The original Sculpture Garden dates back to the early 1900's,
at which time the land was owned and occupied by the Rockefeller Estate. The Garden, in the rear of their
brownstone townhouse, provided the Rockefellers with an "outdoor room", in which to display their collection
In 1929, the Museum of Modern Art, founded in part by John D. Rockefeller, opened on the property, and by
1939, the Museum's first Sculpture Garden, designed by John McAndrew, Architect, came into existence. This
garden, however, was much different in design from what exists today. It consisted of tan and gray gravel for
pavement, and freestanding, weathered, stockade fencing, which provided backdrops for the sculpture. In 1942,
Philip Goodwin and Edward Stone, Architects, re-designed the Garden to include a restaurant and outdoor dining
Several years later, the Museum decided to remove the original garden and create a new one in memory of John
D. Rockefeller. The Architect, Philip Johnson, was retained to design the new Sculpture Garden, and, in 1953, the
Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden was created. The design consisted of marble pavement, asymmetrical reflecting
pools, and plantings of birch and cryptomeria, which were used to help divide the space. With the exception
of the cryptomeria, which was replaced with weeping beech in 1965, the design of Philip Johnson's garden
remained intact until the Museum's extensive expansion and renovation project, which began in 2000.
Yoshio Taniguchi, the Architect, was awarded the contract for the design of the new additions, in collaboration
with Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates. After numerous meetings with the Museum staff, Architects, including Philip
Johnson, and the Landscape Architects, it was stressed by the Landscape Architects that the Garden, the main
focus of the Museum, should be re-created to its 1982 design, adapting to new architectural changes, as required.
The new architecture of the Museum was designed to provide numerous views of the Garden from various floors of
The Garden was removed to allow for a temporary construction staging area for this project, and for the installation
of new underground utilities, rooms, duct banks, etc. The existing trees were transplanted from the Garden
to the New York Botanical Garden, as a gift from the Museum. The Landscape Architectural firm consulted with
the Museum and Architects to design and re-create the Garden, which is approximately 100 feet by 250 feet
on three levels.
The Landscape Architectural firm collaborated with the Owner, Architects, and the Construction Manager
on the design of the Garden including the pavements, drainage, lighting, fountains, plantings, irrigation,
and placement of sculpture in relation to planting. The firm also designed the public rights-of-way, i.e.
streetscapes surrounding the Museum.
The project, from design through installation, was a four-year process. To ensure that the desired varieties
and sizes of trees would be available at the time of planting, they had to be reserved years in advance.
The nurseries, Halka's Nursery, Englishtown, NJ and Schichtel's Nursery, Orchard Park, New York, agreed
to hold, root prune, and maintain the trees until the Garden was ready to receive them.
The large sizes of the 3 beech (10" caliper), 21 birch (5" caliper), and 3 elm (6" caliper), required the use
of a crane to lift them over a 14' high wall, which screens the Garden from the public sidewalk and traffic
along West 54th Street.
The Garden is a multiuse outdoor space, providing a setting for the ever-changing sculpture and art exhibits,
fundraising, concert events, and a pleasant outdoor room for sitting, viewing, contemplation, and of course,
a great place to meet for lunch and dinner, with the introduction of the new restaurant, "The Modern", overlooking
the Garden. The new plantings, pavement (unpolished gray marble), reflecting pools, and fountains have been
restored to the original design by Philip Johnson. A five-story, public educational wing, for art and design,
was constructed at the east end of the Garden and, to educate visitors, plantings are being identified with
labels indicating their common and botanical names.
The Garden was recently featured in "Preserving Modern Landscape Architecture II" as a landmark worthy of preservation,
and has received very favorable reviews in many publications, including "Landscape Architecture", "Architectural Record"
and others. It is regarded by many as being one of the most cherished and admired outdoor spaces in the world.
The Garden is viewed from the surrounding galleries, numerous new Museum restaurants, the residential tower,
and the public street. The Garden is a sculptural element in itself, and an oasis worthy of re-creating and preserving.
Taniguchi and Associates
Architect of Record:
Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates
Kelco Construction, Inc.
Halka Nurseries, Inc
AMEC (Morse Diesel International)
Kohler Ronan, LLC
Original Designer - 1953:
Philip Johnson (deceased) – Contact:
Marty Skrelunas, Preservationist