

Diatom Lace on the East River

On the East River, between 53rd and 60th streets in New York, NY, 2023

This artwork is part of the East Midtown Greenway/ East River Esplanade.

Greenway designed by Stantec. Funded by The New York Economic Development Corporation and the New York City Parks Department. 

This art commission was curated by Via Partnership.


5,000 Embossed concrete pavers

Diatom Lace is a paving project to show the diatoms in the waters of the East River which flows past the newly constructed East Midtown Greenway, a new park for the City of New York. 5,000 embossed concrete pavers are placed along the half mile walkway which hovers over the East River. Stacy worked with landscape architects from Stantec to create an artwork which embellished the park’s paving pattern with an ecological ornament of microorganisms.

Unseen by our naked eye, microscopic organisms called diatoms drift in the East River, thousands in a single teaspoon of its water. Single-celled and photosynthetic, diatoms supply oxygen to one out of every five breaths we take. Floating in the water below are the common diatom groups CoscinodiscusNavicula, and Cyclotella. Crucial to life on earth, they are celebrated on the patterned, interlocking concrete pavers of Diatom Lace.

The outsized, critical role of these tiny phytoplankton is as unrecognized as their intricate architecture. Their ornate silica shells are magnified and represented here. The artist focuses our attention on an invisible keystone of the ocean’s food web.

Stacy Levy worked closely with research ecologist Judy Yaquin Li, NOAA Fisheries, Milford Laboratory. She collaborated with Stantec on creating this half-mile long park, creating 5,000 Diatom Lace pavers set in clusters along the pedestrian path. The form of the clusters refers to the shape of the hydrological patterns drawn on the rivers surface as it flows.

The artist was influenced by the patterned tiles made by Gaudi in Barcelona, Spain in 1904. These mythical sea creature pavers show a different world of what is ‘under the sea’ and puts those forms underfoot. Levy thought about how a paving pattern could picture the actual creatures living in the waters of the East River and thought “what would happen if Gaudi worked with the environmental biologist Rachel Carson?”  Working with micro-organism scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, she created a true-to-site image of what lives in the river— so people can get to know their aquatic neighbors. Almost a hundred years after Gaudi’s tiles, the East River Esplanade now has its own underfoot experience of the local aquatic world.

Check out this feature about the project on Untapped New York:

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