Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted Term Paper

Pages: 6 (2233 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 7  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Sociology

¶ … New York's Central Park and the original motives behind its creation, while thinking from its' two architect designers point-of-view, Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmstead. Central Park in New York is the first landscaped public park in the country, Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, two well-known architects of the time, designed the park in 1858, seeing it as a "pastoral retreat from the pressures and aesthetic monotony of a growing city" (Rosenzweig and Blackmar 3). Today, the park is a much-beloved tradition for New Yorkers, and it symbolizes the blend of city and urban landscape that can be attained in a well-designed natural space.

Central Park was created as an urban oasis for a quickly growing city that had little open space. The size of the park was set in 1853, as a historian notes, "The site for the park, a 750-acre rectangle bounded by 59th Street on the south, 106th Street on the north, Fifth Avenue on the east, and Eighth Avenue (present Central Park West) on the west, had been fixed in 1853" (Kowsky 96). A plan had been submitted with ideas for developing the park, but English architect Calvert Vaux, visiting America, saw the plan and knew it needed revision. Eventually, he convinced city officials to hold a competition for the design of the park. When they agreed, Vaux and Olmstead began to work together to create a plan for the park. This Greensward Plan was eventually chosen as the winning plan for the park's design in 1858, and construction began.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Term Paper on Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted Assignment

Several occurrences led up to the land purchase and development of the park. New York was the center of immigration in the United States, and between 1830 and 1850, the population swelled from under 300,000 to over 500,000, most of them living in cramped quarters in Manhattan. There was simply no open space for them to enjoy in the quickly growing city. Magazine editor William Cullen Bryant began lobbying for a park in the city as early as 1844, and the city leaders agreed. They began to buy up land in a central location in the city, before it could be developed. Eventually, they paid over $5 million for the land the park occupies today (Editors). At the time of the competition, Olmstead was actually serving as superintendent of the fledgling park, and Vaux enlisted his aid because of his intimate knowledge of the area. Historian Kowsky continues, "In this way,' said Vaux, 'Mr. Olmsted, without expense to himself or to me, was so situated that he could bring... accurate observations in regard to the actual topography which was not clearly defined on the survey furnished to competitors by the Board'" (Kowsky 96). In fact, Vaux doubted his ability to manage the project, and urged Olmstead to join him because of his experience but also because he felt he would be a better supervisor of the work going on throughout the park during the development process (Kowsky 96-97). In fact, after they formed a partnership to design the park, Olmstead's name always came first, and Olmstead handled most all of the design, Vaux designed the bridges, pavilions, and boathouses (Rosenzweig and Blackmar 121).

Ultimately, Olmstead became known as the chief designer of Central Park, although Vaux did protest in letters to Olmstead that he brought equal knowledge and skill to the overall design (Rosenzweig and Blackmar 122). It is interesting to note that at the time, Olmstead had no formal landscaping experience or training. Historian Kowsky notes, "Olmsted, whose life before the autumn of 1857 was a mixed bag of pursuits that included farming, writing, and publishing, had never designed a landscape plan" (Kowsky 97), and yet, he became known as one of the premier landscape architects of the world after his Central Park design was finished. However, even though Vaux had experience, he chose Olmstead to help him because he felt he was not "sufficiently educated" to manage the entire plan on his own, and it seems he may have been right, as Olmstead seemed born to manage and develop this premier American park (Rosenzweig and Blackmar 129). Olmsted appeared on paperwork as the "architect in chief," directed the 200 laborers working on the job, and received an annual salary of $2,500, while Vaux, the more experience, appeared as his assistant and received a salary of $5 per day (Kowsky 101). Work began on June 1, 1858, and because there was large unemployment at the time, work went along very quickly at first. A major portion of the park was finished by 1861, and by then, the work slowed down a bit (Kowsky 101).

It is also interesting to note that Vaux especially felt the design of the park should reflect art as well as function, and that was his primary goal in designing the park. Historians Rosenzweig and Blackmar continue, "Designing the park was important to him, Vaux explained to Olmstead, not merely for the enhancement of his personal reputation but for the opportunity it offered to fulfill his 'earnest convictions' that he had a duty to 'help artists take a true position' to 'money men'" (Rosenzweig and Blackmar 126). Thus, Vaux saw himself as an artist painting on a natural and ever-changing canvas, and this process guides Central Park even today.

There was another important purpose to the park, as well. Both Olmstead and Vaux envisioned a park with sweeping vistas and that lacked roadways and the hustle and bustle of traffic. To achieve this, they developed separate "roadways" for pedestrian and carriage traffic, and sank the commercial roadways eight feet below the park's level, in order to hide it from park visitors (Rosenzweig and Blackmar 132). They also wanted to ban all commercial vehicles from the park, because they wanted to separate work from leisure in the park as much as possible. The two authors note, "The serenity of the park's vistas would inspire a refreshing sense of possibility" (Rosenzweig and Blackmar 134). The park has always been seen as a refuge from city life in New York, and so it seems the designers accomplished their goal, and gave the people an urban oasis that would inspire possibility and a love for nature, even in an extremely urban environment. Essentially the park was created to enhance the lives of the people that lived in New York, and since it still serves that purpose, the designers seem to have managed to complete their job extremely well. In addition, they wanted the park to be accessible to everyone, not just the wealthy, and so, they developed different areas of the park for pedestrians, carriages, sports, and open space. They felt the park should be "democratic" and enjoyed by all, no matter what their social or monetary status (Rosenzweig and Blackmar 139). However, some sociologists view the park's design and purpose as "social control" at the highest level. One sociologist writes, "Although the park was promoted as one serving all the classes, Central Park and others like it were built to accommodate the interest and desires of the middle class. The working class and the poor were forced to abide by middle class mores in order to use these parks" (Taylor 420). There are also stories of confrontations between the wealthy and the working class in the parks, and the use of the park by some groups is still controversial today. For example, Elizabeth Blackmar, co-author of "The Park and the People" discusses planned protests in the park, and how the conservators of the park, the Central Park Conservancy, have banned large protests in the park, largely due to the impact these protests can have on the landscape (Bernstein). That brings the question to using the park today, and to the artistic interpretations of the park in the recent past.

Olmstead and Vaux envisioned a park that was open to everyone, but in recent years, the park has actually been closed to many uses. For example, it took the artist Christo and his partner Jean-Claude 26 years to gain approval to erect their artwork "The Gates" in the park. It opened in 2005, and remained in the park for only two weeks, which the artists considered a major triumph. A writer notes, "For the last two weeks of February, 23 of the 58 miles of pathways through the 840-acre park were spanned by fluttering panels of rip-stop nylon, supported from 7532 tall vinyl frames in the same marigold hue" (Webb). The artists conceived their idea for "The Gates" in 1979, but faced stiff opposition to installing their artwork in the park even for a short time. While Olmstead and Vaux envisioned the park as a place to explore and expand the arts, the people of New York have become increasingly protective of the park and its uses, especially after the Central Park Conservancy was formed in 1980 to help maintain and direct the park. It is one of the first blending of private and public groups to manage a park, and it… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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