Places that Work: The Urban Garden Room

The Urban Garden Room at One Bryant Park (Bank of America Tower by Cook + Fox Architects) in New York City is a place that works – and not simply because of its greenery and daylight. These elements appeal to our senses and emotions in a deep, primal way. Extensive writings on psychological value of being in spaces with green plants and daylight document our needs, as do my previous posts. I bring it up, again, because in a high tech world we need these connections the earth more than ever.

The Urban Garden Room is a huge glass-walled room furnished with an assortment of forms, ranging from a 25-foot high arch to a 7-foot tall monolith, all of which are covered with living mosses, vines, ferns, and lichens. The installation was designed by Margie Ruddick of the collaborative and interdisciplinary design practice, Wallace Roberts &Todd.

From a psychological perspective, an important aspect of the Urban Garden Room is that the tables and chairs in it are moveable. You have control of where you sit and what you look at. Visitors’ ability to control their relationship to the space shows those who enter it, that those who own it respect our ability to make decisions about how we use our environment, either in finding a solitary seat or choosing to interact with others. Respect goes both ways. Visitors sense this, and return the respect by not leaving their detritus behind. In addition, the ability to control our environment improves people’s mood.

Here, amidst the crowd that escapes into the room, I found privacy, not the kind you expect to find in a forest or filed, but the kind most of us carve out in urban settings. You can move a chair and sit so you don’t make eye contact with others, and may even be invisible to passersby. Such private spaces encourage you to rest, rejuvenate, and organize thoughts.

WRT Urban Garden Emerges on Bryant Park from WRT Design on Vimeo.

When I asked Ruddick to discuss her inspiration, this is what she told me:  “We wanted to cultivate the feel of being far away from the built city – we were inspired by the fern canyons of Northern California and Oregon  – an immersive experience where you are not looking at anything, you feel completely inside the landscape. We wanted the vertical earth and plants to temper the climate and environment – people who go there say they feel the air change as they step into the room, it is more humid, and smells like earth.  There is a lot of evidence that suggests that contact with earth can work as an antidepressant – although visitors don’t actually touch the earth, the feeling of closeness to it definitely has an effect (beneficial) on people’s moods.  They are very calm in this space, mostly very quiet.”

I watched users’ response Ruddick’s design. And I can report that people in the Urban Garden Room seem to recognize the psychological value of the space.

Sally Augustin, PhD, is a principal at Design with Science . She is also the editor of Research Design Connections and the author of Place Advantage: Applied Psychology for Interior Architecture (Wiley, 2009). She can be reached at .

Categories: Design, Uncategorized