Charles Anderson | Atelier ps: The Anchorage Museum Common is a 2-acre park where elements of landscape, history, and culture beckon to visitors and locals alike. This new setting for the expanded museum is an urban birch forest “scooped” out of the surrounding landscape, creating one of the city’s most memorable and emblematic civic spaces. The northern-most major city in the United States, Anchorage spreads across the foothills at the head of Cook Inlet. Inspired by the dramatic wilderness setting, the design team’s unified goal for the Common was to encourage an appreciation of the museum’s extraordinary natural surroundings. The landscape concept sprang from an idea to “scoop the trees from a nearby forest and toss them down in front of the museum.”
The grove of The Birches uses paper birches, one of the most culturally and ecologically important native trees in the state, salvaged from commercial developments. The trees are planted on a graduated grid, moving from dense spacing at the west end of the site to a light and airy configuration at the building face. The trees fill the park, complementing the dramatic form, mass, and semi-transparent skin of the building, and creating a striking presence at the street frontage. A low understory planting of natives affords the park a sense of openness and visibility. Together, these plants will adapt to the environmental influences of the city and create their own, dynamic urban ecology. The curvilinear Walk of the Birches weaves through the grid, while the other pathways cut through it. The Allée is a strong diagonal axis striking toward the museum’s entrance, and the darkened concrete of The Promenade extends the dark floor of the museum outward to meet the Birch grid. It is scaled to accommodate a variety of events and is heated to be ice-free in winter. The park expresses a “civilized wild” by using a planting palette balanced between natives and culturally-significant species. The Allée is lined with purple-leaved flowering crabapple, under-planted with native irises. The ornamental spring plantings of the Linear Gardens echo the city’s sensational display of annuals.
The Common is designed to inspire and accommodate the museum’s programming and will host a diverse set of civic celebrations and activities throughout the year. Rooms carved into the forest are surfaced with turf and hardscape, creating areas for gathering, sculpture, and group activity. The largest of these is The Green, which generously spills out from the museum, forms the heart of the site and is framed by birches on three sides. Each of the greens is a flexible and programmable outdoor room. The design of the Common distills the museum’s regional context to the essence of a birch forest and shifts the paradigm of landscape design away from static garden typology to an expressive, dynamic ecology that adapts to the urban environment. This provides visitors and locals alike with a deeper appreciation of nature in the city, which will in turn inspire a greater curiosity about the multitude of Alaska landscapes.
Project: The Anchorage Museum Common at Rasmuson Center, 625 C Street, Anchorage, Alaska 99501, USA
Landscape architect: Charles Anderson | Atelier ps
Area: 2 acres
Landscape budget: $3.5 million
Text: Charles Anderson | Atelier ps