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Exploring Elmhurst Park, Six Acres And a $2.3 Million Bathroom

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Welcome back to Camera Obscura, Curbed's series of photo essays by Nathan Kensinger. Every other week, Kensinger will explore one of the city's less-known corners, beginning with the new parks built during the Bloomberg administration. Up now, Elmhurst Park in Queens.


[Elmhurst Park, which opened in 2011, features a new $2.3 million dollar bathroom in a post-industrial brownfield. All photos by Nathan Kensinger.]

In Elmhurst Park, a 6-acre rectangle built on top of a post-industrial brownfield, the synthetic meets the natural in a tightly regimented artificial landscape. Located on the former site of the Newtown Gas Holders?aka the Elmhurst gas tanks?the park was opened in 2011 at a cost of $20 million. As part of its design, an impressive forest of over 620 new trees was planted in the park, which have only started to take root. In the meantime, the park retains a harsh, new, angular feel and is dominated by unnatural materials.

Though its industrial history can be traced back to 1910, when the first gas tank was built here in the midst of potato farms, the focus of Elmhurst Park is on its new man-made structures. Aside from its recently completed headline-making $2.3 million public bathroom, the park also features a passive lawn, a turf playing field, a hill designed for sledding and a large concrete spray area, all of which are situated above a new underground storm-water retention system.  Clearly, though, the current highlight of the park is its elaborate system of three interconnected playgrounds, parts of which are powered by a stationary bike designed to look like a motorcycle. The park encourages young visitors to focus on manipulating plastic gears, LEDs, and psychedelic disks, as opposed to interacting with the plants and trees growing around them. In the years to come, though, the focus will hopefully return to nature.

One end of Elmhurst Park is covered in a "Passive Lawn" of grass, where most physical activities are banned.

The park's other end features in a large oval of synthetic turf, where ball playing is allowed.

At the center of the park is a man-made sled hill, which looks out over the plastic playgrounds below.


 
A large concrete spray shower area is located at the foot of the passive lawn.

Its brightly colored showers empty water into the park's underground storm-water retention system.

The nearby playground uses remediated construction debris in a landscape of plastic, asphalt, and metal.

According to the Parks Department, the playground is meant to be "energy-themed, in keeping with the site's history" as a natural gas storage facility.

This stationary bike is used to power an elaborate system of electronic games and lights in the playground.

The bike lights up this LED standpipe, which is surrounded by protective matting and asphalt.


 
The park's $2.3 million bathroom also represents a series of interesting, non-natural design choices.


 
Glass block cubes, flecked tiles and red brick line the exterior.

The bathroom's spacious interior allows muted natural light in through fortress-like windows.

Along the periphery of the park, neatly aligned rows of trees march into the distance.

The trees are in their infancy, but some have begun to bear fruit.

Many years from now, the landscape of the park will be dominated by this young forest.

?Nathan Kensinger
· Official site: Elmhurst Park [NYCgovparks.org]
· Official site: Nathan Kensinger Photography [kensinger.blogspot.com]
· Nathan Kensinger archive [Curbed]

Elmhurst Park, Queens, NY