Circular Landscape Design
Image by Karl Egger from Pixabay
Landscape Design

Circular Landscape Design


Columbus Circle, New York, New York
Olin Partnership, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


1. Project scope: Columbus Circle, born from Frederick Law Olmsted’s design concept for Central Park, has been rethought and redesigned many times since its erection in 1905. Located at one of the principal entrances to the Park, Columbus Circle had fallen into general disuse due to its failure to serve as a functional, safe and inviting public space, as well as its inability to foster real estate development in the surrounding area. (The landscape architect’s initial study in 1989 for the Central Park Conservancy led to subsequent traffic studies that returned the space to a circular traffic pattern.)

In conjunction with the development of the Time Warner Center, the City of New York commissioned a redesign of the historic circle in 1997. In 2001, the landscape architecture team and collaborating engineers developed a design that would transform the site into a powerful urban space attracting New York City residents and visitors with its vibrant planting, a series of fountains, striking benches, paving and lighting, all working together to accentuate the uniqueness and vitality of the Circle and the city as a whole.

2. Project size: The inner circle measures approximately 36, 000 square feet. The outer circle is approximately 148, 000 square feet.

3. Intent: The intent of the design was to return the historic monument to public access and appreciation, fostering a safe and interactive environment not present for a generation. The landscape design was conceived to secure the site as an attractive addition to the public realm of New York City at one of the principal entries to Central Park and the intersection of three significant streets: Broadway, Eighth Avenue and 59th Street. The design is based on concentric rings of movement and light to elicit the feeling that the Circle is not only the center of New York City, but also the center of the universe.

4. Design challenges: Two subway tunnels and an elaborate network of both private and public utilities, including electric, telephone and sewers, are located beneath the Circle. All utilities that were in conflict of the redesign were addressed with the appropriate utility representatives to discuss opportunities for relocation. Surface treatments, sidewalks, lighting and amenity designs around the project site were coordinated with adjacent property owners.

The site also suffered from clutter due to an excess of traffic signs and lighting. The landscape design team collaborated with city agencies to reduce the number of signs and light fixtures without jeopardizing the safety of pedestrians and drivers.