Harvard University Graduate School of Design
Department of Landscape Architecture
GSD9342 Landscape Architecture VI
Design Studio Thesis
Hart Island is a 130-acre island in the East River off the shore of the Bronx that has been home to a wide range of carceral institutions including prisons, workhouses, and asylums since the 19th century. It currently serves as the potter’s field for the City of New York where the unclaimed and unidentified bodies of those who die in New York City are buried. Administered by the Department of Correction, the dead are buried in mass graves by prisoners from nearby Riker’s Island.
Long closed to visitors, there is growing public pressure to reimagine the island as a public space and cemetery. However, any design for the island must be careful to provide space that can connotes care without greenwashing over the dark, inequitable, and violent history of the site. Given that prisoners have always performed the labor on site, what does it mean to render that labor invisible? Is it possible to imagine the cemetery not as a field of memorials but as the site of dynamic processes like burial, decomposition, disinterment, and even resurrection? When presented with the materiality and impermanence of the human body, what will we do?