Peabody Essex Museum

Salem, MA
(2016 - 2019)

NBW was commissioned to design a new 3,700 sf garden at the Peabody Essex Museum in association with a major building expansion at the museum. The mission of the Peabody Essex Museum is to celebrate outstanding artistic and cultural creativity by collecting, stewarding, and interpreting objects of art and culture in ways that increase knowledge, enrich the spirit, engage the mind, and stimulate the senses. 

The new Peabody Essex Museum Garden’s design is inspired by the museum’s maritime history and ongoing contemporary focus. It transports visitors through a three-room journey from North America to Asia. This narrative is  expressed through multi-layered mediums including plants, water, and granite.

Drawn from nature, including Atlantic currents and the rhythms and patterns of tidal estuaries, sinuous form is re-imagined as a flat ribbon of stone that meanders out from inside the atrium and through the garden, inviting one to explore three distinct garden rooms - a Native garden, an Asiatic garden, and a Hybrid Convergence garden, speak to the diversity between cultures and the exchange of knowledge and cross-pollination at the heart of the museum.

Two fountains activate the space and celebrate the visual and aural qualities of water, as well as its symbolic link to the museum’s collections. An inset slab of Massachusetts stone in the building’s facade, mimics the turbulent waters at the Cape of Good Hope – the museum’s roots are in the East India Marine Society, an organization of Salem captains and supercargoes who had sailed beyond either the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn. A thin stream of water shatters and flows over this 11-feet-tall, six-feet-wide piece of Chelmsford Granite over contours that recall oceanic current patterns.

The Poetry Fountain references an ancient Chinese garden water feature where two lovers would communicate by floating a message down a runnel of water to their partner at the other end. Water flows from source basins at either end and pools together into a single convergence basin, celebrating the juncture of a major garden path where integrated seating allows visitors to enjoy the visual and acoustic effect.

The new Garden serves to broaden visitors’ perspectives, attitudes, and knowledge of themselves and the wider world.

Collaborators: Ennead Architects, CMS Collaborative, Thornton Tomasetti, Pine and Swallow Enivronmental, Northern Design, Rico Associates