Meadows, native plants will fill 8 acres behind museum

Dia:Beacon is about to add a new sculpture to its collection. 

The museum will begin a multimillion-dollar project this summer to mold 8 acres of lawn on its south side into a sylvan retreat that will open, free of charge, next year to residents and visitors. 

Renderings by Studio Zewde, a Harlem-based landscape firm designing the project, show people meandering along tranquil paths and picnicking in fields.

Three acres will be converted to meadow with 90 native species and 400 trees and shrubs, according to the Dia Art Foundation. The Zewde design also incorporates undulating landforms and intends to manage stormwater on the property, which borders the Hudson River. 

Dia zewde 3
Dia:Beacon plans to mold 8 acres of its south lawn into a natural retreat open to the public. (Studio Zewde)

Jessica Morgan, the foundation director, said the landscape around Dia:Beacon “has always been essential” to the experience of visiting the museum but that it will become “a beautiful contemplative space, so you could also choose to just simply come and spend time in the landscape.”

Robert Irwin, who designed Dia:Beacon, incorporated hawthorn and boxed-shaped trees, as well as other plantings, into the parking lot and garden. But the foundation had spent years thinking about what to do with the sometimes-waterlogged open space behind the building, said Morgan. 

The Dia site plan
The Dia site plan

Two guiding principles, she said, were to create a space that “would be exciting for people to visit” but designed to respond to the growing impacts of climate change, such as more intense and frequent storms and rising water levels in the Hudson. 

“We’re very aware that we need to plan ahead and make sure that the property is protected, particularly given all the art in the building,” she said. 

The Zewde design did not attempt “to banish the water,” said Morgan. Instead, it directs it away from the building. The design also has underground tanks to collect and filter water before sending it to the river.

Sara Zewde, the firm’s principal, said that “history’s impressions on the land” occupied by Dia inspired the design. The property is at what was a river crossing for the Lenape, a Native American tribe indigenous to the area.

The design is a “means of managing the 21st-century challenge of rising water but also a means of remembering,” she said. 

Dia is reviewing bids from construction companies, said Morgan, so the project cost has not been finalized. The state’s Market New York tourism grant program is providing $1.4 million and Dia received $400,000 from the same program to renovate the brick facade on the Hudson River side of the building.

As workers wrap up that project, Dia:Beacon is replacing its heating and cooling system and renovating its bathrooms.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

The Peekskill resident is a former reporter for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, where he covered Sullivan County and later Newburgh. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Morgan State University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Area of Expertise: General.

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