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A repeating pattern of the microscopic forms of local diatoms, inspired by Gaudí's tiles, appears underfoot in the walking surface of the East Midtown Greenway along the East River.

Diatom Pavers

East Midtown Greenway East River Park New York, New York, 2020

With Stantec, landscape architects


cast concrete pavers placed throughout the length of the park

The East River flows around and under the East Midtown Greenway, and its watery presence will draw many visitors and daily users to this new park. But few people are aware of the myriad life forms swimming and floating in the waterway. Of all the creatures in the East River water, it is the diatoms, single-celled microscopic algae, that have the most extraordinary yet hard-to-see forms. Because they are both small and transparent, most of us never see them. Diatoms are tiny and multitudinous; there could be hundreds or thousands of them in a single spoonful of river water. This project zooms in on the beauty and complexity of diatoms, installing thousands of concrete pavers embossed with local diatoms’ forms directly into the walking surface.

Diatoms are invisible but essential cornerstones of the ecology of the East River. These single-celled algae, with delicately-patterned bodies of silica, are the base of the food web, transforming sunlight into energy. They are the food source for many other forms of life in the river, from oysters to fish. Creating a park ‘floor’ that celebrates these creatures is a way for the neighborhood to understand and promote the tiny but critical creatures that inhabit the river. They too are the ‘neighbors’ out in the water— acknowledging their presence enriches a sense of place for the human neighbors.

The concept of creating a repeating pattern of natural forms underfoot is inspired by the famed Spanish architect, Gaudí. His cast concrete panot, or concrete tiles, cover the waking areas of the Passeig de Gracia in Barcelona, Spain. When you walk on the interconnected paving pattern of the wide boulevard of Passeig de Gracia, there is a thrilling sense of place. Diatom Pavers also aims to create such a sense of place, providing a rich experience for both foot and eye. With a beautiful, place based, scientifically-correct paving design underfoot, park users know exactly where they are. And in this case they get to know their marine neighbors, the beautifully-patterned diatoms which are floating just a few feet away in the river.

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