The landscape design at the St. Augustine Apartments is rooted deeply in the site’s natural and cultural history.  The site, formerly a Catholic church, is perched above the neighborhood on a topographic high point.  The necessary demolition of the church exposed large swaths of bedrock which rise over 11’ and set a dramatic tone for the streetscape.

The design team made the early decision to site the building back, away from the street edge, in order to preserve the rocks as a symbol of the site’s natural heritage.  The rock face is planted in sporadic, yet lush pockets of native planting while other natural depressions in the rock’s surface are left to create temporary ponds- further evoking the local Bronx landscape - an area once rich in schist faces and small streams. 

Residents of the building are reminded of this landscape daily, as entry stairs wind up through two of the rock peaks.  Throughout the landscape residents also encounter relics of the site’s cultural history as a Catholic church, such as the church bell, the foundation stone, and furniture inspired by the vernacular of pews and altars.

In addition to the landscape’s aesthetic and historic values, the lower courtyard offers residents a generous communal space to enjoy a shared meal or a book.  The courtyard is also home to a playground for children in the building- consisting of reclaimed stone climbing stairs from the church, a molded topographic surface, and spinning rides.  The surface of the playground is scattered with stencil painted leaves which mirror those found on the courtyard plantings- effectively turning the whole space into one great scavenger puzzle.

The two histories weave together and firmly anchor the new apartment building, yet the pinnacle of the landscape experience comes while standing atop of the overlook structure.  Located at the entry terrace on the high point of the rock face, the overlook is oriented outwards- creating a point from which residents and visitors can gaze over the neighborhood as it topographically falls away revealing the Manhattan skyline in the distance.  With the neighborhood, city horizon, natural history & cultural heritage all within visual grasp, the onlooker is bestowed with a firmer sense of their position in place and time.


Location: Morrisania, Bronx, NY _Size: 1.2 Acres _Client: The Archdiocese of New York _Collaborators: Magnusson Architecture & Planning _Status: Ongoing _Year: 2015 _Team: Steven Tupu, Scott Goodrich