|Joe Hibbard is a landscape architect with the Boston office of Sasaki Associates, a planning and design firm with international operations. In 2014, Cantigny retained Sasaki to develop a property “master plan” that became Project New Leaf.
Hibbard’s expertise in campus landscape design aligns perfectly with Cantigny’s objectives. He holds a landscape architecture degree from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, was a Creative and Performing Arts Fellow at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and is a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects.
Hibbard and his colleague Matt Langan are on site frequently, ensuring that every detail of Sasaki’s design plan is precisely executed. We talked with Joe about Cantigny’s historic transformation.
Q: When did you first see Cantigny and what was your impression?
A: It was late winter in 2014 on a cool, overcast day–probably not the best time to form an impression. Later that August when we were starting the master plan, I got to see a different Cantigny in full “action mode” during a week of sunny summer weather that included “Dog Days.” What better way to see how the park functioned for its community than to spend a summer weekend with 5,000 visitors and their dogs, with a wedding or two thrown in! With that uplifting experience, it was evident that while Cantigny may have had some renovation needs, it was foremost a special place that functioned at many levels for a host of happy and varied constituents.
Q: Describe a specific “light bulb” moment when you saw something in the park that you knew could be modified or entirely redesigned to better serve visitors.
A: As you might guess, once the master plan process raised the question of how to improve the park, the staff had a whole storehouse of experiences and suggestions. For example, the picnic grove playground used to be on the other side of the service drive, causing children and their parents to cross traffic to access the playground. Deciding to move the road was an easy decision, making a better and safer connection between the picnic area and the play area. A lot of our job was to listen and observe carefully to define modifications with the highest potential for benefit.
Another observation that strongly influenced the planning was offered by the peer review committee that Cantigny invited to evaluate the garden prior to the planning process. They agreed that there were too many plants that had outgrown their place, and as a consequence were blocking views, shading gardens and limiting the openness that the property once enjoyed. As harsh as it sounds, the park has benefitted from the removal of many trees and shrubs.
Q: How much time went into planning and design creation before the first shovel hit the ground?
A: We began the park master plan in mid-summer of 2014. The process, which included planning for upgrades to the park’s water, sewer, electrical and stormwater drainage systems as well as the planning for gardens and facilities, took about a year and a half. We then spent 2016 designing and securing permits for Phase I work. This allowed for the construction manager, Featherstone Inc., to schedule construction operations to begin in the spring of 2017.
Q: Of the work completed so far, has anything exceeded your expectations?
A: Most rewarding for me has been the consistent and excellent craftsmanship of nearly all of the construction and planting. The credit for that goes to the skill and commitment of Cantigny’s staff, Featherstone’s project management, and the contractors assembled by Featherstone to do the work.
The Pond Garden [Gold Pond] is a feature that I particularly enjoy because it combines an aesthetic landscape experience with new ecosystem benefits and stormwater management functions.
I’m looking forward to when vines cover the Display Garden and Rose Garden trellises, bringing powerful definition to those gardens, and making them favored places for summer garden strolls.
I also love the way that the new plaza in front of the Visitors Center and the Oak Colonnade are serving as important civic gathering places. It’s great to see those areas filled with life during special occasions such as Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies.
Looking at Phase II work still in progress, it’s evident that the Rock Garden will be an attractive and unique addition to Cantigny. The stonework is really well done, thanks to the meticulous care and skill of Trinidad Lomeli, the foreman for Damgaard Landscape.
Q: When the project is finished, what do you think Cantigny visitors will appreciate most?
A: Before we began the master plan a user survey was conducted. I remember that one of the common responses to questions about what users liked most about Cantigny was its beauty and tranquility. People come to Cantigny because it makes them feel good. In the renewed and expanded gardens, I hope that visitors will enjoy a connection to the beautiful surroundings and feel the positive physical and mental health benefits that one can obtain from places like Cantigny.
I’m also hopeful that the memorials installed last fall behind the First Division Museum, to honor fallen 1st Infantry Division soldiers, will provide veterans and non-veterans alike with a fitting and meaningful experience of remembrance.