6 Questions for Doug Reed on the Parrish Art Museum's Landscape Design

Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architecture is the company behind the Parrish Art Museum's new landscape design.HC&G: Were you involved with the Parrish Art Museum’s site plan from the start?  
Doug Reed, principal, Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architecture: We’ve had a longstanding association with the Parrish that goes back 15 years or so, when the museum was doing the master plan for its former building in Southampton Village. When that plan didn’t receive approval, the Parrish bought its current property on the highway in Water Mill. We were selected to work with [building architects] Herzog & de Meuron through several iterations of the project. Even though the architecture changed, the landscape plan more or less stayed the same.

What drove the landscape plan?
Our goal was to evoke the local ecologies that have both been an inspiration for artists and would identify the Parrish as a regional museum. There is a strength and a simplicity to the site, with great expanses of light. We studied the Hamptons’ fields, hedgerows, meadows, and oak forests, which are very familiar to East Enders. We incorporated these elements into our plan, and they are beginning to read as the primary image of the landscape design.

The western flank of the Parris Art Museum in Water Mill overlooks a meadow planted by Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architects.How was the expansive front meadow conceived?
It’s essentially a “warm season” meadow, and it takes time to get to that point. We’ve been working on it since the museum’s completion three years ago. We’ve had some problems with both soil compaction and soil composition issues, but we’re pleased that the Parrish has taken a long-term view and has the patience for it to evolve.

How does the front meadow change over the seasons?
It has a combination of cool- and warm-season plants for visual interest during different times of the year, and melds with adjacent fields to become part of a larger composition. Meadows are dynamic and continually changing, and the unpredictability is exciting. Visitors to the museum will be surprised by what happens serendipitously.

The parking area is surrounded by a native woodland and a border of birches and poplars.The parking lot behind the building is not your typical museum parking lot.
The architects had advocated for keeping the cars separate from the approach to the building and not have them dominate the site. Aggregating all the parking at the back of the property accomplished that goal most efficiently. A woodland with several native varieties of oaks, catalpas, and other trees defines the parking area, with poplars and birches demarcating an adjacent meadow. As a result, the parking area becomes a positive experience of its own. Thinking of it as a dense component, as opposed to open meadow, was a key idea.

How will the landscape continue to mature over time?
Because a landscape is a living, changing thing, we have been retained to return regularly, assessing its development and making recommendations about the vegetation, encouraging and discouraging different plant materials. We’re looking forward to seeing how the landscape evolves.

A version of this article appeared in the July 1, 2016 issue of HC&G (Hamptons Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: Field of Dreams.