Location: Hammonton, NJ, USA
Client: Henry McNeil
Size: 600 acres
Status: Completed 1996
This is a large-scale agricultural project that was designed as a marriage between art and the practicalities of reclamation and ecology. The 600 acres McNeil property is an estate located within the New Jersey pine barrens; it contains a diverse range of landscape conditions including dense forests, gradually rolling topography and a 75 acres abandoned clay quarry that holds mineral-rich turquoise water and served as the community dump.
The objective for this project was to reclaim the spoiled and polluted acreage of the clay quarry so that it could once again serve as a habitat for local flora and fauna, to create open fields for organic agriculture, to serve as a retreat for artists who are interested in site-specific, landscape-scaled artworks, and lastly, as a training grounds for McNeil’s champion Labrador field dogs.
The working process was richly collaborative, on-site and hands-on, working between the client, contractors, ecologists and the MSP design team. Initially, the task was to remove pine trees so to create fields for organic farming. Spaces were carved into the site by calculated, selective clearing. Next, the site was graded to enhance the rolling landscape and create juxtapositions with sculpted forms. Soils were amended by mixing the harvested wood that had been chipped so to incorporate organic matter and to aerate the sterile clay. This mixture would eventually support plant life.
The aesthetics were derived to combine the landscapes of nature, agriculture and culture into a unique mix of these three typologies. Elements of the natural landscape were used in conjunction with formal garden language to create work that posed a dialogue between the undisturbed landscape and more formalized gardens. Paths and roads have been carefully composed and sited so to create vistas and to pique one’s curiosity and desire to explore. Agricultural sheds and storage buildings have been transformed into gallery spaces and meeting rooms with attendant gardens.
The composition results in an intriguing combination of unlikely uses and spaces: agricultural fields of organically grown crops are designed as a large-scaled garden. Clipped topiary elements run across these agricultural fields conflating the image of farms with a latter-day baroque garden. The reclaimed quarry is shaped in unlikely surreal forms while wildlife once again inhabits this landscape built for art installations and training hunting dogs. In the end, this site has provided a new life for a once degraded area. Given that there are thousands of such sites in New Jersey, this site has provided a template for cultural and ecological regeneration for others to follow.