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A Wildflower Pyramid Grows in Queens

New York artist Agnes Denes' new work will combine the best of Egyptian architecture and public art.

New York artist Agnes Denes is fond of pyramids. She's used them in sculptures to frame water issues, namely in a 2005 piece, Pyramids of Conscience, in which she bottled up different substances in pyramids. One contained crystal-clear water; another held crude oil; still another was filled with polluted water from the Rio Grande. A fourth pyramid featured a mirrored surface: a call to action for the viewer.

Agnes Denes, Pyramids of Conscience, 2005 (Agnes Denes)

Her latest work, The Living Pyramid, calls viewers in more gracefully—as participants. This summer, Denes is building a large earth pyramid in Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens and inviting the public to plant wildflowers and grasses all over its stepped surface. Denes will begin constructing the 9,000-cubic-foot pyramid in April; then, in May, to coincide with the seasonal opening of Socrates Sculpture Park as well as the Frieze New York art fair, she will invite volunteers to help her plant stuff on the pyramid.

Seems like a great project for Socrates Sculpture Park and Long Island City. Why, though, don't more urban gardens make use of pyramid structures? They would appear to offer clear benefits over boring, safe, two-dimensional, rectangular garden plots.

Take the pyramid by Denes: At 30 feet on each face, it boasts a solid 2,900 square feet of surface area. A plain-old square plot of the same dimensions (30 by 30 feet) provides just 900 square feet of surface area. If there's some reason that community gardeners everywhere aren't using pyramids to increase surface area to grow their flowering plants, I'd love to know what it is.

Personally, I'd much rather plant my herbs, peppers, lettuces, and flowers on a pyramid—public or private. Landscaping like an Egyptian is definitely cooler than gardening, but it also seems a lot more efficient.

About the Author

  • Kriston Capps
    Kriston Capps is a staff writer at CityLab. More

    Kriston Capps is a staff writer at CityLab, where he writes about housing, art and design. Previously, he was a senior editor at Architect magazine.